What Do You Want BikeMN’s Priorities To Be For 2016 ?

The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota is the largest and most prominent bicycling advocacy organization in Minnesota and the only one  I am aware of focusing on the entire state rather than a single city or the Twin Cities metro.

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As a result, the Bike Alliance is in the perfect position to make Minnesota one of the greatest places in the U.S. to ride a bicycle. Their vision and mission say this is what they’d like to do and I agree.

The Bike Alliance is busy setting their agenda and priorities for 2016; perhaps we should weigh in.

In years past, the Alliance has focused primarily on initiatives to make it safer and more convenient to drive your bicycle on the road with cars, along with other efforts such as recreational and commuter trails. They have also promoted Safe Routes To School. These efforts are OK but mostly benefit only a small minority of people. Only about 5% of people, the Strong & Fearless and a few Enthused & Confident, are likely to ever want themselves or their children to ride, or drive, their bicycle on roads with a lot of fast and deadly motor traffic.


Trails get a bit wider use, but even these are used by only a tiny minority of our population. I love and support our trails, but they mostly don’t go anywhere that people want to go. In fact, many or most people who want to ride their bikes on these trails get there by car, hauling their bicycles to these trails because the roads are too dangerous.

Lunch may be only a half mile away but if 1/4 mile of that is on a scary county road then people will drive their car instead of ride their bicycle.

I would guess that the bulk of BikeMN’s membership (and funding) are part of the 5% (or likely 1%) and so it is understandable that their focus has historically been on making it safer and more convenient to ride on the road with cars. I am part of the Strong & Fearless myself and do appreciate much of what they’ve done in this area. Is it time for BikeMN to vastly broaden their scope?

My Vision For Minnesota

1) I’d like to see everyone in Minnesota, regardless of age, gender, or ability, be able to safely, comfortably, and without fear ride bicycles, handcycles, or mobility scooters for all trips of up to 3 miles each way; to school, grocery, pharmacy, brunch, work, dinner, or wherever they would like to go.

Our current situation is perhaps best summed up as ‘you can’t get there from here’. At least not without venturing on to county and other roads that not only feel dangerous and uncomfortable to ride a bicycle on, but are dangerous. This has resulted in what is often called “MAMIL culture” (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) because these are largely the only people adventurous enough to venture out on our roads.

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From Transport for London International Bicycle Infrastructure Best Practice Study. Report. Condensed overview on streets.mn

Things are even worse during winter. Not only are roadways more dangerous but painted bike lanes become largely unusable. Even MAMILs stay in hibernation. Annie Van Cleve, co-chair of the Winter Cycling Congress 2016, to be held here in February, wrote a great piece at People For Bikes about this.


People with disabilities who use mobility scooters or handcycles should have safer places to ride. Every time I return from Europe I’m depressed at how poorly we treat people with disabilities.

I don’t think that Bicycle Driving Education (formerly Vehicular Cycling) and 3-foot laws will get us there. Nor will most of the new NACTO and AASHTO standards that appear largely to be designs discarded by Dutch traffic engineers as too dangerous. Painted bike lanes won’t do it. More: Do We Really Want Bike Lanes?

Experience abroad in The Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, and other countries as well as here in Minneapolis, Davis, Portland, and New York City tell us that the key to more people being able to ride is protected bikeways. And lots of them. And the more protected from motor vehicles the better. And protected through junctions and intersections, not just between them.

Locally, the success of Nice Ride in Minneapolis versus its poor performance in St Paul highlights the importance of protected infrastructure. As well, while St Paul’s painted bike lanes are empty all winter, Shoreview’s protected bikeways are still used; by kids going to school, people going for their morning coffee, and recreational riders.

We need Every Road to be appropriate for Every Person.

2) I’d like for bicycling to be viewed positively rather than negatively.

Cyclists are not viewed favorably in the U.S. The number one complaint that I hear is that cyclists block traffic lanes. Second is running red lights and stop signs; the third is related to these–cyclists catching up to and passing cars queued at red lights and then blocking them again (leap-frog).

This is somewhat a natural consequence of highly maneuverable 11 mph bicycle riders trying to share space with low maneuverable cars capable of and desiring (often very strongly) much higher speeds. These two modes, bicycles and motor vehicles, are not compatible and this is behind a key element of sustainable safety—homogeneity of mass, speed, and direction.

This is exacerbated by cyclists trying to fit into a rule system appropriate for motor vehicles but often inappropriate for bicycle riders. Perhaps topping this for me is that motor vehicles need highly controlled junctions to keep from hitting each other (and others), but bicycle riders do not.


Every time I return to the U.S. from The Netherlands I bemoan having to stop at so many junctions and having to so often wait on cars. In The Netherlands I can often ride at high speed and largely bypass junctions and other car obstacles. Having been a first class citizen in The Netherlands, I feel like a third class citizen in the U.S.

This all creates considerable conflict between motorists and bicycle riders and this conflict will only get worse with higher numbers of bicycle riders becoming increasingly common and rage-inducing obstacles to motorists.

A Solution vs Stop-Gap Measures

Measures like 3 Foot Rules and Vulnerable User Laws and being able to ride three abreast and not having to ride as far right as practicable and teaching people Bicycle Driving are mostly okay.

They are, however, perhaps like pouring a quart of oil into your car every day and then advocating for rules that make it okay to drip oil on to the pavement rather than fixing the problem. All of those things are good stop-gaps. And I practice most of these myself when I must share the road with cars. But that is all they are, a stop-gap. They are not a permanent solution.

It’s time for a permanent, sustainable, long-term solution. A solution that works for everyone and all year.


With that in mind, I would like to see BikeMN put its resources and skill behind efforts toward a sustainable solution that will serve all people of all abilities:

  • Inclusion of Protected Bikeways and junctions on Every County Road within 3 miles of any built up area[1][2]. These should be built to CROW standards and not NACTO or AASHTO standards, so that they function equally well for young children, fast athletes, and those with disabilities and do so all year long. More: Bikeway Fundamentals: Safety, Momentum, and Comfort
  • 20 mph speed limits on residential and some other streets that do not need protected bicycle infrastructure.
  • Require that 10% of all parking minimums be for bicycles and located either in a safe, secure space near the building entrance or ride-in/out inside the building.
  • Require new residential buildings to include ride-in/out secure indoor bicycle parking for at least 20% of residents.

We Can Do This

The best part is that we can do this. It may not be easy, but we can do it. Roads only last so long. If, when these are rebuilt or resurfaced, safe, protected bikeways and sidewalks and junctions are always included, then we’ll get there in about 25 years. And these should be popular with motorists because they get bicycle riders out of the way.

Shoreview has mostly done it. Minneapolis is well on it’s way. Others can too. And if BikeMN will take a leadership role then we’ll not only achieve this faster but we’ll have better infrastructure and infrastructure that serves everyone. If we do it right, we can have infrastructure like The Netherlands that is better than roadways for faster riders and MAMILs. There’s a reason that moped riders prefer the Dutch bikeways to the roadways.


Assen NL in 1970’s when they began building bicycling infrastructure and we began teaching bicycle driving.


The same street today. Imagine if we’d begun including bikeways with county roads in 1980 when The Netherlands began building their segregated infrastructure. We’d be done.


If we’d begun an Every Roads for Every Person initiative just five years ago we’d be well on our way today. In Ramsey County alone we’d already have over 75 miles of protected infrastructure, not including all of that in Shoreview. The Netherlands did it, we can too. For some good before and after click here.


County Road E through Arden Hills was recently rebuilt. Where are bicycle riders supposed to ride? Arden Hills and Ramsey County failed. What’s perhaps worse is that this could have been a great link to connect the University of Northwestern St Paul and Bethel University to student housing (the building on the right is student housing) as well as retail establishments frequented by students who currently use a railroad track as a path. I guess the risk of a train that only rarely comes along feels much lower (and probably is) than playing dodgecar along here.

We know this will work not just because of how well it’s worked elsewhere but because of how many Minnesotan’s load their bicycles in cars and haul them to trails like the Gateway State Trail to ride. Imagine how many more people will ride if they can do so from their home and also have an enticing destination.

This is what I would like to see from our preeminent bicycling advocacy organization. What would you like to see?

Disclaimer: I am not a member of nor do I pay dues or contribute financially to BikeMN. I would like to be able to change this. 

2015.11.02 Author Note: Dorian Grilley of BikeMN informed me that they have not advocated for changes to allow more than two bicycle riders abreast. I was mistaken on that and have crossed it out. 


[1] What is a built-up area? Anywhere with some significant number of people or a population center. Perhaps 250 per square mile.

[2] Alternately on every road with a speed limit of greater than 30 mph or traffic volume in excess of 1500.

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at localmile.org, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

21 thoughts on “What Do You Want BikeMN’s Priorities To Be For 2016 ?

  1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    I think your point about how the general public views bicycling is an important one. As biking becomes easier and safer, more people of all different stripes will ride for all different purposes. But until more different constituencies ride, it’s hard to get political will to make bicycling easier and safer. I don’t have any bright ideas, but it’s worth a discussion.

    On a slightly related note, I think BikeMN is the perfect organization to get MN’s traffic laws to allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, as they do in Idaho and as has been discussed in San Francisco recently. If bicyclists are not longer required to fully stop at stop signs, perhaps that takes one argument out of the hands of bike bashers, even if they’re likely to move onto fresh objections.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      I agree with getting Idaho stop implemented. I don’t think that will do much to sooth the animosity between cyclists and motorists though. Along with that, allowing bicycle riders on MUPs and similar paths to continue ahead when pedestrians have red would be helpful.

  2. sheldon mains

    Three points:

    It would be nice if the writer actually researched what the Bike Alliance position is and what it does. The Alliance is not promoting biking for just “the Strong & Fearless and a few Enthused & Confident.” It is promoting biking for everyone.

    I know this is an opinion column facts do matter.

    Finally, goals for a legislative session need to be achievable, not pie in the sky goals. Stretch goals are great as long term goals but don’t work as goals for the short term.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Hi Sheldon, sorry it took me so long to reply.

      What is your or BikeMN’s recommendation on County Road E through Arden Hills in the picture above? Was it built properly? How or where should an 8-year-old ride? 10-year-old? 75-year-old?

      If it was not built properly what would your or BikeMN’s recommendation be for how it should have been built?

      1. sheldon mains

        I don’t know. I don’t think the Alliance has any specific recommendations on that street. In general, Bike Alliance of MN leaves specific infrastructure issues to the local biking community. I don’t know if Arden Hills as a local advocacy group. Finally, I don’t know any details about that County Road E so I’m not about to make a recommendation.

          1. sheldon mains

            You want me to give an opinion on something I don’t know enough about? (If I have ever even been on E in Arden Hills it was years ago.) You want the Alliance to have an opinion about every problem street in Minnesota?

            1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

              Yes. Look at the picture above. Should people ride on the sidewalk? In the narrow shoulder? Should they all take the lane?

              From what you can see in the photo should this street/road/stroad have been built differently? How?

              1. sheldon mains

                First, I do not speak for the Bicycle Alliance, these are my own thoughts:

                Your initial question was “What is your or BikeMN’s recommendation on County Road E through Arden Hills in the picture above? Was it built properly? How or where should an 8-year-old ride? 10-year-old? 75-year-old?” I took that to mean “what improvements should be made to the street.” That was probably a mistake on my part.

                From your picture, it was not built with bicyclists in mind–not a new problem in Ramsey County. (assuming there isn’t a two way protected bikeway that isn’t in the picture ;-} )

                To answer some of your very different questions:
                “Should people ride on the sidewalk? In the narrow shoulder? Should they all take the lane?” : 1. Not in the shoulder– the state law is “as far right as practicable” that shoulder is not wide enough to ride in.
                2. Sidewalks– Adults, probably not– depends on their skill level, the number of drive-ways, the number of pedestrians, how intersections are build. Depends on whether it is a business district and what Arden Hills ordinances say.
                3. Take the lane– depends on the bicyclist– their skill and their comfort in taking the lane. It also depends on what that service road on the right of the picture– does it go through?–how busy is it. It depends on the traffic volume and speed on County road E (which probably depends on the day and the time of day). It depends on if there are close by quieter streets.

                1. Monte Castleman

                  Arden Hills City Ordinance 720.05 Special Activities, Subdivision 2, Section B: “No person shall ride or operate a bicycle in violation of M.S. Ch. 169, as amended from time to time…”

                  So it would seem that Arden Hills defaults to Minnesota Statute 169.222 Subd 4 (d), where it says you can ride a bicycle on a sidewalk unless it’s a business district unless there’s a local ordinance to the contrary. If I was riding on that road I’d be on the sidewalk.

                  I may be wrong, but it looks like they just did a mill and overlay without making major design changes to the road other than filling a gap in the existing sidewalk on the north side. At 15000 vehicles a day 5 lanes isn’t really necessary but isn’t excessive either. I’m not saying it’s not worth doing, but making major design changes usually opens up a whole can of worms that patching up what’s there doesn’t. 11 foot travel lanes (I’m assuming these are standard width lanes now) would have allowed room for a MUP on once side like how nearby Lexington Ave is configured, but would have considerably increased the scope of the project.

                  1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

                    15k ADT with 5 lanes? Ummm…. That is the very definition of excessive.

                    In Seattle, they are doing 4-3 conversions on roads with up to 20k ADT.

                    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                      This excessive design might possibly be in anticipation of significantly increased traffic. When the Snelling/694/10 junction was rebuilt they did not include a route or ramp for northbound Snelling to eastbound 694 nor westbound 694 to southbound Snelling. Both of these are expected to instead use Lexington Ave and the stretch of Ramsey County E above.

                      No idea at this time why they did this nor what the traffic impact is.

                    2. Monte Castleman

                      10,000 is the threshold where more lanes can be considered on two lane roads. 20,000 is around where a three lane road breaks down. So I do not consider five lanes at 15,000 a day “excessive”. Maybe not needed, but not “excessive”. Excessive would be one of Bloomington’s 4 lane death roads with 2,000 a day.

  3. Dorian Grilley

    The reporting in this opinion piece is incorrect. The opinions are, of course, the authors. BikeMN’s #1 legislative priority in 2015 and will be again in 2016 will be the creation of an active transportation program and its inclusion in any transportation funding package. Such a program would be similar to the federal Transportation Enhancements (now Transportation Alternatives) program championed by the late Congressman Jim Oberstar and would be used to fund projects in communities statewide that make bicycling and walking safer and more convenient… which, I believe, is what the author is suggesting. It would fund projects like the underpass in the photo above or a 4-3 conversion (suggested above) that may include a protected bikeway where appropriate and supported by the local community.

    The BikeMN 2015 Legislative Agenda is here: http://www.bikemn.org/advocacy/2015-legislative-agenda I admit the Active Transportation Program and funding are listed last (we will correct that in 2016). This blog post: http://www.bikemn.org/blog/189-they-do-it-for-cars-why-not-bikes gives you a hint at what the priority for 2016 will be. The 2015 legislative session ended in a stalemate between the house and senate on transportation and taxes so there was no funding for bicycling and walking. BikeMN will again have some policy agenda items that will also be a priority… but funding to make bicycling and walking safer and more convenient (kids going to and from school included) will be the priority.

    That said, we’d welcome other suggestions. And, we’d also welcome suggestions on influencing the Minnesota House of Representatives leadership to support making bicycling and walking safer and more convenient (personal connections help). That would include lowering the minimum speed limit from 30 mph if there was a strong enough statewide push to make it a possibility. BikeMN will likely work with some bike friendly legislators to introduce such a bill even though its chances are slim. You have to start the discussion sometime.

      1. Dorian Grilley

        Reporting does not consist of reading a web site and a few blog posts and forming an opinion. A simple phone call to me (651-387-2445) or any of our staff would have informed you that BikeMN’s #1 legislative priority and actions on the ground statewide are to build the political will and prioritize funding to move Minnesota in the direction of your vision and ours. As noted above our #1 legislative priority last session and next will be the creation and funding of an active transportation grant program. Without such a program Minneapolis, St. Paul and other cities, and there are a lot of them, interested in being more bike/walk friendly will never be able to implement such a vision. Here is a link to said bill: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/bills/bill.php?b=Senate&f=SF1376&ssn=0&y=2015

        In my opinion your words seek to trivialize BikeMN’s efforts find fracture support for our vision and yours. I strongly disagree that safe routes to school, riding and passing rules or a vulnerable user law impact only a few. But, a more lengthy and thoughtful response will have to wait until after BikeMN helps the Mankato Bike Walk Advocates implement their fundraising ride and celebration of biking that will help build the will to keep investing in making bicycling and walking safer and more convenient in Mankato.

  4. Don

    Don’t fast bikers in the Netherlands drive their bikes on the roads where it’s safer to go fast? I thought their path system is for pokey commuter riding.
    In the twin cities do we have to ride greater distances than Copenhagen due to the city layout? If so, does that necessitate an increase in speed to be practical?
    It seems to me that we need two systems. The road for fast riders and a path system for people taking shorter, slower trips. I thought this is what they do over there anyway.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Everyone in The Netherlands, including pro-tour teams, uses the paths. Similar to our roads they’re designed for relatively high speeds. Within crowded central areas you’ll not be doing a 30 mph pace line, but you wouldn’t be doing that on the motor traffic roads either. As you move out from the center things get better. On training rides there it was extremely rare, like maybe once per month, that I ever thought the road would have been better.

      Also consider that mopeds who have a choice between motor traffic lanes and protected bikeways nearly always choose the protected bikeways. There is growing angst over this with increasing numbers calling for limiting power vehicles on the bikeways to no more than 150w.

      There have been a few experiments to allow bicycle riders to use roads. In every one between 99% and 100% of riders chose the path.

      This is why so many of us push for bikeways designed and built to Dutch CROW standards. If I’m going to be forced to ride on a bikeway instead of the road I want it to be a very good bikeway.

      For more:

      1. Don

        Interesting, I’ve heard a little different from transpo planners there. It probably depends on where you are a little.
        Have you thought much about how ebikes might change how paths need to be designed, of if they will make people feel much more comfortable riding in some traffic. It does solve one big problem, getting of the line at a red light for less powerful riders.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          e-bikes have generally fit very well in to the Dutch bikeway network. They are largely used by older folks who’ve been riding their entire lives and simply give them a bit of a boost. There have been discussions about how much to limit their power to however and whether or not to allow throttle (vs only pedalec). The paths are largely designed for speed so that is not a problem except on some older paths.

          e-bikes are a greater concern in the U.S. where there could be a lot of people riding them who do not have extensive experience on bicycles to begin with.

          For an interesting take: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2014/06/being-member-of-out-group-little.html

          e-bikes could give some people a higher comfort level in traffic as a bicycle driver but likely not many. I don’t see giving a 10-year-old an e-bike and sending them on their way to school on a 45 mph county road thinking that now they’ll be able to better keep up with traffic so they’ll be safe. FWIW, I can maintain a 20-25 mph pace for several miles and I still don’t like riding in traffic.

          Getting off the line when the light turns green is much less of a problem with protected bikeways. Even so the extra help from an e-bike is certainly a benefit to many.

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