Most bicycle crashes occur on a small number of streets

New study highlights where the city must act to improve safety

File photo

Between 2007 and 2015 Minneapolis averaged 15 crashes per year in which a bicyclist was killed or seriously injured, according to the Vision Zero Crash Study released in January.

Eighty-one percent of those fatal and severe crashes occurred on just 3 percent of Minneapolis streets, mainly at intersections, according to the study, and the vast majority involved motor vehicles. Those streets, including much of Lake Street and a multi-block stretch of Lyndale Avenue between downtown and the LynLake intersection, are among Minneapolis’ busiest, accounting for 10 percent of all vehicle miles traveled in the city.

That’s just some of the data city leaders are examining as they work to eliminate all deaths and severe injuries resulting from crashes by 2027, a goal set by the City Council in 2017. That was the year Minneapolis officially became a Vision Zero city, joining more than 30 other cities across the country that have pledged to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries.

The Vision Zero Crash Study builds on a pedestrian crash study released in 2017, adding more detail about crashes involving motor vehicles and bicycles, including where, how and why those crashes occurred. Both studies will inform a Vision Zero Action Plan currently under development that will set out specific steps to improve the safety of Minneapolis’ most vulnerable road users, pedestrians and bicyclists.

Both bicyclists and pedestrians are overrepresented in crashes compared to motorists, and they are more likely to die or be severely injured in a crash.

“This Vision Zero study gives us a focus on where to go to make improvements,” traffic operations engineer Steve Mosing told members of the City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee, where the Vision Zero Crash Study was presented Jan. 22.

The study identified a high-injury networks — streets that rank among the most dangerous for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. They include portions of Lake Street, Franklin Avenue, Lyndale Avenue South, Hennepin Avenue and Broadway Avenue.

Noting that many of those busy streets are the same transportation corridors targeted for denser residential development, City Council President Lisa Bender said it would be “irresponsible” for the city not to take action to make those streets safer.

Bender said there is a “lessening of fear” around the sorts of changes that may slow motor vehicle traffic or remove parking. Although almost any proposal to add a bike lane or remove a motor vehicle lane will meet some resistance, Bender said she is hearing “a lot of positive feedback” about those same changes from her Ward 1o constituents.

“We’re reacting to decades of streets being designed for cars to move quickly through our neighborhoods,” she said.

The study highlights not just dangerous streets, but other factors like speed and road design that can lead to more serious crashes.

More than 60 percent of crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists on Minneapolis streets also involve a motor vehicle making a right or left turn. Studies show four-lane streets without a median are the least safe for pedestrians, a finding that is reflected in the busy, wide Minneapolis streets — many actually county roads — that show up on the city’s crash maps.

A 2011 study by a AAA researcher linked higher speeds to an increased likelihood of a pedestrian’s death or severe injury in a crash, rising from 13 percent at 20 mph to 40 percent at 30 mph and 73 percent at 40 mph.

Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson said city staff are collecting before-and-after data on streets that have recently undergone four-to-three conversions or other similar changes and aim to present their findings to the council soon.

Despite a recent uptick in traffic collisions involving pedestrians, a decade of crash records shows Minneapolis streets are relatively safe compared to similarly sized cities, Mosing said. Still, Minneapolis isn’t quite as safe as St. Paul or the metro area as a whole, and the rate of traffic fatalities per 100,000 people is higher here than in New York City.

Both the 2017 pedestrian crash study and the Vision Zero Crash Study will help shape Minneapolis’ next transportation action plan. The successor to the Access Minneapolis plan will set out specific strategies to achieve the transportation goals outlined in Minneapolis 2040, the 10-year update to the Minneapolis comprehensive plan adopted by the council late last year.