City plans more biker protections

Benjamin Farniok

Cody Raasch was running an errand after work earlier this month when a car drove straight into him, throwing him from his bicycle.
 
An ambulance brought the University of Minnesota psychology graduate to the hospital to check for major injuries. Though Raasch left the scene with only minor cuts and bruises, he said a barrier protecting him from surrounding traffic would calm his nerves.
 
“When cars pass, or sometimes [even] when things aren’t really close calls, I get apprehensive,” Raasch said.
 
City officials released a proposal earlier this month to build 30 more miles of protected bike lanes by 2020 around the city and University area in an effort to make biking safer and more attractive. 
 
Protected bikeways are separated from traffic lanes by a curb, median or a post. One currently runs behind TCF Bank Stadium along Sixth Street Southeast.
 
Cyclists gave feedback about the proposal at a public forum Wednesday. Though most in attendance thought the plan would be a positive change, some expressed concern about the lanes in certain areas that will remain unprotected.
 
City officials quelled their concerns, telling them those areas tend to see less traffic.
 
The lanes would increase safety for cyclists and better connect the city’s bike routes, said Ward 1 Councilman Kevin Reich. 
 
City officials took up the proposal as a result of biking’s increasing prevalence in Minneapolis, Reich said.
 
“There seems to be a subcategory of rider who would ride more if they had a protected facility,” he said. “So we are trying to accommodate that and to expand our ridership.”
 
The plan would add four protected lanes near campus.
 
If the plan goes through, two-way lanes would be added on University, 10th and 15th avenues Southeast, as well as Oak Street Southeast, Reich said. 
 
Implementing a lane where Oak intersects with Washington Avenue Southeast would be a complicated process, so the lane could help convince officials to consider safety when developing future protected bike lanes, said Steve Sanders, the University’s alternative transportation manager. But he said that will only be the case if it is built well.
 
“It will be really important to get that [lane] right,” he said.
 
Research on the effectiveness of bike lanes, like one study from the International Journal of Transportation Research, shows cyclists feel more comfortable when the lane is protected.
 
The study used cellphone GPS tracking to compare riders’ routes to the shortest route possible to their destination and found that they will travel up to half a mile out of their way to use a bike lane. 
 
Building and maintaining the lanes could raise the city’s current costs by more than $2 million annually, and the cost of building the bike lanes could reach more than
$12 million.