Better bike lanes on Blaisdell and Nicollet

Good new for Southwest and Downtown residents who travel between their respective boroughs on bike: An improved north-south bike route is taking shape on Blaisdell and Nicollet Avenues South this summer.

A painted bike lane will be added on Nicollet Avenue South from East 61st Street to East 40th Street. This segment is identified as a bikeway in the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan, and a sealcoating project is offering the opportunity to add the painted lane.

Meanwhile, one block west on Blaisdell Avenue South, the painted bike lane is being upgraded to become a protected bikeway – also identified in the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan – from West 40th Street north to West 29th Street. Together, these two routes will certainly make it easier for people who use bikes to reach jobs and other attractions downtown from neighborhoods like Lyndale, Kingfield, Tangletown and Windom, and vice versa.

While it’s certainly great news that a safer and more comfortable bike route will become available in Southwest, there is growing evidence that it’s not just people who bike that benefit from protected bike lanes. In fact, all people are safer when they can travel to their destination on a through street with clearly designated space for each mode.

Providing space for cars, bikes and pedestrians on Nicollet and Blaisdell, avenues that run through multiple neighborhoods, means people in cars can better anticipate the behavior of people on bikes. People on foot don’t have to compete with people on bikes for sidewalk space, as they sometimes have to do on streets where the volume and speed of traffic feels threatening to the average person on a bike.

A study about protected bike lanes in the United States published in 2014 by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) surveyed residents from neighborhoods where protected bike lanes had recently been installed. Through the survey, residents who had driven a car on streets with new protected bike lanes reported a 53-percent increase in predictability of both people who ride bikes and people who drive cars.

This perception is not just felt by drivers in other cities. The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition recently collected anecdotes from locals that reinforce the idea that protected bike lanes are also better for drivers.

Elizabeth Clark is a Minneapolis resident who said that, as a driver, she loves the protected bike lanes on East 26th and 28th Streets.

“I know where to check as I’m turning to ensure that I don’t have a bike coming in my blind spot, and I know that I have plenty of room to pass bicycles without leaving my lane,” Clark said.

The NITC survey also found that 59 percent of people surveyed who had driven on the streets with new protected bike lanes reported the time it takes to drive on the street had not changed. It also does not seem to be true that improved driving conditions on streets with protected bike lanes are just the result of people avoiding the street. The NITC survey found only 14 percent of those surveyed avoided driving on the street after the protected bikeways were installed.

Again, that finding is reflected through local anecdote. Minneapolis resident Laura Matson lives near the protected bike lanes on East 26th and 28th Streets and commented about her experience driving on these streets.

“I don’t have to swerve into other lanes to avoid bicyclists or slow down when I’m stuck behind a bike. The protected bikeways are a real asset in my neighborhood,” Matson said.

For all these reasons, we can say that adding this route is much more than an improvement for Southside bikers. It is an improvement for people who have to travel through this part of the city, regardless of their chosen mode.