Minneapolis may frequently top the lists of the best cities for bicycling in America, but that’s no reason to rest on our laurels. The Twin Cities could aim even higher in being a bike-friendly metropolis. Imagine world cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin, only better — where people of all ages and backgrounds flood the streets on their bicycles each day, where it’s safe and comfortable to ride, where bike paths and protected bike lanes are seamlessly interconnected, and where bike lanes are plowed all winter long. How close are we to Bicycle Utopia? Suffice it to say we have a ways to go, but here are some ideas to get us on our way.
1. Make commercial streets more bike-friendly.
Minneapolis’ designated bike boulevards like Bryant Avenue offer safe and pleasant thruways for cyclists compared with major streets. But it’s not always convenient to bike on side routes. If your destination lies on a Lake Street or a Lyndale Avenue, those busier streets need to be safe for bikers, too. “We need to provide safer and better access to routes with destinations,” said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. Fawley argues that most major commercial streets in the Twin Cities are “not bike-friendly at all,” pointing to Lyndale and Lake as examples. “If we want people to be able to bike and be safe, we need to provide safer and better access to routes with destinations,” he said.
2. Fill in the gaps.
While the Twin Cities have some great bicycle paths, we need to do a better job of connecting them — especially into and through downtown, says Fawley. In the past, bike lanes have been painted when the city repaves or rebuilds a street, but Fawley believes that bicycle policy needs to go beyond the low-hanging fruit. “We’re not really looking at connections that need to be made between communities and between neighborhoods,” said Fawley. “We need to fill some gaps into and through downtown. If we want to continue to attract people to downtown, we are going to have to do something about that.”
3. Protected lanes.
According to Minneapolis Public Works, bikeways in the city doubled in mileage from 80 to 166 between 1999 and 2011. We’ve tried different versions of protected bike lanes, like 1st Avenue N. downtown, where parked cars act as a buffer between bikes and moving cars. Coming soon, Minneapolis will try a bike lane with a physical barrier on Washington Avenue, which will serve as a pilot for future projects. Meanwhile in St. Paul, the tentative St. Paul Bicycle Plan proposes a 1.7-mile off-street cycle track along St. Peter Street, 10th Street, Jackson Street and Kellogg Boulevard, with spokes that fan out from the main loop. The $18 million project would be a boon for St. Paul cyclists.
4. Address specific problem spots.
A study by the Minneapolis Public Works Department from 2000-10 showed that certain intersections are the unsafest for cyclists. These include:
• E. Franklin Av. & Cedar Av. S.
• 7th St. & Hennepin Av. S.
• 3rd St. & Hennepin Av. S.
• 26th St. & Hiawatha Av. S.
• E. Franklin Av. & Nicollet Av. S.
Meanwhile, the corridors with the worst crash rates include:
• 28th Street
• Lowry Avenue S.
• Marquette Avenue S.
• 26th Street
In St. Paul, Andy Singer of the St. Paul Bicycle Coalition said one of the biggest problem spots is Snelling Avenue, which goes through several half-mile stretches without a traffic light. “People will stop for you at one lane, but the next person just goes around you,” he said. W. 7th Street, despite its recent conversion from four lanes to three, is also a problem, as is E. 7th Street, he said. So is University Avenue, which Singer believes is worse for cyclists since light rail was constructed.