Editor’s Note: One of the missing voices in bicycle planning in the Twin Cities is college students who belong to a generation much less likely than their parents to own vehicles. This series of posts written by Macalester students for the “Bicycling the Urban Landscape” course are one effort to include these voices. This piece was contributed by Josh Koh.
It’s time for the Twin Cities to take a good hard look at its bicycle infrastructure and ask “what type of bicycle city do we want to be?” As someone who recently returned from a semester in Copenhagen I have continued to explore the Twin Cities by bike and find that our cities lack key features. I want to encourage all residents of the Twin Cities to explore the many ways Copenhagen has built its bicycle infrastructure to encourage all of its residents to cycle. I found bicycling in Copenhagen to be so enjoyable and easy! It was a bicyclists paradise compared to anything I have seen in the United States. Now that I have been back in the U.S. for a few months, I’ve noticed some ways the Twin Cities can Copenhagenize its bicycle infrastructure.
The use of protected bikeways in Copenhagen is not only safer, but keeps pedestrians aware of bicyclists presence in urban space. Another key feature in Copenhagen’s bicycle lane design that keeps pedestrians, cars, and bikers separated is a curb in between the sidewalk and the bike lane and between the road and the bike lane. This double curb set up is a crucial piece of infrastructure design keeps uses separated and people safe. Along many of the bike lanes in the Twin Cities I have seen bike lanes that are flush with the sidewalk, it becomes very hard to differentiate between what is pedestrian space and what is bike space. This confusion is unsafe for pedestrians and bikers. In Copenhagen, you will rarely see any locals walking in the bike lane unless they are forced to.
A key design feature that is present in Copenhagen that would do much good in the Twin Cities is the addition of more bicycle parking. Copenhagen has more bicycles than people and bikes seem to clutter every corner of the city. Copenhagen has made great strides to increase bicycle parking in all parts of the city, even taking out car parking spaces for bicycle parking. It may seem somewhat crazy, especially to people who consistently rely on automobile transit, but the addition of space for parking bikes is crucial to get people riding their bikes in the first place. If you have no place to park your bike at work, why ride to work? Placement of these parking racks or facilities is also important. Copenhagen not only has indoor spaces for bike parking (something that could be very beneficial to winter bikers in the Twin Cities), but it also has bike racks on the sides of the street which helps keeps parked bikes from taking up crucial sidewalk space. Bike parking on the side of the streets also makes bikes visible to drivers who may be new to the notion of giving bikers the space and recognition they deserve.
While riding to Brake Bread on West 7th I had trouble finding parking for my bike as I arrived at the store front. There was sufficient space for car parking in both the front and rear of the store, but I ended up having to chain my bike to a nearby fence. In my opinion, a business that focuses on bicycle transportation should have ample bike parking for its customers.
Another issue that needs improvement when planning bike routes is public safety, I am particularly referring to those routes or lanes that are not adjacent to streets and are not immediately visible from the street; an example of this is the Midtown Greenway. When biking the Greenway there are parts where, on one side there are train tracks and on the other there is a wooded hill or ditch, sometimes it’s just a concrete wall. The problem with this is that, in the words of Jane Jacobs, there are no “eyes on the street”. When only one biker goes by every few minutes, there is no one else to hear a scream or see a crash. This vulnerability can make people feel unsafe. In Copenhagen the greenways and even the park trails have adjacent housing structures with windows above the tree line, meaning that residents in their homes can peer out onto the bike lane if necessary and can be alerted by any commotion outside. The Midtown Greenway is certainly a wonderful addition to the Twin Cities bicycle infrastructure. I’m not proposing that there must be residential development along the route, but something should be done to make sure people feel safe while riding the route. There are a few blue light emergency posts, but maybe the addition of security cameras would ensure public safety along the more secluded parts of the route.
The Twin Cities must give the same space for biking as Jane Jacobs gives for pedestrians. The Copenhageners who bike to work can sometimes be seen talking to other coworkers on their rides to work. This is only possible with sufficient bike space and safe infrastructure for cyclists. In my opinion Copenhagen is leaps ahead of the Twin Cities in their implementation of bicyclist infrastructure and planning, but if the Twin Cities can make just a few adjustments, they will be well on their way to making bicycling in the Twin Cities easier and safer.
(Note: This comment was originally posted on the Mac Weekly website.)
Excellent opinion piece. We would 100% agree we can do a lot more in the Twin Cities to make biking better and safer, including adding more bike parking and protected bike lanes.
Regarding the Midtown Greenway, the piece highlights something we’ve been wondering about — do people realize how many security cameras are in the Greenway? There are about two dozen, and once you start looking for them, you’ll see them everywhere. But I think we need to do more to let people know they are there. From a crime prevention standpoint, we especially need the “bad guys” to know they are on camera.
Speaking of safety, statistically the Greenway is a safe trail. Though it does sometimes happen, it is pretty rare for there to be serious crimes against Greenway cyclists or pedestrians. Still, cyclists need to exercise caution on the Greenway and all trails, especially late at night. We recommend cycling with a buddy and/or turning around if you feel something isn’t right. Always call 911 if you see suspicious activity or to report any incidents.
We have numerous crime prevention programs, including our Trail Watch bike patrol, which rides the Greenway at night. Volunteers are always needed. Please visit our website at http://www.midtowngreenway.org for more info. We also have many other programs that are designed to bring more people to the Greenway, because having more people on the Greenway at all times is the best way to keep it safe.
I also want to mention that the Greenway is famous for attracting so much housing along its edges. While most of the condos and apartment buildings are concentrated near Uptown so far, more and more are moving toward Midtown. We work with the developers to encourage “eyes on the Greenway.” All of the new buildings orient toward the Greenway, complete with balconies, pools, and public walkways that create more eyes on the Greenway. We’ll keep working to expand these developments eastward.
Finally, while we have a lot more work to do to become #1, you may be interested to learn that Minneapolis is the only U.S. city on the Copenhagenize Index of the world’s most bike friendly cities: https://www.wired.com/…/copenhagenize-worlds-most-bike…/
Thanks for biking the Midtown Greenway, and for all efforts to make the Twin Cities the best city in the world for bicycling!
Midtown Greenway Coalition
It’s great that there is progress being made to enhance safety on the Greenway; I appreciate the work the Midtown Greenway Coaltion does for this valuable piece of infrastructure.
However, I think what needs to be emphasized more is what can be done in-between the installing of security cameras and new Greenway-oriented development. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how visible cameras are (didn’t stop the drunk man peeing 10 ft from me at Chicago Lake Transit Center this morning)- they are not as an effective “eyes on the street” solution as the built environment in which they inhabit. The picture of the Greenway in the article is a perfect example what can be done in the meantime: making the Greenway more visible from street-level.
I would be interested in your thoughts as to why the bike infrastructure in Copenhagen, and European cities in general, is so different from here. Are the commutes shorter? Winter weather better? Auto traffic lighter?
I also wonder about trends. Is bicycling as a primary transportation mode going up or down in Europe? Do older people still bike like they used to? The reason I ask is that I can remember a time when the parking lot of a factory I used to visit in Germany was full of bicycles and hardly a car in the 1970’s. Today, the same lot is filled with cars and hand full of bikes.
Your article is well done. Thanks.
“I would be interested in your thoughts as to why the bike infrastructure in Copenhagen, and European cities in general, is so different from here.”
That’s easy. They decided to build better infrastructure and then built it.
I agree. It hasn’t been a priority in the US until recently. We’ve had paint-striped bike lanes for a while now (though still not enough of them) … the fully separated infrastructure that you see in Copenhagen isn’t big in the US, but cities are now making plans to build a lot more of it.
Still not seeing much of the “double-curb” design (though to their credit, the Twin Cities do have a lot of paths where wheels and feet are separated), but I think that’s coming. IIRC the new Sellwood Bridge in Portland has that – which reminds me to go check that out, since I’m there this week. I was a little surprised that wasn’t done on the new Franklin Bridge in Minneapolis, but perhaps weight concerns prevented it?
I’ve a post coming up on plans for Snelling Ave over the Pierce Butler rail yards. The good news is that it includes a curb protected bikeway and is overall better than I expected. More on Monday.
I was wrong. Rode the Sellwood yesterday. It doesn’t have curb-protected lanes as I thought. It has raised shared bike/pedestrian paths on both sides, and simple paint-protected buffered bike lanes at the road deck level.
The only place I can think of where Portland has curb-protected bike lanes is the S-curves where the Couch bike lane approaches the Burnside bridge from the east. Definitely something both cities could use more of.
Adam summed it up well. Both Denmark and The Netherlands were on the same car dominant trajectory as other countries in the 1970’s. First The Netherlands and a few years later Denmark, made a decision to prioritize the safety of people walking and riding bicycles. Much of this based on principles of Sustainable Safety. What we see today with their much lower road fatality rates, lower obesity, and healthier populations is the result.
Germany kind of let things slide for a number of years. Cars became increasingly dominant and people felt less safe and less comfortable riding bicycles and increasingly choose to drive instead of ride. About five years ago they began to focus on bicycling again, largely based on CROW standards, and are just beginning to see positive results with people once again beginning to choose bicycling over driving.
Bicycling as a mode is increasing in most developed countries. This is largely due to these countries and cities realizing the positive benefits and actively encouraging it through improved infrastructure.
Here are some images of the more car oriented Netherlands in the 1970’s vs the same streets today.
I’ve a book with dozens of these. It’s quite amazing the transformation.
I have to agree that it is by and large a product of policy/political priorities. However I think there are some other contributing factors as well. I think the density and form which European built environments generally take allow for easier biking because they were almost all built on a human scale, rather than an auto-centric one. This makes biking and walking easier because their infrastructure and towns/cities are all at a scale to make it comfortable and easy. Of course it took the policy initiative, but the policy and conditions are a very good match once put together. They were also less willing to tear down their old housing stock and often rebuilt replicas of what was destroyed in WWII whereas in the US we tore down blocks and blocks of dense buildings to expand roads, build parking, and generally re-orient our cities towards cars rather than pedestrians/transit/bikes.
I can only offer an anecdote on older people biking in Europe, but when I was in the Netherlands two years ago I met a (healthy, well-off) woman in her early 70s who would regularly bike a few dozen miles across the border to Germany to go shopping! The infrastructure and mentality is there for anyone to get where they need to on a bicycle safely.
there seems to be such a backlash agains bike lanes here. I dont understand it. It doenst matter what article I read in the STRIB, there is always a negative comment on bike lanes.
Fortunately that’s a shrinking minority. As more bikeways go in people learn that they do not cause all of the harm that others scream about and actually provide considerable benefit.
Many people are not aware of the world outside of their neighborhood, state, or the U.S. And a lot of people don’t like change. When they see bikeways close by in a setting they are familiar with, they have a much easier time understanding how far off much of the negative hyperbole is and how well bikeways work.
Doesn’t matter where you go, the “bikelash” is everywhere. Believe me, it’s far less pronounced here than it is in Portland!
woops. wrong spot.