My bike facilities wish list

The University needs to make bike infrastructure safer.

Chris Iverson

There is a biking problem at the University of Minnesota. We increasingly need modern bike facilities, but the University is struggling to meet demand. Our old infrastructure is holding us back. Without quality bike facilities, campus will not be as safe or as accessible as it should be.

Biking gained popularity

University officials designed most of campus in the late 19th and early 20th century. Back then, bikes were considered novelty items, not a mode of transportation.

Today’s transportation challenges are not even the same as those of your parents’ generation. The number of cyclists in Minneapolis has increased annually since 2010. Biking increased 13 percent on campus since last year, according to Parking and Transportation Services. This influx of cyclists is exactly what the city wants to see for its Climate Action Plan, but it creates challenges in tight areas like the University.

Based on my observations, until 2010, cyclists could likely ride anywhere on campus without punishment — Scholars Walk, around the Northrop Mall or along most sidewalks.

Now that biking is in vogue, it’s time to retrofit infrastructure and segregate some elements of traffic between pedestrians and cyclists in order to create a more accessible campus.

The University’s problem

The current situation does not work. As a cyclist, it’s unacceptable that I cannot ride from the Superblock to Church Street without dismounting unless I ride around the Civil Engineering Building on Pillsbury Drive.

I see the inability to bike this otherwise simple route as an infrastructure problem.

As a pedestrian, it’s terrifying — not to mention dangerous — when cyclists shoot past me on Scholars Walk or a Washington Avenue sidewalk. The University made the right call to not allow cyclists on sidewalks, but as a compromise, we also need to improve the area’s bike facilities.

What can we do?

My first infrastructure recommendation would be to simply enhance existing bike lanes with colored paint or different pavement types near conflict points.

The University started adding bike lanes in Northrop Mall between Ford Hall and Kolthoff Hall, but crossing the north-south sidewalks is still unsafe. The lanes end near the sidewalk intersections, forcing both cyclists and pedestrians to question who has the right-of-way.

If cyclists are going to have priority on this stretch, the University should add green paint so even the most oblivious pedestrian would be able to stay safe.

If the University prioritizes pedestrians, we should add a yield sign for cyclists and paint a big, yellow triangle at the conflict point.

If the funds are available, the University should color the entire length of bike lanes to inform distracted pedestrians that they’re standing in a bike lane and should move out of the way.

Along with these improvements, more bike paths would segregate the flow of traffic. Adding bike lanes on Church Street would be the most approachable option.

On top of this, I would expand the sidewalk and add another bike lane on the north side of Northrop Mall between Walter Library and the Tate Lab of Physics. Any area where it’s unclear who has the right-of-way should contain differently colored paint to signify potential danger points.

Finally, as a general rule, I would use steel and concrete barriers to build bike facilities rather than cheap paint.

The ideal long-term project

My magnum opus would be a project constructing two parallel bike and pedestrian ramps on Washington Avenue, spanning from the Coffman Union bus stop to the platform section of the Washington Avenue Bridge.

Many of the cyclists that go to West Bank are coming from the Stadium Village area and have to traverse the busy Mall.

Building a shallow, westbound ramp from the north bus pullout (temporary loading lane) to the platform would allow cyclists to stay on a car-free Washington Avenue. After cyclists reach the platform deck, they could easily proceed to West Bank.

An eastbound ramp would let cyclists continue on to Washington Avenue from the platform, and it could drop down on the south-side bus stop pullout.

The ramps could be wide enough to hold a bike lane and a generous amount of pedestrian space so both modes could access the street.

The Washington Avenue pullouts, once needed so that buses did not interfere with vehicle traffic, aren’t necessary on a car-free street. Buses will now be able to simply make their stop on the street without blocking traffic.

We could remove the pullouts to extend a bike lane from Church Street to the ramp, turning Washington Avenue into a major biking corridor.

Community ideas

Vice president for University Services Pam Wheelock sent an email two weeks ago asking the University community to submit ideas on improving campus transportation safety. Interested students, faculty and staff should voice their ideas by the Dec. 9 deadline.

 Other than teaching awareness, infrastructure improvements are the best way to accommodate all modes of transportation. Starting with paint and beginning long-term projects will significantly alleviate our problem.