Spokes & soles // Bike routes expand roadway access

If it seems like there are suddenly more bike routes in our community, you are not mistaken!

In the last two years, Minneapolis has nearly doubled its bike routes on city streets from 45 miles to 81 miles (as well as 85 miles of off-street bikeways). St. Paul has 77 miles of on-street bike routes, with more in the works, and many suburbs, such as Edina, Richfield, Falcon Heights and Roseville, are adding new bike routes or have plans in the works.

As part of expanding the network for bicycling in the city, Minneapolis has installed several new kinds of on-street bike routes (not including off-street bicycling paths). The result is several new kinds of treatments on the road, including cycle tracks, bicycle boulevards, sharrows, green paint and a variety of bike lanes. In this week’s column, we’ll focus on the different types of bike lanes.

About bike lanes

The Federal Highway Administration defines bike lanes as “a portion of the roadway which has been designated by striping, signing and pavement marking for the preferential or exclusive use by bicyclists.” For the most part, bike lanes are one-way (carrying bicyclists in the same direction as adjacent motorized traffic), on the right side of the roadway, and located between the traffic lane and the parking lane (if there is one).

Designated bike lanes offer several benefits to all roadway users, including motorists and pedestrians:


With bike lanes present, motorists and bicyclists both have greater clarity about where they belong on the roadway. And, they stay in safer, more central positions in their respective lanes, according to recent research by the University of Texas. When passing bicyclists, motorists decreased their incidences of wide swerves into adjacent lanes (nearly nine out of 10 times) or close passes. And bicyclists traveled a more predictably straight path within the bike lane.

In addition, adding designated bicycle lanes typically has a calming effect on vehicle traffic. For example, a study by the Smart Growth Network found that a city in Washington was able to dramatically reduce average vehicle speed from 44 mph to 35 mph (the posted speed limit) by converting a busy two-lane suburban road into a roadway with narrower traffic lanes, bike lanes, landscaping and sidewalks.

Bicyclists are also less likely to ride on sidewalks when bike lanes are present. Studies have shown that bicyclists increase their accident risk by 25 times when riding on the sidewalk, due to the fact that motorists typically focus on street traffic, and do not notice bicyclists suddenly exiting sidewalks onto the street, and the risk of pedestrian crashes.

Roadway cost-savings

Adding bicycle lanes to existing streets can be comparatively inexpensive for cities, especially compared with creating off-street bike paths. Bike lanes can be added simply with paint or (for longer-lasting results) by grinding down the pavement and adding special reflective tape.  

Types of bike lanes

Within the broader category of different kinds of bike routes, you’re likely to see three kinds of bike lanes on area streets:

Traditional bike lanes

These are the most common of bike lanes. They are typically at least 5 feet wide, and marked by solid white lane markings. Motorists may not drive or park on bike lanes. Some bike lanes include areas of green paint to highlight locations where motorists merge across or turn across a bike lane. The green paint is to alert motorists they must yield to thru bicyclists.

Buffered bike lanes

These are traditional bike lanes that are buffered from immediately adjacent motor vehicle traffic by painted white chevrons. Look for buffered bike lanes on Emerson & Fremont avenues in North Minneapolis, on 1st and Blaisdell avenues in South Minneapolis, and on the recently re-installed bike lanes on Park and Portland Avenues downtown. Motor vehicles may not drive on top of buffered bike lanes.

Advisory bike lanes

These bike lanes have a dashed rather than solid line, indicating that motorists CAN drive over them when no bicycles are present. They are typically installed on streets too narrow to accommodate traditional bike lanes, and that have lower traffic volumes and low posted speeds. The center stripe is often removed from these streets because of the narrowness of the road. If no bicycle is present, motorists ride on top of the dashed bike lanes. If bicyclists are using the lane, motorists pass using the center space when it is safe to do so. Advisory lanes can be found on East 14th Street in Minneapolis and on Wooddale Road and West 54th Street in Edina.

New lane markings are one way that cities are using existing roadway to better accommodate bicycles and motorists — and maintain safety. Learning these types of bike lane configurations may take some time, practice and patience, but the reward is a likely much safer, free-flowing and effective traffic community. To learn more about all of the new bike way markings in Minneapolis, go to the city’s website at: minneapolismn.gov/bicycles/understanding-bicycle-markings.

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Bike Walk Twin Cities.