Park Board says no to ditching 10 mph speed limit on bike paths

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board opposed a resolution Wednesday that would repeal a 10 mph speed limit on park bike trails, a long-standing issue between pedestrians, bikers and trail users.

The proposal would have put the Park Board on par with other park systems, such as the similarly independent Three Rivers Park District, that don’t have numerical speed limits, but try to identify reckless behavior.  

Instead of the 10 mph speed limit, park police would instead enforce “reasonable and prudent” speeds on bike paths, which is already in the board’s ordinance. The majority of park commissioners argued this language is too vague on its own.

“It really is a recreational bike path system, not a commuter system, and I want to make it very clear to people there’s a difference,” said Commissioner Jon Olson.

Park Police Chief Jason Ohotto said ditching the speed limit could make sense because cyclists are uncertain how quickly they’re going on bike paths.

“One of the fundamental problems with having numerical speed limits is that the bicyclist doesn’t know how fast their traveling,” Ohotto said. “Frankly, I don’t think the vast majority of bicyclists on our trails have any idea how fast they’re going.”

He did several speed checks Wednesday on West River Parkway to measure how fast bikers were going on park trails. Over about 15 minutes of testing with a handheld laser unit, cyclists averaged speeds of 14 mph. Only one was going under 10 mph, and another was going 20 mph. Ohotto also asked a biker to guess her speed. She guessed 5 to 8 mph, but was going 14 mph. 

Despite the uncertainty, park police don’t write many serious accident reports. However, Ohotto said the vast majority of bike accidents go unreported and unlike car crashes, there isn’t consistent data on bike crashes unless they are extreme cases. 

Under the “reasonable and prudent” language, Ohotto said park police would use a test much like they would with carless or reckless driving. Factors like weather conditions, visibility, user density, trail grade, rider ability or impairment would all go into measuring reasonable speeds, he said. 

Vreeland, who was one of two commissioners who voted in favor of the proposal, argued that the limits may make bikers less safe by pushing them into the street.

“I think the time has come to change the limit,” Vreeland said. “We’re tending to push people into the streets and in traffic… that’s where people are really getting hurt.”

Commissioners Olson and Anita Tabb argued park trails are for recreational cyclists and not for commuters, who may be going faster. 

Deputy Superintendent Jennifer Ringold said park bike paths are targeted at cyclists who would rather use dedicated bike lanes as opposed to biking in the street and may be either recreational cyclists or commuters. 

“Folks that are commuters generally want to get to point A to point B as quickly as they can,” Olson said, who added that he’s a recreational cyclist. “I’m fine with having 10 mph. I know people are going to faster than that, but if there’s no sign, they’re just going to go faster and it’s just going to create problems.”

Tabb, who described the bike trail situation on bike paths on Cedar Lake Trail as “just scary,” rejected the proposal in favor of keeping signage of the numerical speed limits.

“The 10 mph signage gets a message across to people: Don’t speed on these trails.”