When bikes and cars collide

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January 15, 2013 // UPDATED 12:47 pm - January 21, 2013
By: Nick Halter
The Cedar-Franklin intersection has 20 crashes over 10 years, making it the city's most dangerous intersection for bikers, according to a new report.
By Nick Halter
Nick Halter
City releases report analyzing 10 years of bike-car crashes in Minneapolis

Where do bicycles and cars collide the most in Minneapolis? And who’s to blame for the accidents?

The city of Minneapolis released a report today detailing nearly 3,000 vehicle-bicycle crashes from 2000 to 2010. The report doesn’t just count the crashes; it pinpoints where they happen, when they happened and what caused them. 

The report found that most crashes occur at intersections of high-traffic roads; that motorists aren’t seeing or yielding to bicyclists; and that bicyclists are riding in an unpredictable manner.

“Having data to use when making decisions and planning our improvements for our roadways is so important,” said City Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy (Ward 12), who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee. “The data clarifies what we suspected but we had a hard time communicating about, and that is the fact that bicyclists and motorists are contributing to the crashes.”

If you’re wondering where the most dangerous spots are, most of them are in downtown or south of I-94. The Cedar-Franklin intersection has 20 crashes over 10 years, more than any other intersection. That was followed closely by Hennepin Avenue’s intersections with 7th Street (19 crashes) and 3rd Street (17 crashes).

Some of the most dangerous intersections in Southwest include Franklin and Nicollet (17 crashes); Franklin and Lyndale (16 crashes); and Lyndale and Vineland Place (14 crashes).

The two worst corridors for bike-vehicle crashes, by far, are Lake Street and Franklin Avenue. Rounding out the top five are Portland Avenue, Hennepin Avenue in Downtown and Lyndale Avenue going south from downtown.

Shaun Murphy, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said the study doesn’t necessarily prove that roads in the southern half of the city are more dangerous. More likely, he said, is that there’s a higher volume of bicycle traffic in those areas.

Jennifer Rensenbrink wasn’t surprised to find out that Portland Avenue is one of the more dangerous corridors. She bikes from her home near Lake Nokomis to downtown for work daily, except in winter.

Seeing the map confirmed what Rensenbrink had seen when she biked Park and Portland years ago: Lots of accidents. About 11 years ago, Rensenbrink was doored while biking on Park near 14th Avenue, breaking her tailbone. She’s also witnessed a couple crashes on Park.

“I just said ‘I can’t ride on here anymore, it’s too scary.’ So I totally changed my routes, and I am very glad that I did,” she said.

Now, Rensenbrink uses side streets to make her way downtown. She says she’s a big fan of bike boulevards, like the one on Bryant Avenue.

Bryant Avenue near Uptown was turned into a bike boulevard after most of the data was complied. But Murphy said early indications are that it’s a safer route for bicyclists.

Who’s at fault?

Both bicyclists and motorists are to blame for the crashes, according to the report. In 64 percent of crashes, a motorist contributed to the accident. In 59 percent of crashes a bicyclist contributed. The numbers don’t add up to 100 because sometimes both the bicyclist and motorist were to blame.

“The data shows that both bicyclists and motorists are contributing to crashes, and I think that’s a very good takeaway from this analysis,” said study author Simon Blenski, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian planner.

When bicyclists contribute to accident, it’s because they blow stop signs and stop lights (12.6 percent); fail to yield in a right-of-way (13.3 percent); or improperly use lanes (9.2 percent).

When motorists are to blame, it’s usually because they don’t yield the right of way to the bicyclist (31.8 percent); drive distracted or don’t pay attention (8.5 percent); or improperly use lanes (5.2 percent).

If you’re wondering what failing to yield in the right of way means, usually it’s a vehicle pulling out in front of a bicycle or turning in front of a bicycle. 

Eye-opening numbers

For bicyclists, the study can be a little scary. A bicyclist involved in a crash with a vehicle has an 87 percent chance of injury. A motorist, according to the report, was never injured in any of the crashes. 

There’s also a one in 5 chance that a motorist won’t stop after hitting a bicyclist — known as a hit-and-run. On a small number of occasions, the bicyclist fled the scene.

From 2000 to 2010, 12 bicyclists were killed in crashed with vehicles in Minneapolis.

The good news is that annual bicycle-vehicle crashes have remained steady at roughly 270 per year while the numbers of bicyclists has increased. The report found that on streets with higher bicycle traffic, accidents rates were lower. 

Half of all crashes occur from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Blenski and Murphy aren’t sure why more crashes occur during evening rush hour than during the morning rush hour.

What to do?

The report recommends six ways to improve bicycle safety: equity, engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement and evaluation.

More specific recommendations include more designated bicycle routes, using enforcement as an educational tool, adding more driver education and highlighting where bikes and vehicles cross paths.

The city has already made a request to the Minnesota Legislature for the ability to change city laws to make bicycling safer. The requests include the ability to lower speed limits and making it illegal for a vehicle to stop in a bike lane. 

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Worst intersections

1.East Franklin Avenue and Cedar Avenue South (20 crashes)

2. Hennepin Avenue South and 7th Street North (19)

3. (tie) Hennepin Avenue South and 3rd Street North (17)

3. (tie) Hiawatha Avenue South and East 26th Street (17)

3. (tie) West Franklin Avenue and Nicollet Avenue South (17)

6. West Franklin Avenue Lyndale Avenue South (16)

Worst corridors

  1. Lake Street, between Lake Calhoun and the Mississippi River (226 crashes)
  2. Franklin Avenue between Hennepin and the Mississippi River (205 crashes)
  3. Portland Avenue between 2nd Street East and Minnehaha Parkway (127 crashes)
  4. Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis (126 crashes)
  5. Lyndale Avenue from Downtown to 42nd Street South (111 crashes)

Crashes by time

  1. 3 p.m, to 6 p.m. (29 percent)
  2. 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. (21 percent)
  3. Noon to 3 p.m. (16 percent)

— 87 percent of crashes occurred from April through October.
— Of the 3,000 crashes, a motorist failing to yield in the right of way to a bicycle contributed to 947 of the crashes.
— On 456 occasions, a bicyclist riding against traffic contributed to a crash.