Mpls. summit promotes bike safety

The conference included panels on how to get more people biking.

Midwest Regional Bicycle Safety Summit attendees set out on a bicycle tour around Minneapolis on Monday, April 29, 2013, outside the Commons Hotel.

Emily Dunker

Midwest Regional Bicycle Safety Summit attendees set out on a bicycle tour around Minneapolis on Monday, April 29, 2013, outside the Commons Hotel.

by Brian Arola

Minneapolis bike leaders gathered Monday at the Commons Hotel near the University of Minnesota to show off strides the city has taken to promote bicycling, as well as to hear from representatives from across the nation on ways to improve safety.

The second annual Midwest Regional Bicycle Safety Summit, hosted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, included panels on bicycling education, planning and how to increase the number of people biking.

Monday’s summit came as Minnesota legislators are considering giving bicyclists more rights on the road.

Many conference attendees took to the streets on Nice Ride bikes for a roughly 3-mile bike tour of Minneapolis, which included popular bike routes in the University area like the Washington Avenue Bridge and 15th Avenue Southeast.

Last week, the state Senate passed a bill banning cars from using bike lanes to pass other cars and requiring drivers to use turn signals when crossing bike lanes. The bill also prohibits cars from parking in bike lanes unless signs say otherwise.

Republican legislators unsuccessfully tried to put a brake on the bike lane parking ban, leading to tensions between Minneapolis and the rest of the state, the Star Tribune reported.

But many in the city and state say bicycling is worth investing in and that the summit was an opportunity for Minnesota — and Minneapolis in particular — to show off the work it’s put into bicycling, said Minneapolis City Councilman Cam Gordon, who attended some of the panels.

Mark Hicks, a board member from Bike Walk Tennessee who works as an airline pilot, said he chose to live part time in Minneapolis because of its pro-bicycling reputation. He said the summit drew some of the premier experts on bicycling safety.

“It’s motivational to hear the safety thoughts of the experts from around the country,” he said.

With a wide range of attendees, Gordon said the summit gave people from all sides of the bicycling community a chance to learn from each other.

“It gives us a chance to learn what’s going on in other areas,” he said, “and what people think about some of the decisions and questions we have about it.”

One of the main themes of the summit was the idea that more bicyclists on the street leads to more safety. Drivers are more used to seeing them, and the bicyclists have strength in numbers. Bike Walk Twin Cities provided numbers to back up that assertion.

Encouraging more people to bike is important for safety, said University alternative transportation manager Steve Sanders. He outlined the ZAP bike commuter program as an example of work being done at the University to encourage more biking.

Participants in the ZAP program install a radio frequency tracker onto their front spoke and have their commutes tracked along popular routes.

University employees can gain insurance benefits by getting “zapped,” while students are eligible for gift card drawings to local businesses if they’re recorded 12 times per month.

More than 1,200 people have registered for the program, Sanders said, and the participation rate is more than 80 percent.

Bicycling activists will continue to push for bike-friendly measures in Minneapolis, and the summit gives them ideas on what the next step could be, said Minneapolis City Councilman Robert Lilligren, who biked to the event.

“We have a very rich history of activism in general,” he said, “but especially in biking.”