Recent accidents put spotlight on need for improved safety

For all the miles logged by bicyclists in Minneapolis, there are relatively few studies related to their safety. But with the drastic increase in the number of cyclists on city streets, efforts to mitigate bike-vehicle accidents are ramping up.

New local studies suggest that — whether it be as a commuter, as an environmentally friendly practice, or for fun — biking is, and will become, a more popular mode of transportation in Minneapolis.

However, experts maintain that in order to stay safe as bike ridership gains momentum, so must education and awareness.

“We would say that Minneapolis has a terrific cycling community, but it could be improved with better-maintained roads, heightened enforcement of laws for both cyclists and motorists, and better education,” said Katie Eukel, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Transit for Livable Communities (TLC). “With these improvements, cycling will become far more visible on Minneapolis roads, and (if the research holds) motorists will adjust their behavior as cycling becomes a more visible way of getting around the Twin Cities.”

In the meantime, the recent deaths of cyclists have raised awareness about the importance of improving conditions for bikers on the city’s roadways.

Minneapolis Non-motorized Transportation Coordinator Shaun Murphy said the recent fatal accidents in the Twin Cities — four within 30 days — is an anomaly. Vehicle-cyclist crashes are actually going down on average.

Between 1993 and 1999, there were an average of 334 bike-vehicle accidents each year in Minneapolis. That average dipped between 2000 and 2007, when there were an average of 269, a 20 percent reduction, according to numbers gathered by the city’s Traffic and Parking Services division.

As of Sept. 11, bike-vehicle crash numbers are on pace for 300 collisions this year, which would still be below 2007’s 326.

In the last 10 years, Minneapolis has jumped from from 81 miles of bikeways to 123 miles, and by 2010 city planners expect that number to be closer to 168 miles.