Bicycle Account finds more, safer cyclists

Report presents a snapshot of bicycling in Minneapolis

Safety in numbers may be one reason the bicycle crash rate is trending downward in Minneapolis even as the number of bicyclists on city streets increases.

That was one of the findings city Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shaun Murphy shared in the first-ever city Bicycle Account, a summary of bicycle activity Murphy plans to make a biannual tradition. The Jan. 17 report to the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee also noted Minneapolis was elevated from a silver to a gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists in 2011.

Murphy said Minneapolis aims to become just the fourth city to earn the league’s platinum rating, after Portland, Ore., Davis, Calif., and Boulder, Colo. It’s a sign of how serious Minneapolis’s city government now takes bicycling; another was Murphy’s hiring last month as the city’s first full-time bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

He said the bicycle “crash rate” — the number of bicycle commuters divided by the number of bicyclist-motorist collisions in a year — had been “dropping precipitously” for 18 years, to 4 percent in 2010 from 10 percent in 1993. Crashes are statistically less likely near the University of Minnesota campus, one of the busiest bicycling areas in the city, lending credence to what Murphy called the “safety-in-numbers effect.”

He said drivers surrounded by bicyclists are more likely to slow down and pay attention to their surroundings.

According to federal census data, the number of bicycle commuters peaked in 2008 at around 8,000. Still, the estimated 7,000 people riding into work in 2010 was a significant increase over the estimated 3,000 bicycle commuters in 1990, and the continuation of an overall upward trend, Murphy said.

He said there was no clear reason for the drop in bicycle commuters, but guessed the 2008 spike may have been caused by a sudden rise in gas prices around that time — a brief shock whose effects have since worn off. The slowdown in the economy may have meant fewer people commuting to work by any means — car, bike or transit — since 2008, he added.

Murphy’s cycling snapshot also highlighted expansion of the city’s bicycling infrastructure, including a near doubling of on-street bikeways to 80 miles in 2011 from just 45 in 2010. Much of that expansion was funded through the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program, a federal grant program Murphy previously administered for the Twin Cities.

City Council Member Robert Lilligren (Ward 6), no stranger to bike commuting, said he was pleased with the increase in bikeways. While they at first seemed confusing to him, Lilligren said the increasing variety of pavement markings were surprisingly “intuitive” when on a bike or behind the wheel.

Noting the popularity of the growing Nice Ride bicycle-sharing program among visitors, Committee Chair Sandra Colvin-Roy (Ward 12) suggested a future report look specifically at the economic impact of bicycling. Colvin Roy said bicycling was “now a multi-million dollar business in our metro region.”

After the meeting, Murphy said the city’s system of bikeways would continue to grow in 2012. Projects slated for construction this year include a new Northeast bicycle boulevard running from the Stone Arch Bridge to Colombia Heights, a Glenwood Avenue North bicycle lane connecting Downtown with Golden Valley and other projects adding on-street bicycle lanes in both North and South Minneapolis.

To download a copy of the 2012 Bicycle Account, or to learn more about upcoming bicycle projects, go to minneapolismn.gov/bicycles.