Advocating Bikeways for Everyone

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May 7, 2014
By: Dylan Thomas
Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, drew potential protected bikeway routes on a map of the city during the Bikeways for Everyone campaign launch event at Open Book.
Photo by Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition in April launched its Bikeways for Everyone campaign to add at least 30 miles of protected bikeways to city streets by 2020.

Protected bikeways are physically separated from motor-vehicle traffic, and because they feel safer to bicyclists, advocates say they’re essential for boosting bicycling rates in Minneapolis. A citywide network of protected bikeways would encourage a wider range of people to view bicycles as day-to-day transportation and not just recreation, said Ethan Fawley, the coalition’s executive director.

“We have a great backbone, but we need to connect that network much more to our schools, our downtown (and) our business districts so many more people can feel comfortable” bicycling, Fawley said.

The Loring Bikeway is one example of a protected bikeway. Separated from Lyndale Avenue by a curb, it connects the Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard to Loring Park and is used by 1,670 cyclists daily, according to the city’s latest estimates.

But for the most part, that protected bikeway “backbone” Fawley referred to is the city’s extensive network of off-street trails. While the trails are a recreational asset, they’re less useful for door-to-door trips by bicycle, he said.

Nicole Nafziger, one of several speakers advocating for a more robust network of protected bikeways at the April 29 Bikeways for Everyone launch event, would agree.

Nafziger lives in South Minneapolis, said she recently began driving less and using a bicycle to get around town more often, including on trips with her two young children. But as she made the switch, she also realized there are many places in the city “that are not safe for a child to ride,” including bicycle lanes that lack a physical barrier from traffic.

“Asking if a bikeway is safe enough for kids is a great measure of whether a bikeway is safe enough for everyone,” she said.

In 2011, Kimberly Yeong Sil Hull, who went by Audrey, was killed in a collision with a dump truck while bicycling near the University of Minnesota campus. Hull was riding in a bicycle lane and the truck turned across her path.

Her father, former state epidemiologist Harry Hull, said a protected bikeway may not have saved his daughter, but he was convinced they would improve safety for other cyclists.

“What I know is if we can build more protected bike lanes we will have fewer injuries and deaths,” Hull said.

At least two new protected bikeways are already in the planning stages. A six-block stretch of Washington Avenue will have bike lanes separated from traffic by a curb in 2015, and a different type of protected bikeway is slated for installation on a portion of West 36th Street this summer.

Fawley said at least 100 other cities in the U.S. and Canada have protected bikeways on their streets, and some, like Chicago and New York City, are making significant investments. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledged to add 25 miles of protected bikeways to that city’s streets each year of his first four-year term in office.

“Any big city we compete with, they’re investing in this,” Fawley said.

Fawley said the cost of protected bikeways can be “negligible” when they’re added as part of a road reconstruction project, as is the case with Washington Avenue. He estimated new construction of a curb-separated bikeway at $250,000–$500,000 per mile. Separating bikes from motor-vehicle traffic with bollards can be done for about $100,000 per mile.

Ward 1 City Council Member Kevin Reich told the crowd at Open Book he was “committed” to prioritizing protected bikeways in the city budgeting process. Reich chairs the Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee.

The Minneapolis Climate Action Plan adopted by the City Council in June 2013 set a goal adding 30 miles of on-street protected bikeways by 2025, but that goal is not yet reflected in the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan. The city is planning to update that master plan, and is seeking citizen input on what a future protected bikeway network should look like.

An open house on protected bikeways is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. May 8 at Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, in the Doty Board Room. For more information, go to www.minneapolismn.gov/bicycles.