Do We Really Want Funding For Bicycle Projects?

We hear frequent calls for more funding for bicycling — for painted bike lanes, door zone bike lanes, sharrows, protected bikeways, bicycle parking, giant motor traffic intersections for Trader Joe’s, programs to encourage people to ride and any number of things.

We don’t need all of that special funding. We may specifically not want that special funding.

Asking for funding for bicycle facilities is backwards. It’s inefficient, can result in poor or over-priced outcomes, and sometimes the funding can be sidetracked for projects that have little or nothing to do with making walking and bicycling better and safer.

Imagine that you and I asked our boss for a bunch of money for a project. Our boss asks what kind of project and we reply, “Well, a business project”. Boss asks what it will do, and we say “It’ll make business better.” Specifics are demanded, and we chirp “we’ll figure that out when we get the money.” We’d be kicked out on our cute little kiesters.

Worse than the above, funding limits what can be done for the safety of those endangered by drivers, to the limits of the funding. “Sorry mate, we only have funding for wider and faster roads, nothing left to protect children riding bicycles to school, maybe next year.”

"Sorry Mate, we only get funding for the bridge. Just stay within the lines and you'll be OK. If you want curbs or guardrails you'll need to get special funding for that." (Photo of Nagoya Flood Bridge: Unknown origin)

“Sorry Mate, we only get funding for the bridge. Just stay within the lines and you’ll be OK. If you want curbs or guardrails you’ll need to get special funding for that.” (Photo of Nagoya Flood Bridge: Unknown origin)

We need to think about it differently. Not as bicycle projects or pedestrian projects or people with disabilities projects or guardrail projects, but as one comprehensive transportation and space project. Mitigating the negative impacts imposed by motorists must be a core element of traffic engineering and of every roadway, not an optional add-on.

If I want to do something in my yard that will negatively impact my neighbor, my city will require me to mitigate the negative impact (and I’d want to anyway). That mitigation is not a separate project. It is not something that I can do later if I decide to set aside funding for it. It must be a core bit of what I’m doing. Yet we build roadways with immense and deadly negative impacts on a lot of people without any mitigation of these impacts:

Boon or Boondoggle by David Levinson –

When engineers design a bridge, they don’t use a painted line to keep cars from driving off and plunging to their death. NO! They design it from the outset to be safe. Can you imagine if bridges didn’t have guardrails and we had to fight for funding for them?

Soon after the IDS tower was constructed a problem was found with icicles falling from the top and endangering those below. Fortunately the solution was not to wait until pedestrians all got together and pleaded for funding to protect them from the dangers but instead safety measures were implemented immediately. These measures are now standard on such buildings. (Photo: Bizjournals)

Soon after the IDS tower was constructed a problem was found with icicles falling from the top and endangering those below (and the sound of them hitting the roof of the Crystal Court was quite awesome). Fortunately we didn’t have to wait until pedestrians all got together and pleaded for funding to protect them from the dangers imposed by this. Safety measures were implemented immediately to mitigate the danger. These measures are now standard on such buildings. (Photo: Bizjournals)

In 2015, drivers in MN killed 52 people walking and 10 riding bicycles. MN drivers also injured an estimated 3,522 people walking or bicycling — 392 critically and permanently. Remember, these are only the people walking or riding bicycles who were killed or injured, not the thousands more in cars. These people who were innocently walking and riding were, not of their choice, needlessly negatively impacted by drivers.

My sister-in-law is one of the thousands injured each year. She, fortunately, doesn’t count as one of the fatalities but she has spent the past year dealing with extreme and often debilitating headaches that have caused her to miss a fair bit of work and incur some pricey medical bills — her portion of the $267 million that MNDOT estimates these deaths and injuries to people walking and riding bicycles cost in 2015.

Our response is that we’re going to spend 99% of our money making roads smoother and faster for drivers and 1% to improve safety for those endangered by the fast drivers. We protect people from falling icicles and from plunging off of high bridges but not from errant drivers? That’s messed up.

Edgerton Street received a Mill & Overlay this summer. Along with this the width of the shoulder over a culvert was widened and bike lane symbols were painted in the shoulder. About 390 bicycle riders in the US were killed last year, 47,000 seriously injured and 9,000 permanently disabled being hit from behind on roads like this. Someone walking or riding a bicycle is over 9 times as likely to be killed on a road like this as on a protected bikeway built to CROW standards. Why is Ramsey County building something that they know is dangerous?

Edgerton Street received a Mill & Overlay this summer. Along with this the width of the shoulder over a culvert was widened and bike lane symbols were painted in the 5′ wide shoulder. Motor lane width is 12′ with a posted speed of 45 MPH and an actual of well over 50 MPH. About 390 bicycle riders in the US were killed last year being hit from behind on roads like this, nearly half of all bicycle rider deaths. Another 47,000 were seriously injured and 9,000 permanently disabled. Someone walking or riding a bicycle is over 9 times as likely to be killed or injured on this road design as on a protected bikeway built to CROW standards. Why is Ramsey County building something that they know is so dangerous? Why do we let them?

Rather than start with funding, we should begin with what we should do — build safe roads — and then let the funding follow. If there is only enough funding available to reconstruct 22 miles of roadway to the new safer standards rather than the planned 25 miles of fast, smooth, and unsafe road, then that’s life. If a road cannot be built safe for all of those impacted then it should not be built or reconstructed or repaved.

A Base Requirement

We need new minimum requirements for all roadways. Requirements that will equitably and safely serve all users with as few negative impacts as possible. Somewhat similar to requiring guardrails on bridges.

All users begins with people walking, riding bicycles, those with disabilities, and those who work or live adjacent to the roadway. Next we add transit, motor traffic, parking, sidewalk cafés, street vendors, aesthetics, and other elements.

The roadway itself looks something like this:


And for junctions this: Bicycle Dutch – Junction Design.

This is what has worked well in The Netherlands and is now being copied by cities and countries around the world. This is the direction that MassDOT is going and that the new NACTO Global Street Design Guide recommends (review coming soon).

Getting It Done

Option A: Require that every reconstruction, mill & overlay, or new roadway be designed and constructed to meet CROW standards[1].

Option B: Require that 10% of all roadway miles and junctions within a jurisdiction be upgraded in each 2-year period. This will result in a safer roadway system in about 20 years vs the likely 40-year period of Option A[2].


While costing only slightly more than a less safe US street, a street that meets CROW standards is much safer and overall more cost effective. These riders are in a safe bicycling course that all school children are required to take each year. Judges are out on their course  to note, using the numbers, how well they do. Also note that there are three driveways and five access walks in this photo and that per CROW specs the bikeway has right-of-way and so is continuous in material, color, and grade.

A roadway built to CROW standards will cost between 5% and maybe 15% more than current US standards. But, as Dr Lindeke recently pointed out, will result in an overall net savings:

Seven Ways Automobility Undermines A City’s Bottom Line by Dr. Bill Lindeke —

Back to my earlier business analogy, if an employee tells me that spending $1 billion in business ‘A’ (safer roads) will save us $2 billion in business ‘B’ (healthcare, welfare, etc.) then I’m all ears. Government and politicians need to learn to function the same way — we need to introduce the right hand to the left hand.

But this shouldn’t matter much, because we’re talking about people’s lives, and a solution that we know works, is affordable, and that currently works elsewhere. What is the value of someone’s life?

The Paint Didn't Work. When I was shooting the cover shot this car swerved in to the bike lane and then suddenly jerked back in to the motor vehicle lane.

The Paint Didn’t Work. When I was shooting the cover shot this car swerved in to the bike lane and then suddenly jerked back in to the motor vehicle lane. We don’t trust paint to keep people from driving off of a high bridge and plunging to their death, why do we think it will keep people from killing bicycle riders?


[1] Or standards outlined by MassDOT in … or NACTO in …

[2] Measuring over two years instead of one allows jurisdictions to better plan projects without being forced to incur unnecessary costs trying to meet annual targets. Going beyond two year targets can result in things sliding.

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, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

16 thoughts on “Do We Really Want Funding For Bicycle Projects?

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    Do European streets not have “reaction space” preserved for them like North American lanes? Looking at the European street photo with bike lane, curb, motor vehicle lane … I can’t imagine a Hennepin County engineeer looking at that and thinking it’s a safe thing. 😉

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Agree. It probably wouldn’t look safe to them. Of course, roads designed by our engineers are actually 2 to 3 times as dangerous so appearances can be deceiving. 🙂

      Very often there are no shoulders or reaction distances, though it does vary some. Many engineers there believe that wider travel lanes and additional clear area only encourage speed and inattentiveness. Kind of a ‘threat of hitting hard things enforces better than the threat of a ticket’.

      The UK has about the lowest crashes and fatalities per VMT in the world and yet it’s common to drive (legally) 60mph on a two-lane road that is 19′ in total width. That 19′ bounded by rocks, berms, and trees.

  2. Ben

    I’m continually baffled by these pieces–how can so much right also be so wrong? The banal truism about the perfect being the enemy of the good is wholly applicable here.

    I’d love a statewide complete streets policy and a MNDoT that sees the light. It’s not going to happen overnight and we need to build the bike facilities where we can, while we can to mitigate harm now.

    And maybe along the way we can change the culture of transportation in Minnesota. We know for a fact that the places that are putting in protected facilities are seeing higher use rates. Eventually those higher use rates will become a culture change and we can talk about mitigating the harm of cars more completely–a goal I find wholly laudable. But it’s a long-term goal, not a short-term goal.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Ben, I kind of agree. I’ve struggled for years with this and still do. Is something better than nothing? Sometimes. This though might be like saying that a 2″ curb along the edges of the Nagoya bridge (above) would be better than nothing so we’d accept it.

      The bike lanes on Park & Portland ( are perhaps better than nothing. Same for the new bike lanes on Cleveland, Western (cover photo), and elsewhere. These are 6% facilities though — they only work for at best about 6% of the population. This is what we’ve seen in Portland. What about the other 94%? How many people want their 9-year-old child to ride to school in a door zone bike lane with 50 mph traffic?

      Even with serving 6% of people their safety benefit is debatable.

      A major concern I have is how often are we letting engineers and politicians off the hook? Instead of pressing for something that is truly safe and functional and that has been proven we accept a bit of paint?

      So, I believe in celebrating the building of lessor facilities but in promoting what we know actually works which is currently defined by CROW.

      1. Anna Jaiswal

        I totally agree with the article, and I say this to people all the time. All transportation infrastructure needs to be safe for vulnerable users and accommodate active transportation modes. If bicycling infrastructure is separated out as an “extra” thing that’s funded by a special competitive pot of funding for projects, but there are still formula-funded roadway projects being designed and built that are ignoring active transportation modes, then the point is being completely missed. The ideal would be to have both – extra funding for retrofits to unsafe roadways now, plus a complete streets approach to all new roadway projects being designed and built going forward.

  3. Jackie Williams

    Last MOnday night when I was biking home on 3rd in downtown MPLS. A woman in a SUV got so inpatient at waiting to turn, she drove down the bike lane, while mowing down the plastics sticks that are supposed to be “protection” what is the point of those plastic sticks?

    we need a cement curb or planters to keep cars from hitting us.

    1. Anton SchiefferAnton Schieffer

      Yes, I remember a lively discussion on about whether we should use planters for that protected bike lane, or whether we should keep an additional car lane and use the plastic sticks. Unfortunately, the city council did not have such a discussion. Vehicles now use the 3rd st bike lane for parking, as the sticks don’t have much of a deterrent impact.

      Worse is that bad bike infrastructure like that makes decision-makers more leery of new projects.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

        “Worse is that bad bike infrastructure like that makes decision-makers more leery of new projects.”

        Sadly, Yes. “But oh, we tried to put in bicycle infrastructure and nobody used it.”

      2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        The city council didn’t have a discussion because everything was set to go to three lanes with planters (south of 8th St.) until one of them got the staff to suddenly change its recommendation because that’s what “business interests” wanted.

        That said, by our standards, this is not “bad bike infrastructure,” at least for bikes. I use it regularly and haven’t run into issues with cars in it (although I saw a car pull into it today and the immediately pull back into the driving lane).

        I do think the lack of turn lanes has created some stacking, though, so maybe it’s bad for cars, which very much could have the effect you’re worried about.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Jackie, Yes! And while preventing drivers from killing people walking and riding bicycles is the greatest benefit, solid barriers also reduce or prevent road debris from creating hazards on the bikeway. They can also reduce or eliminate problems from the splush wake of passing vehicles.

      Oh, and curbs or planters look a lot better than plastic, faded plastic, or even broken faded cracked plastic.

      1. Jaquelyn MOORE-WILLIAMS

        I know the plastic poles are better than nothing, and it is great to finally not have to ride in the gutter on 3rd ave.

        Im hoping the city as a whole shifts to making roads safe vs special projects. It seems when a project is labled just for pedestrians or just for Cyclist, it makes drivers angry. Suddenly they feel they are victems and are forced to pay for everything. It’s sorta funny. I like the design of the protected bike pictured in this article. The paint we use just does not seem to alert a driver that they have invaded your lane.

  4. Scott

    There is currently very little (if any) funding for stand-alone “pedestrian projects”, and the results (or lack thereof) are evident. Such projects are generally done when pavement conditions of a roadway warrant replacement- every 50-60 years. Dangerous locations for pedestrians like 43rd & Nicollet therefore will not get addressed for decades because this street was reconstructed within the last 10 years. So, funding for stand-alone pedestrian projects is sorely needed and it seems like a bad idea to argue against it on this forum.

    The results from a decade of “bike projects” in Minneapolis is amazing with the numbers of bicyclists increasing, safety improving, and a default understanding by public officials that bike infrastructure is expected during reconstruction projects. There are so many dangerous and uncomfortable places for bicyclists and pedestrians that remain, and we should welcome and encourage additional funding to improve them.

  5. Cyclinginedmontonfromtheeyesofateen

    I also point out that there is a lot you can do with paint, bollards, plastic pots and those bolt down curbs like you see in parking lots that stops you from hitting the sidewalk in front of the door. Many roads are say 4 lanes of 3.7 metre lanes (I know you guys use feet, but I was raised without the imperial system and I know dimensions better in metres), total is 14.6 metres. Provide two lanes of 3 metres each, a common dimension for safer streets. 8.6 remaining. Subtract 2.5 metres for each direction of a cycle track, 5 total. Add a 1.9 metre wide parking lane on one side of the road. Have 80 cm of a painted with those flex bollards as a door zone between the cycle track and the parking. And 1 metre of a buffer, again with flex bollards and potted plants, that finally provides the cycle track on the other side of the street. It would look like this:

    Protected intersections as described by Nick Falbo can be built with those temporary curbs, paint and bicycle specific signals on existing posts.

    And you can do a bunch of similar things to make it nicer for side streets as well. Impose a 30 km/h zonal speed limit system on residential streets and where cycle tracks nor bike lanes on roads where the space between the bike lanes is less than 5.6 metres. Assuming you have a 9 metre wide road including parking, convert that parking to angled parking on one side of the street leaving about 4.5 metres left, and then alternate the side of the street that parking is on about every 75 metres or so. Add raised crosswalks every so often, remove control over right of way, forcing road users to look around to check for traffic before proceeding at every side street, and use those paint and potted plants or plastic curbs to add curb extensions to reduce the crossing distance to just 4.5 metres. On roads between 4.5 and 6.5 metres, add dashed lines to divide the road up roughly into thirds, and when that is wider than 5.25 metres, make them official bike lanes. Add in volume calming like right in right outs, bollards like this:

    to force traffic to take turns, diagonal diverters, to reduce volume.

    That can provide a whole network within something like 2 years. You can then tackle the permanent designs over maybe 10 years then.

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