Bike crash data shows problem areas

A study identified three problem areas near the University of Minnesota.

Bike crash data shows problem areas

Janice Bitters

Earlier this month, the city of Minneapolis released the results of a 10-year bike-crash study that highlights problem areas around the city, including several spots around the University of Minnesota.

The study, which analyzes bicycle accidents from 2000 to 2010, noted three major trouble spots near the University campus that totaled 43 accidents in the 10-year span.

 One problematic area, the intersection of University Avenue and the Interstate 35W exit ramp, saw 14 crashes, the seventh-highest in the city.

Bill Lindeke, a doctoral candidate in the geography department who has studied student biking patterns around the University, said the intersection is the most concerning for him.

He said more infrastructure and road design are the solution to problem intersections around the University, which would provide a clear-cut path for bicyclists.

“There needs to be more green paint on those streets,” he said.

Steve Sanders, alternative transportation manager for the University, said though the University works with Minneapolis closely to help implement bike routes on and around campus, what happens is not always in the University’s control.

“Our hands are a bit tied,” Sanders said. “Because we don’t own all of this infrastructure, we can consult with the city and advise them, but we really are kind of in an advising role.”

Finding a solution to problem areas in the city is not always easy due to the variety of factors that contribute to accidents.

The report by the public works department of the city found that bicyclists and drivers were nearly equally at fault for accidents with drivers contributing to 64 percent of accidents and cyclists contributing to 59 percent.

In some cases, both the cyclist and driver were at fault.

Indiscretions leading to an accident had a common theme between drivers and cyclists.

The study found both drivers and cyclists commonly failed to yield the right-of-way and were often in the wrong lane.

Distracted driving was a big contributor to crashes for cars as was disregard for traffic control devices for bikers.

Regardless of where in the city, the study found that the more bicyclists that use a road, the safer it was.

To prevent accidents, many biking advocates rally for more infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes — like a physical barrier between cyclists and cars.

Nicole Campbell is a volunteer for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and a graduate student in urban and regional planning at the University. She is an advocate for infrastructure and creating additional protected bike lanes around the Twin Cities.

“To see the streets and scenes in the report, we know how to make things better for all users,” Campbell said. “I think this is screaming that we need more protected bike lanes and education. I think drivers and cyclists will feel more comfortable if we can keep them separated.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Ben Fulner-Erickson, coordinator of the University Bike Center, said he has doubts about the effectiveness of these lanes.

“I think that the idea of separated bike lanes is cool, but I see just as many problems arising with them as solutions,” he said. “The reason being that the more separated bike traffic is from car traffic, the less aware drivers are going to be of the bicyclists.”

Erickson advocates more for education about bike safety for cyclists and drivers alike.

However, Lindeke said he thinks education around the University is uniquely challenging.

“We need to start blaming the intersection and road design rather than the cyclist or the driver,” he said. “The reason it is difficult is that it is hard to start training people on safety and rules, especially in this area, because we have such high turnover in population.”

In planning for the University, Sanders said he recognizes issues that arise from protected cycling lanes, but ultimately thinks they do serve a valuable purpose to the biking community.

“If you look at the report, protected lanes in and of themselves don’t really mitigate the biggest problem areas in that they offer no additional safety benefits at intersections,” Sanders said. “But what they do is increase the number of people who bicycle, which makes it safer for everybody.”

The University has implemented several initiatives to encourage people to bike around campus, including the ZAP program, which offers rewards for students and faculty who frequently ride their bike to campus.

In addition, safety classes and other resources are offered at the Hub Bicycle Coop, located near the Super Block.

The University not only wants to train cyclists on safe riding, it also wants to educate professional drivers, which Sanders said should help keep riders safe.

This fall, the University, along with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, put on “Behind the Big Wheel,” a training that reinforces looking for cyclists.

“If you look at the fatalities in Minneapolis, all of them have been that the cyclist have been struck and killed by a large vehicle, often times a commercial truck,” he said.

In 2011, a University student died when a semi-truck turned into her path as she rode toward campus. According to the report, there were 12 fatal bike accidents between 2000 and 2010.

In the 10-year span, only bicyclists reported being injured in accidents with cars.

Andrew Rankin, the city’s projects and communications coordinator for commuter connections, recommended cyclists ride defensively and confidently on the road to avoid injury.

“One of the key things is moving yourself out into the lane so everyone can see you,” Rankin said. “Make sure that you are communicating your intent and where you are going to ride next through those intersections.”

Though the Minneapolis study shows there is still work to be done at intersections around the University, Sanders said a little courtesy would go a long way to ease some of those issues.

“We can’t say, ‘You’re a cyclist, so you are taking your chances. Whatever happens, happens,’” he said. “Drivers also need to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Same for pedestrians. We all need to be respectful of each other.”