The year in biking and walking

Person biking in winter

2016 brought some exciting improvements in the realm of biking and walking. Bike and vehicle crashes are down, bike mode share is up and the bike network expanded.

While these advancements are exciting, other news made it clear there’s still a way to go before all people can travel safely on foot and by bike.

A study by Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition volunteers found black men on bikes are more likely to be arrested. An MPR News analysis found vehicles struck pedestrians every 38 hours in Minneapolis.

In November, 74-year-old Minneapolis resident Barbara Mahigel was hit by a car while trying to cross Nicollet Avenue South at 43rd Street. Mahigel’s death was the latest reminder that traffic fatalities are both tragic and preventable.

Before 2017 begins, let’s pause and look back at the big wins and big challenges of the past year.

In May of this year, the City Council passed a nation-leading Complete Streets policy. The policy acknowledges a robust driving network exists in Minneapolis and seeks to build equally robust — safe, integrated and well-maintained — networks for walking, biking and transit, so all people can travel safely in Minneapolis. This policy will prioritize transportation decision- making according to a hierarchy that puts walking at the top, then bicycling, public transportation and, finally, driving.

The reason for this order is to rebalance the transportation system after nearly a century of prioritizing driving, often at the expense of all other modes.

By shifting the planning approach, the point is to acknowledge every trip (no matter the primary mode) begins with walking, as well as to reduce crashes that kill and injure people, improve the efficiency of combining walking and biking with public transportation, empower people of all ages and abilities to travel freely and more aims that put the needs of many over the desires of individuals. The new policy also aligns with other city plans, including the Minneapolis transportation plan and the city’s comprehensive plan and other policies.

The City Council passed a long-term funding plan that will dedicate an additional $22 million for street projects over the next 20 years. It will be exciting to see the advancements that can be made by combining the new framework of the Complete Streets policy with more dedicated street funding.

In an example of the new Complete Streets policy in action, the City will now be upgrading to more visible marked crosswalks whenever they repave a street. The City is also making immediate safety improvements at Nicollet & 43rd to try to avoid another tragic crash like the one that killed Mahigel.

Five new protected bike lanes opened in 2016, including several connecting downtown landmarks with trails and neighborhoods.

The new protected bike lanes on 3rd Avenue provide a much-needed protected north-south bike route through downtown between 1st and 16th streets. Next year, the 3rd Avenue protected bike lanes will be extended across the river to Northeast.

Protected bike lanes also were installed on 11th Avenue South between 6th Street South and West River Parkway, filling a gap between the Hiawatha LRT trail and U.S. Bank Stadium and the river.

Also in the Downtown East area, protected bike lanes raised to sidewalk level were built on Park Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets as a result of coordination between the city and private developers. Protection is planned on Park and Portland between Franklin Avenue and West River Road.

The Franklin Avenue Bridge reopened with expanded sidewalks and protected bike lanes on both sides and made PeopleForBike’s America’s Best New Bike Lanes of 2016 list.

In Southwest, the Blaisdell Avenue bike lanes were upgraded to include protection between 29th and 40th streets, adding clarity and improving conditions under which different road users share this well-used street.

Two blocks east, a painted bike lane was added on Nicollet Avenue between 40th and 61st streets when the street was sealcoated, filling in a bikeway segment that has been identified in the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan.

Improvements are contributing to the development of the city’s 30-mile protected bikeways network, with a first section planned to be complete by 2020. The improvements in infrastructure seem to be contributing to more bicycling and safer conditions for people on bikes.

Bike commuting increased to 5 percent in Minneapolis, according to the American Community Survey. This makes the city number three in the nation for share of bike commuters among cities of 100,000 or more employed people.

In November, the Star Tribune reported crashes between people on bikes and vehicles decreased 75 percent per 100,000 trips between 2000 and 2015, according to an editorial published in the American Journal of Public Health. This put Minneapolis ahead of its peers in nine other bike-friendly cities.

Unfortunately, not everyone got home safely in 2016.

At the end of September, the Star Tribune reported there were 7 bicycling fatalities in Minnesota and 34 pedestrian fatalities — deaths that were completely preventable. Also in September, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition announced that it is in the process of expanding its mission to include pedestrian advocacy.

Minneapolis received some international recognition as a bike-friendly city when, together with Saint Paul, it hosted the 2016 Winter Cycling Congress. This professional development conference included more than 350 delegates who came from near and far to exchange best practices for creating a winter- friendly cycling culture, developing winter maintenance policies and designing infrastructure to support year-round bicycling.

The City of Minneapolis, the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield
of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition — along with local neighborhood partners, including the Lyndale and Kingfield neighborhood associations — organized eight Open Streets events in the summer and fall of 2016, which attracted a record-setting 81,000 attendees. These events involve closing down major corridors of our city — like Washington Avenue downtown and Nicollet Avenue in Southwest — to cars and inviting residents, local businesses, nonprofits and institutions to come together for a day of fun.

Playing together in a space that is normally off-limits or usually dominated by car use is a way to remind residents that we collectively own these public spaces and working together we can, if we wish, reimagine them and rebuild them to better suit the needs of the whole community.

As we look ahead to the coming year, keep checking the website of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition for more news about biking and walking and opportunities to get involved in improving conditions for all people who bike and walk in Minneapolis. The Coalition is working toward doubling the number of bicyclists in Minneapolis, supporting the develop- ment of a 30-mile network and advocating for all residents to move safely on foot or by bike.