This is Part III in a series about the planned protected bikeway on Snelling Avenue between Hewitt and Como Avenues.
Where the bumper meets the soon to be dead or injured body, how does this design compare to other types of facilities?
The U.S. is fairly representative of Bicycle Driving, Vehicular Cycling, and Cycling Savvy (different names for the same thing). These have been promoted in the U.S. for over 40 years (I was part of the initial promotion in the 1970s and 80s). These have resulted in the most dangerous roads for bicycling and the highest number of bicycle fatalities of all developed countries.
Note: There is an important difference in advocating for bicycle driving and practicing it when there are no safer alternatives. I am largely for the latter, completely against the former.
On the opposite end of the scale is The Netherlands which over the same 40 years has developed the safest roads in the world for people walking or riding bicycles and demonstrates the effect of CROW standards on road design.
Minnesota, though still much worse than Europe, is one of the safest states in the U.S. for bicycling. Though still a predominantly Bicycle Driving state, more and more bicycle-specific facilities are being built and more people are riding because of that, so MN is a mixed environment.
Sweden and Denmark have fairly good protected bikeways though both still fall below CROW standards, particularly at junctions. Their fatality rates are about twice that of The Netherlands and both are working to reduce this.
I have included two numbers for CROW; all ages and only those below age 75. The Netherlands has a very noticeably higher percentage of elderly people riding bicycles than other countries and a quite outsized number of their fatalities are in this age group that is less represented in other countries and largely non-existent on bicycles in the U.S. Many of these elderly fatalities are also age rather than just bicycling related as many are heart attacks coincidentally while riding or falls that would be a non-issue for those younger.
I believe the plan for Snelling will be considerably safer than most other facilities we’ve seen in MInnesota and nearly four times as safe as no facilities, or Bicycle Driving. That’s good. It mostly eliminates the cause of about half of all bicycle fatalities—being hit from behind by someone driving a car—and eliminates the danger from buses at bus stops.
It improves safety at junctions though these are still considerably more dangerous than those elsewhere. Combined with the lack of grade separation, it’s about twice as dangerous as even 40 year old facilities in Europe and four times as dangerous as facilities designed to current CROW standards.
Given the not so safe and comfortable conditions for bicycling on either end of this project where people are expected to fan out, we can expect to see somewhat minimal use for some time. It will be a significant benefit for the Strong & Fearless and likely encourage a few more Enthused & Confident out. As we get more safe and comfortable bikeways and eliminate more barriers, we can expect this section to see significant increases in use.
From representatives at the meeting I continuously heard the statement “We’re trying to balance…”. To be clear, on one side of this balance are people’s lives, over 400 per year dead just in Minnesota, and on the other side, a few seconds delay for people driving and a minor bit of revenue for private individuals and companies. I am an ardent free-enterprise capitalist. We need to be mindful of business. But no longer at the expense of so many people’s lives.
This design is better than I expected and a significant safety and usability improvement over the existing road and for that I am very thankful. This is a very rare instance where a U.S. traffic engineer says ‘improvement’ and I agree.
Thanks to Ethan Osten, Andy Singer, Reuben Collins, Dax, Mark, and many many others for their efforts in making this as good as it is.