City hall update // Bicycling rule changes get warm reception from City Council

Minneapolis City Council members gave a warm reception to some changes to bicycling and traffic laws that they might ask the Minnesota Legislature to take up. 

Most notable of the proposed rule changes would be giving the city more flexibility to lower the 30 mph speed limit on residential streets.

Under current state law, a residential street, by default, has a 30 mph speed limit. Parkways are allowed a 25 mph limit and, if a city opts to place speed signs on residential streets, it can lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour — which can get costly when lots of streets get them.  

Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) said he wants even more flexibility, and mentioned that he’d support dropping the limit to 20 mph or even 15 mph in some circumstances. 

“New York City has done this where they create 20 mph neighborhood zones, so maybe there’d be a zone where we could do that,” Gordon said. “Or maybe there could be a bike boulevard model that we did so that we had certain streets where [there would be] limited car use.”

Gordon made those comments after Minneapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shaun Murphy presented a chart that shows how increasing vehicle speeds are deadlier for pedestrians. About 5 percent of pedestrians are killed when hit by a vehicle going 20 miles per hour, compared to a 45 percent death rate for pedestrians struck by a vehicle going 30 mph (Note: Murphy’s numbers came from an article quoting a 1994 study done by the United Kingdom’s Department of Transportation — 

In a meeting Oct. 18, the City Council’s Committee of the Whole discussed the speed limit item as well as several other potential rule changes meant to make streets safer for bicycles and pedestrians. 

The city doesn’t have the power to change many traffic rules, but the list could support reforms at the state Legislature. 

The list, according to Murphy, is the result of input from the city’s Public Works Department, Bicycle Advisory Committee and City Council offices. 

Two of the items ask for clarity in state law in order to avoid confusion about bike lanes. 

Current state law is fuzzy regarding who should yield between a bicyclist in a bike lane and a vehicle traveling the same direction that wants to turn across a bike lane, Murphy said. The Minnesota Driver’s Manual says the motorist should give way to the bicyclist. 

“What the Public Works Department is proposing to the City Council is that they advocate for clarity on that statute, so that the driver’s manual then matches what the state statute says,” Murphy said. 

Current state law prohibits vehicles from stopping in 14 different locations. Bike lanes are not among those 14 locations, and downtown bicyclists often have to swerve around taxicabs and other vehicles that are loading and unloading passengers while stopped in a bike lane.

The city may consider asking the state to include bike lanes on that list of locations. 

The list also asks for more state resources for bicycling, including “increased funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and programming including programs that seek to incentives innovation in bicycling infrastructure including appropriate flexibility on design standards.”

Another request would have the state conduct a study of the economic impact of bicycling. 

Generally, the Council seemed supportive of the list, but it didn’t vote on the seven items that could be added to its 2013 legislative agenda for the Capitol. 

“I’ve been hearing these requests from my constituents ever since I joined the Council,” said Council Member Gary Schiff (Ward 9). “I am so excited we’re finally getting to the big issues, the big changes that we need in a modern city.