How the 2019 Snowmageddon Showed That Cars Remain King

February 2019 was a record-breaking month for snow in Minnesota with 39 inches of snowfall in just four weeks, an amount shattering the previous record of 26.5 inches in February 1962. Students have missed several days of school and some workers have shifted their commute mode to cross-country skiing, but the snow has been less fun for those of us who typically walk or bike to get around the Twin Cities.

Getting several feet of snow in a short time has been an essential test of agencies’ commitment to sustainable transportation, and they have failed the test miserably. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has a stated commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions produced by passenger cars and light-duty trucks, a series of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) curb weight classifications that includes the SUVs, crossovers and pickup trucks so popular today.

At the same time, those agencies have prioritized clearing roads for the passage of motorized vehicles. MnDOT’s social media team posted a video of a clever technique used to remove snow from highway medians and another of several plows working in sync to clear a highway as quickly as possible.

Similarly, the City of Minneapolis has an Office of Sustainability that claims dedication to environmental sustainability and social equality, and the City of Saint Paul is developing a Climate Change Action Plan that will aim to reduce transportation emissions and improve the quality of life for all residents.

Despite these stated goals, the cities dedicate significant resources to keeping roads clear while leaving sidewalk maintenance to private property owners and largely ignoring maintenance of bike lanes. This approach, not surprisingly, has failed pedestrians and cyclists.

Photo of a sidewalk with a foot-high snow bank blocking access

A snowbank blocks sidewalk access for pedestrians, including people who have physical challenges and parents with strollers. (Alicia Valenti)

 

Photo of a car parked in the bike lane while the parking lane is filled with snow

A car parks in the bike lane on Marshall Avenue in St. Paul because the parking lane is filled with snow. (Alicia Valenti)

The creative thinking MnDOT employs to clear highways for motorists isn’t being extended to people who utilize other modes of transportation. (It’s worth noting that people with higher incomes and white people tend to have greater access to cars and drive more than people of color and people with low incomes. Similarly, people with disabilities are more likely to face barriers to transportation, including inaccessible bus stops and stations.)

Many sidewalks and bike lanes throughout the metro have been impassable since the February snow onslaught began — and some crosswalks go nowhere because a path to the sidewalk hasn’t been cleared. Complaints from pedestrians and cyclists about uncleared snow regularly go ignored because the city “can’t” take care of it, or because the issue resolves itself several weeks later when the snow finally melts.

Photo of crosswalk connecting to a sidewalk made inaccessible by snow

An icy snowbank blocking the sidewalk renders this crosswalk useless. (Alicia Valenti)

Twitter user happify has thoroughly documented many of these issues:

Imagine the outcry if:

  • At the end of every block, foot-high snowbanks blocked vehicular traffic from passing through intersections;
  • Drivers had to get out of their cars and climb across a 3-foot pile of snow to press a button to get a green light so they could safely cross the street; or
  • Most major roads had broad patches of treacherous ice that could cause a car to flip or go off-road at any moment.

That is the current reality for pedestrians and winter cyclists throughout Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Photo of a traffic light and a beg button made inaccessible by snow

A beg button near Seward Co-op in Minneapolis is made inaccessible by snow. (Alicia Valenti)

Twitter user Dependent Clause tweets a thread chronicling the issues plaguing bike lanes in St. Paul:

It’s difficult enough to navigate these conditions if you’re an able-bodied person with reasonably good balance. For people with disabilities and people who use mobility devices, the public and private failure to maintain sidewalks can make it impossible to navigate the city safely — or at all. On several occasions, I have watched people using canes or wheelchairs travel in the street, moving toward oncoming traffic, because a sidewalk was unusable. Others who would face similar challenges simply remain home under such dangerous conditions.

Photo of a bus stop made inaccessible by snow

A bus stop made inaccessible by snow (Alicia Valenti)

A tweet from Anton shows a man experiencing this very issue with sidewalks:

Despite bold claims about valuing social equity, MnDOT and our local governments continue to leave accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists up to the whim of private citizens. These agencies provide for relatively unimpeded travel by car while paying lip service to environmental sustainability in the face of climate crisis.

Private car traffic continues to be prioritized at the expense of all other modes of transportation in the Twin Cities to the detriment of people who cannot afford to — or choose not to — drive. However futile it may be after having the same complaints go unheard year after year, here’s hoping winter 2020 will be better.

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

, , ,

49 Responses to How the 2019 Snowmageddon Showed That Cars Remain King

  1. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn March 11, 2019 at 9:37 am #

    Thank you, Alicia. I’ve been meaning to write this post about bike lanes in St Paul for 5 years now. Every year it is the same story and parking is never restricted on major bike routes (the two I interact w/ the most are Marshall & Summit). It’s even getting to the point that streets like St Clair & Randolph are so narrow that the bus has to stop to let oncoming traffic pass before proceeding.

    • Jenny Werness
      Jenny Werness March 11, 2019 at 12:52 pm #

      Yep, my bus has been arriving increasingly late, since it has to keep stopping behind parked cars to let other cars go by. It’s gotten even worse with Saint Paul’s one-sided parking for residential streets, since that just pushes more cars onto the non-residential streets.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 11, 2019 at 10:08 am #

    Too many people take this inequality for granted. Thanks for reminding me about it.

  3. Trent March 11, 2019 at 10:09 am #

    Actually plowing practices in Minneapolis appear to favor snow emergency routes and bus routes, residential streets have gotten terrible attention. Even with single sided parking some streets are barely passable.

    So the plowing strategy so far seems biased to clearing routes for mass transit riders.

    • Andrew Evans March 11, 2019 at 10:57 am #

      Although I take few city side streets here in North Mpls, it does seem that way. The major streets are fine, the bike paths even along 26th seem to have been plowed, but the side streets have been terrible.

      Not really going to blame anyone, it’s just the way things are.

  4. Dave Carlson March 11, 2019 at 10:10 am #

    I absolutely agree that cities should do a better job clearing sidewalks and street crossings, bike lanes and bike trails, and bus stops. However, I think the priority for clearing streets is set because emergency vehicles, transit, and transportation for goods and services are essential. Plus during winters like this, storage and disposal of snow is a real issue and cost. And do we use more of the environmentally-unfriendly salt to keep more sidewalks open? It is a tough issue, and hopefully cities can balance out these needs and problems to arrive at better mobility for all.

    • Monte Castleman March 11, 2019 at 10:35 am #

      Agreed. Beyond that, there’d be two other issues with doing the sidewalks, bus stops, etc first:

      1) If the streets aren’t plowed, it inhibits the ability of crews to mobilize and get to these locations.

      2) If they clear a sidewalk or bus stop first, once the road plow goes by afterwords all their work is going to be instantly undone. Expecting the city to clear the sidewalk once (rather than forcing private citizens to maintain city property) is reasonable. Expecting them to do it twice is not.

      In addition, I’m not sure why the author is blaming Mn/DOT considering sidewalk and bus stops are not their property. Bicycle lanes are but those are generally cleared at the same time as the road. Yes, roads with bicycle lanes get narrowed now and then due to snow like all roads do, but what would the carbon cost be of keeping the lanes clear to their full width by using heavy equipment to load snow into dump trucks and then hauling it who knows how far?

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller March 11, 2019 at 11:00 am #

        The issue with bike lanes is primarily from parked cars. Cars that are parked when the plow goes by mean the bike lane isn’t cleared and cars that are parked in the bike lane because the parking lane isn’t cleared.

        Maybe what we really need is parking enforcement.

        • Monte Castleman March 11, 2019 at 4:58 pm #

          More parking enforcement sounds like an excellent idea to me.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller March 11, 2019 at 10:57 am #

      Using the sidewalk is essential too, especially for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

  5. Andrew Evans March 11, 2019 at 11:07 am #

    It’s winter in MN, things are going to be different. Maybe the author is new to the area?

    In the images they posted, the one bike lane is passable and in general bikes suitable for winter, and/or those with studs shouldn’t have too hard a go about getting around. Yes, maybe, some trails are covered in snow, but hey guess what, some roads for cars are as well. I park the convertible over the winter and put snow tires on the Jetta, bike owners should be equally as responsive to winter riding conditions and take similar precautions.

    Yes, walking around on sidewalks sucks in the winter. No, not all homeowners care as much as others, and no, even those that do care can’t always easily clear down to bare concrete. I’m not sure how much better the city would be able to do things, or for that matter if tax payers would have the appetite to fund it. However, if it was limited to major streets that could be a start, and wouldn’t be too bad.

    “Imagine the outcry if:
    •At the end of every block, foot-high snowbanks blocked vehicular traffic from passing through intersections;
    •Drivers had to get out of their cars and climb across a 3-foot pile of snow to press a button to get a green light so they could safely cross the street; or
    •Most major roads had broad patches of treacherous ice that could cause a car to flip or go off-road at any moment.”

    On many side streets there are berms from plowing, and yes it is annoying. On my block I’ve seen and heard many cars with poor tires have a hard time making it up the small incline on the side street by my house. It happens, it’s winter.

    Drivers have to climb over the same piles of snow if they park on the street…

    Most major roads have and can have patches of treacherous ice that does cause or have the potential to cause major accidents. Part of the reason I don’t take 35w to 62 east anymore is that merge lane was notorious for icing up, and sliding going 40mph wasn’t really that much fun at 6:30 to 7am. Surprised more accidents don’t happen more often.

    • Mike Sonn
      Mike Sonn March 11, 2019 at 11:10 am #

      That bike lane is unusable. Maybe this commenter has never ridden a bike?

      • Andrew Evans March 11, 2019 at 11:33 am #

        The pic where a car was parked in the bike lane, was completely passable. All a biker has to do is go around a car. I hope they would be able to overcome this and not feel the need to turn back and go home.

        • Mike Sonn
          Mike Sonn March 11, 2019 at 12:26 pm #

          Honest question, have you ever been forced to merge into a busy arterial with cars that routinely go faster than the posted speed limit (which is already too high)? It isn’t just a matter of squeezing into the last 1′ of available space or moving into the car travel lane for a 30-40′ stretch randomly. You have to have be constantly checking over your shoulder for an opening, hoping that the driver quickly approaching isn’t staring at the phone – and if they aren’t, hoping that they aren’t a jerk that’s read too many FB neighborhood comments about cyclists being scum of the earth. That stress alone is a good reason to not even get on the bike in the first place. People do just stop their bike, get off, and go home – but really it is more a case of the next time they’re leaving their house, they don’t even consider taking the bike.

          • Andrew Evans March 11, 2019 at 1:59 pm #

            I used to commute to work from Stevens Square to my office building in downtown riding on 3rd ave before there were bike lanes. So yes I have, and if it was bad I’d just go slower on the sidewalk. I’d also ride all around downtown before or about the time that bike lanes were being implemented, also down through uptown on 24th, 26th, 28th, Lyndale, and Hennepin before there were bike lanes.

            Being alert and aware on a bike is an important part of riding a bike.

            • SR March 11, 2019 at 11:01 pm #

              It’a not one car, it’s blocks of cars in the lane- some of which have not been towed since the last snow emergencies and are now surrounded by drifts.

              • Adam Froehlig
                Adam Froehlig March 14, 2019 at 9:04 pm #

                This points more to Adam Miller’s point upthread about enforcement than it does anything else.

            • Chris Moseng
              Chris Moseng March 12, 2019 at 8:12 am #

              Not parking in a bike line is an important part of parking a car.

        • Phil Kaasa March 11, 2019 at 1:05 pm #

          Last time I road my bike around a car in a bike lane was three weeks ago. I haven’t been back on my bike since because I wiped out due to poor road conditions and broke my hand in the fall.

          Cars blocking the bike lane (partially or fully) is a non-trivial safety issue, especially in winter when the entire road surface can be difficult to ride on.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary March 11, 2019 at 1:07 pm #

          The bike lane is impassable, as the author stated. I agree there was an alternative place one could ride — the travel lane, not the bike lane — but that doesn’t really negate the criticism.

          A spotty bike lane is worse than no bike lane at all, since the “merging” action is far more dangerous than simply riding in the travel lane. However, with some sections open, motorists often harass bicyclists for trying to keep a straight line by using the travel lane.

          • Andrew Evans March 11, 2019 at 2:06 pm #

            So then Sean, what do you say about the bike riders on River Road who ride in the lane and not on the protected bike path?

            If it’s such a danger that we must keep the lane clear, shouldn’t there also be an expectation that cyclists use said lane? Or, do they still have the choice to use the roadway?

            If they have the choice, then what is the harm, in winter months, to a bike lane or path that’s not completely clear? They can ride with traffic in what are potentially better road conditions, as some choose to do anyway.

            Or do we need to keep bikes off of streets where there is a bike path, and then do a better job with snow removal? In which case it would be a legal matter if a cyclist is on the street?

            I’m not sure you can have that argument both ways with our current laws or expectation that bikes can share the road with cars.

            • Sean Hayford Oleary
              Sean Hayford Oleary March 11, 2019 at 2:38 pm #

              I am not saying that motorists harassing bicyclists is a good or acceptable thing. I am saying that it is a thing that happens, and fear of it impacts how people choose to navigate our cities on bikes.

              There is no obligation to use a bike lane, bike path, etc, and the picture in this article provides a perfect example of why a bicyclist would choose not to. Motorists should treat bicyclists in the travel lane like they would any other slower-moving traffic — wait and pass when appropriate and safe.

              But they often don’t, and even if they did, most riders simply aren’t comfortable riding in mixed traffic on busy streets. Providing clear, safe bike lanes is kind of win-win, since it’s lower stress for bicyclists and results in fewer delays for motorists. I don’t really know what there is to argue about that.

            • Adam Miller
              Adam Miller March 11, 2019 at 2:46 pm #

              You’re thinking of “them” as all the same. People on bikes are not all the same.

              That some of “them” would like to ride faster than is appropriate on the path or otherwise chose to take a lane on a parkway tells you nothing about what’s appropriate for others.

              To put it a different way, some people in my neighborhood use 35W to get into downtown, while I almost never do, opting for surface streets. Does that mean people in cars should be limited to one or the other?

            • Chris Moseng
              Chris Moseng March 12, 2019 at 10:34 am #

              I think it’s wild that we have a clear example of one automobile user (an example of a widespread practice) violating the law and by doing so make a roadway more unsafe, and your response is to argue that hypthetically law-abiding cyclists should just accept it, and to complain about other law abiding cyclists. Why focus on law abiding cyclists and not focus on the practice that’s causing the safety issue?

              Don’t illegally park in a bike lane just because the parking lane is full of snow is the solution here.

            • Holly Weik March 13, 2019 at 11:58 am #

              Andrew, the bike path is limited to 10 mph. Cyclists who pedal faster than that are required to use the traffic lanes on River Road, and many roadies are comfortable with that. Failing to clear the bike lanes or bike path, however, forces slower riders who are less confident to play in traffic whether they wish to or not. That discourages riding, and puts more cars on the road. The better job we do clearing the paths, the more likely people are to feel safe riding. A better initial effort up front pays dividends on the back end.

    • Jake Mohan
      Jake March 11, 2019 at 4:49 pm #

      That bike lane is obstructed and I would not feel safe using it. Passing the parked car would require me to take the lane, which on Marshall during rush hour means riding in front of cars driven by people who, in my experience, are not willing to share the road and have informed me of that unwillingness in violent ways.

      In many spots on Marshall the bike lane is now completely obstructed by parked cars, several of which are encroaching beyond the left-hand line into the auto lane.

      I have filed several reports with St Paul parking enforcement, all of which have been ignored. When I called them and asked them to ticket or tow these cars they flat-out refused.

      St. Paul doesn’t care about the safety of people who don’t drive.

  6. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 11, 2019 at 12:24 pm #

    Moderator’s note: I deleted a sarcastic comment here. Please stay respectful and in the spirit of the comment policy below. No need to attack each other or use sarcasm. Try and treat everyone’s perspective as being an honest one.

  7. Jenny Werness
    Jenny March 11, 2019 at 12:48 pm #

    Thank you for writing this, Alicia! I’ve seen innumerable examples of exactly the kinds of things you’re talking about. It’s incredible the amount of money, time, and creative thinking, that goes into clearing streets for cars. I’d love to see a tiny amount of this go toward pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

    An example: Yesterday, trios of road plows went by my Saint Paul house at least seven times. That’s 21 plow passes. And that was just during the day! They obviously were out again last night, judging by the plow wake on my sidewalk. The city knows that a single road pass is not enough to clear the snow, so why don’t they apply that thinking to bike paths?

    Another example: Last month I watched four little bobcats clearing the shoulder of a bridge over 35E (making space to store future snow from the roadway). It was a great demonstration of how well they’re able to move snow in tight spaces, when there’s no adjacent room for snow storage. The problem: the sidewalk on the opposite side of the bridge was covered with snow, even though the snowstorm had happened several days previously, AND REMAINED UNTOUCHED. They had the necessary snow-clearing equipment right there, and they didn’t use it on the sidewalk. Pedestrians had to walk in the street. It’s not hard to see the stark difference in priorities, even in something that should be simple: clearing the only pedestrian infrastructure on a busy street vs moving old snow from the opposite shoulder to make room for theoretical new snow.

    As we’ve discussed here before, it doesn’t have to be like this. Other countries manage to quickly and fully remove snow from pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. We have the knowledge, and the equipment exists, to start doing the same here. The current status here is not an unchangeable fact of life in a snowy world, it’s a matter of priorities and choices. Our governments can make other choices, and need to re-examine their priorities.

    • Mark March 15, 2019 at 8:23 pm #

      In Sweden, the sidewalks and bike lanes get plowed first and are top priority for re-plowing. For them it is an equity thing as poorer people are more likely to walk and ride.

      • Jenny Werness
        Jenny Werness March 15, 2019 at 9:45 pm #

        I’ve read some stories about Sweden’s approach, it sounds like it’s working really well. I’d love to see us do something similar.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller March 18, 2019 at 9:57 am #

        I think I read that it is also specifically a gender equity thing too, I think because they’ve found that women are more likely to walk for transportation.

  8. jack March 11, 2019 at 12:55 pm #

    I have been frustrated with a few business owners near my office who NEVER shovel their sidewalks. Students from the nearby University have to plow their way past these businesses, making their own path. The paths are a rutted, icy mess and now that it’s warming up there will be ankle deep slush to slog through. I’ve emailed the city three times to no effect. I thought they were going to crack down on shoveling scofflaws?

    • Andrew Evans March 11, 2019 at 2:09 pm #

      Keep in mind this would be the same city that would be responsible to clear sidewalks…

      There was an article here about the city of Bloomington clearing their sidewalks, and how much it costs as well as how many miles they have. It’s worth a read.

  9. Jake Mohan
    Jake March 11, 2019 at 4:43 pm #

    Thank you for writing this, Alicia!

  10. Nicole Salica
    Nicole Salica March 12, 2019 at 7:32 am #

    I want to do some kind of critical mass thing, but for pedestrians. We need large enough numbers to take the car travel lane when it’s not safe to use the sidewalk.
    So tired of all the things you mentioned here!!!

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke March 13, 2019 at 1:19 pm #

      Moderator’s note: I deleted a comment here about critical mass. It’s entirely possible to discuss the pros and cons of that political tactic without bringing up violence, even as a metaphor.

    • Rosa March 15, 2019 at 11:35 pm #

      I was coming home southbound on Cedar Ave in Minneapolis Wednesday night, and there were a LOT of people walking in the street, especially north of Lake where the cemetery means there’s no openings in the snow berm to get back onto the sidewalk once you’re off it.

      But you’re right about the critical mass – you can see it sometimes in Northeast near the U, and in Uptown on summer nights, when the sidewalks are full and people just walk in the street and the car drivers (and hovering uber/lyft drivers) just have to go slow and not drive into them.

  11. Scott Walters March 12, 2019 at 10:26 am #

    Definitely yes to almost all of the above.

    A few suggestions:

    Mandate winter tire (snow tire) use on cars and trucks. If everybody used winter tires we could reduce salt use significantly, and redirect that resource toward sidewalk clearing and salting. Winter tires are the law in Quebec, no reason they aren’t here.
    With all cars now using winter tires, we can also reduce the need to plow the streets as much, and redirect that effort to bike paths and sidewalks. The specialized equipment is readily available, and worth the effort.
    File a few ADA lawsuits. We have some excellent ADA sharks in the twin cities who go after small businesses in old buildings that don’t have ramps, they ought to have some excellent pickings going after cities, counties, and businesses that don’t plow properly. Video of a wheelchair stuck in a snowbank, a person on crutches toppled by ice, etc. ought to lead to some mega-awards. Good incentive. The disabled have every right to transportation that drivers do.
    Keep fighting for off street MUPs and bike infrastructure. When the bikers and walkers don’t need the gutter lane on the street, the reduction in street plowing will no longer be an issue. Until then, to the degree those who use wheelchairs can use the ADA to fight for access, bicyclists can piggyback on their success and access.

    Just a few modest proposals.

    • Don Youngdahl March 12, 2019 at 11:05 pm #

      ADA sharks pick on vulnerable small business for quick and easy money on issues that are easy to prove, using draconian quirks in ADA laws They’re not likely to do public service work by tackling the difficult problem of enforcing sidewalk clearing ordinances. Totally different legal arena.

  12. Mike March 12, 2019 at 10:26 am #

    This reminds me of the old saying that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Our roads, at least the non arterial, are in poor shape for cars. This morning most resemble the lunar surface with frozen topography of ice in all it’s shapes and sizes. Potholes are springing forth taking out tires and suspensions every day. The snow that has been cleared from roads sidewalks etc…. is piled at the intersections such that even pulling out onto a cross street requires either clairvoiance, intense courage, or luck, if you are not in anything lower than a Hummer.

    Yesterday I took 28th street east from Hennepin. The single lane for automobiles was impassible in that there was less than even a car width beteween parked cars and the bike lane markings.

    This has been a hard winter all around and all means of transport are tough. .

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller March 12, 2019 at 10:54 am #

      Yes, but you’re talking about one (or a few) day(s) of weird weather patterns, problem in only some places and despite a pretty massive effort to allow cars to get around.

      • Jenny Werness
        Jenny Werness March 13, 2019 at 12:37 pm #

        Yes, exactly. The side roads haven’t been great for the past few days, but the bike lanes have been completely unusable for literal months, as Dependent Clause’s tweet above illustrates. They were also unusable for most of last winter, with much less snowfall. It’s like this every winter. The lack of maintenance of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is a constant and comprehensive issue.

  13. Ted March 12, 2019 at 11:59 am #

    The parking lot behind Metro Transit’s light rail workshop, in St Paul, is immediately plowed after each snow fall, for all those Met Council employees who use single occupancy vehicles; this parking lot is cleared before the sidewalks and cross walks near the Central Light Rail Station, five blocks west. Weeks went by before the cross walks were cleared at the Central Station. The Met Council has clear priorities.

  14. Serafina Scheel
    Serafina Scheel March 13, 2019 at 1:32 pm #

    I don’t even pretend that I’m going to bike in the winter anymore. It’s just too dangerous to get to the dedicated bike paths that are cleared. And until the cities are willing to ticket vehicles parked in the bike lane, I’m just giving up.

    Frankly, rather than the city taking over sidewalk snow clearing for the whole city, I’d prefer to see them focus on areas that are consistent problems: intersections and corners and bus stops after the plows have gone through; crosswalks leading to transit, high-foot-traffic corridors; streets with no boulevard to store the plowed snow. It wouldn’t solve problems, but it would make walking more tolerable.

  15. Frank Phelan March 14, 2019 at 8:44 am #

    Parked autos don’t just encroach on bike lanes, they also encroach other autos.

    A good example is E. 7th Street from Minnehaha to Maria. Most of the year there are 4 traffic lanes with a parking lane along each curb. But for the last two months, there has been one two full and two half traffic lanes. Similar to the way autos encroach on the bike lane in the picture, parked autos are half way into the outside traffic lanes.

    In fact, it may be an improvement for bike traffic, as drivers cannot use the outside lanes.

    I’d just as soon see all of those vehicles ticketed, whether they are impeding auto or bike traffic.

  16. Dave Carlson March 14, 2019 at 9:42 am #

    I have noticed a number of streets including multi-lane one-way and two-way streets that have been reduced by at least a lane of traffic for the past several months… and while it is certainly a bit more inconvenient, it leads me to believe we could permanently reduce the number of traffic lanes year round while providing better space for bicyclists.

  17. GlowBoy March 20, 2019 at 5:54 pm #

    This is now my fifth winter in the Twin Cities. And the last month or so is the first time I’ve had to basically give up on trying to get around by bike unless I can take one of the plowed sidepaths like the Grand Rounds and the Shepard Road bike path.

    Because except for the protected bike lanes (none of which are near me) ALL THE BIKE LANES IN THE CITY HAVE BEEN UNUSABLE (sorry for yelling, but yelling seems necessary here). They are either buried in snow or blocked by parked cars. No, it is not safe nor acceptable to have to go around more than the VERY infrequent parked car. It’s a very dangerous move if there’s any traffic at all – drivers cannot be counted on to move over, especially with the streets narrowed by snowbanks, which means I often have to stop for every parked car and wait for a safe passing opportunity in order to stay alive.

    I live near Portland Avenue, in the Diamond Lake neighborhood. Yes Park/Portland has a stretch of ultra-wide bike lane, but not in my part of town. Because the plows won’t even come within 6 feet of the curb, the parking lane is completely blocked on both sides, and the bike lane is partly obstructed too. Especially on the 5800 block, even parked cars are sticking out into the traffic lanes, despite 12-13′ of space between the curb and the traffic lanes.

    And good luck dodging those parked cars. Traffic volumes on Portland (and many other streets in the neighborhood) have more than doubled since the 35W project started last year.

    Think it’s any better close to downtown? Again thanks to the 35W project, the bike lanes were narrowed between Lake street and downtown, effectively disappearing under parked cars since early February. So that luxurious-in-summer (and at least usable-in-winter) bike lane on Park/Portland only stretches from Lake Street to 46th, only covering two miles of my usual six-mile route downtown.

    Could I choose an alternate route? Well, let’s see: Blaisdell/1st? No, those bike lanes are unusable too. Take the creek over to the Hiawatha bike path? That’s my fastest alternate, but it’s often blocked by plow debris and still nearly doubles my ride time. The only other potential routes are to go all the way over to the river and ride in, or take the Grand Rounds around Harriet, BMS and Isles. Easily doubles my usual commute to over an hour.

    So for the first time, I gave up the last few weeks. Unfortunately even the last couple weeks of melt haven’t helped much – yet. Although the majority of the snowbanks’ mass has now run off, most of their pavement coverage is still there, with a lot of bike lanes (or parking areas next to bike lanes) still under shelves of ice for a few more days.

    Moving here I wanted to think this was a place that supported year-round bike commuting. Turns out I just got lucky, being here for 4 mild winters in a row. And now that we’ve had an average winter, I see just how pathetic the efforts are to make bike commuting work. Sure, if your route happens to follow one of the (thankfully many) paths that get plowed, it’s probably wonderful. But that’s not a very complete bikeway network. Once it snows a real amount, the Twin Cities’ bikeway network shrinks back to where it was in the 1990s. Sad!

    • GlowBoy March 20, 2019 at 6:04 pm #

      OK, so that’s the sad state of things (from a cyclist’s perspective; heaven knows things are even worse for pedestrians, and downright unlivable for differently abled people who don’t or can’t drive everywhere). What can be done?

      Build more protected bike lanes. Looks to me like those are getting plowed. Ultimately, we need a network of protected and off-street routes that get plowed in winter and don’t get encroached by cars, if we’re going to be serious about reducing our car dependence.
      PLOW TO THE CURB! On my street, the plows stopped coming even close once the snow piled up a bit. They could have gotten several feet closer to the curb, even without pushing much debris over onto the sidewalk, if they’d known where the curb was and maybe also slowed down. Do we need to put wands along the edges of streets, as you often see in mountain areas in the West, so the plow drivers know how much room they have? I’m putting these in next to my curb next winter, just to make a point.
      On some routes, consider alternatives to bladed snowplows. One problem with plowing is that some of the snow debris falls back into the street behind the plow blade, making more or less a 45 degree angle to the snowbank – as opposed to snowblowers, which often can make a nearly vertical cut. As things got narrow in St. Paul a few weeks ago, I noticed city crews doing just that on Randolph and some other streets in the neighborhood, using a large snowblower. They managed to reclaim quite a few feet of Randolph by doing this. I’m sure this is more expensive, less efficient and higher maintenance than just putting a blade on a huge dump truck, but we wouldn’t have to do it on every route to make a big difference.
      For crying out loud, require people to shovel out the sidewalk at corners. A lot of people even downtown and in Uptown can’t seem to pull this off. This should be a no brainer.

Leave a Reply

Note on Comments

streets.mn welcomes opinions from many perspectives. Please refrain from attacking or disparaging others in your comments. streets.mn sees debate as a learning opportunity. Please share your perspective in a respectful manner. View our full comment policy to learn more.

Thanks for commenting on streets.mn!