Open Streets MPLS Participants Prefer Protected Bike Lanes 24-to-1

This post was cross-posted from the Our Streets Minneapolis blog.

Another summer of Open Streets Minneapolis festivities has come and gone, and during all the fun, the Downtown Bikeways Work Group collected some valuable data about people’s bike lane preferences. A poster with images of the different types of bike lanes you can find in Minneapolis asked Open Streets Minneapolis attendees to place a sticker next to the bike infrastructure on which they feel most comfortable riding. Over the course of the summer, a whopping 1,742 responses to this question camein, and I’m here to report the final tallies.

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People preferred protected bike lanes

It probably comes as no surprise that community members report feeling most safe on bike lanes that keep them:

a) furthest from traffic

b) protected by some sort of physical barrier

While off street cycleways are clearly the favorite, I spoke with many people who didn’t think it was the only direction the City should pursue. Many people felt frustrated by the lack of protected bikeways on popular, direct routes, like Lyndale, Broadway, Franklin, and Lake Street to name a few. People stressed wanting to see more protected infrastructure on these roads in the form of curbs or other strong barriers.

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Quite a few people expressed discontent with the increasing amount of “bollard protected bike lanes” popping up throughout the city. People believe that these widely-spaced plastic posts are a sad excuse for bike protection, as they would not do much to hinder a car from veering into bike traffic. One person referred to them as “glorified pool noodles.”

However, most folks’ least favorite (car users and bikers alike) were painted bike lanes which are the main form of infrastructure we currently have throughout our city. The first image on our poster is an example of a painted lane downtown, with parked cars to the left and moving traffic to the right. The majority of people I spoke with expressed not feeling safe biking on these stretches of road, as there are often threats looming on both sides with cars on one side and parked cars on the other. Many people stated that they would never take their children riding along these corridors due to how unsafe they feel. Car users also reported finding these painted lanes extremely stressful, because they not only have to keep an eye out for passing cars as they enter or leave a parking spot, but must consider passing bikers as well.

It was clear from my conversations with Minneapolis residents that most people didn’t feel comfortable biking in their own city with the infrastructure we currently possess. Although the city of Minneapolis boasts of being one of the best biking cities in the country, with over 225 miles of bike lanes, accessibility, connectivity, and safety remain large concerns.

If Minneapolis is serious about calling itself a bike friendly city, we need to start investing in the sort of infrastructure that makes us worthy of that claim. The conversations that I had with people signal that we are not there yet, and we need to continue to press our public officials to make protected bike infrastructure a top priority where it’s needed most. We plan to bring these survey results to the City Council to show them the type of infrastructure people want to see more of in the hopes of triggering a response, and having the necessary actions taken.

Get involved

In addition to our efforts, if you feel strongly about seeing more protected & connected bike lanes throughout Minneapolis, consider reaching out to your city council member to let them hear your thoughts.

Use this link to see who represents your Ward. Check out these resources on callingwriting, and meeting with your elected officials if you’d like a quick guide.

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44 thoughts on “Open Streets MPLS Participants Prefer Protected Bike Lanes 24-to-1

  1. Andrew Evans

    I’m confused.

    Either Minneapolis is an up and coming city for bikers, or it’s already there. It can’t be named as one of the top cities in the country for biking, but then be called on to “get serious” about it. Yes, improvements can be made and looked into, but at some point the city has been “serious” for a while.

    Anyway, was that information gathered at the same meeting where the Vision Zero (effort) was presented? If the city needs to be serious about anything it’s putting teeth back into traffic enforcement and removing some of the bad drivers from the roads. Even with protected bike lanes, riders still need to cross intersections.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      I think the key is that the bar is shockingly low to be a “great” bicycling city in the US, because we’re all so bad at it.

      You can be at the head of the pack and still have a lot of work to do.

      1. Andrew Evans

        Coming from a bike commuter who used to go up 3rd ave before bike lanes, I’d say the city has been pretty serious about it and the bar that’s set is at a decent level.

        But yes, there can be more that could be done, but at some point the city has been and was pretty serious about it to get to the point it’s in. It’s not like it was 10+ years ago when I bike commuted.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Minneapolis has been making progress. But it doesn’t take much progress to be ahead of the rest of the country.

          And I’d actually say that Richfield may have passed Minneapolis in the last 5 years or so.

    2. Lila Franklin Post author

      This information was collected at Open Streets events throughout Minneapolis this past summer. It was primarily meant to be a fun and interactive survey to get people thinking more about the bike infrastructure that’s currently available in our city. I hear what you’re saying and yes, Minneapolis is one of the top biking cities in the country and deserving of its rank, but only when you consider off-cycle tracks…our chain of lakes trails are second to none and fantastic for leisure riders. But if you’re considering how Minneapolis fares for bike commuters trying to get from A to B efficiently and safely? That’s a whole different story and one that needs substantial work, certainly not worthy of a top-tier rank. Many people I spoke with agree, which is why pushing for protected bike corridors on direct routes like Franklin, Lake Street, Broadway, Lyndale, Nicollet, Cedar, etc is so crucial to help our current bike commuting population, and necessary if we want to see more people biking as their primary mode of transportation.

    3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Minneapolis is indeed one of the best in the U.S. But pales in comparison to almost any city in Europe (or Asia?). This in terms or modal share – how many people bicycle to work, school, grocery, or dinner. And in terms of safety – how many people are killed or seriously injured per mile ridden.

      We have a very long way to go to catch up.

      1. Andrew Evans

        Walker, I guess that depends on where you go in Europe. I didn’t see much in the way of bike infrastructure that looked exceptional where we were in France, nothing out of the ordinary in the tourist areas of Prague, and nothing really memorable in Slovakia. Granted none of those areas may be huge bike communities, but most of what I saw as a tourist was at the most comparable to what we have here.

    4. Jim B

      By looking at the percentage of commuters who bike to work you can see that Minneapolis is comparable to bike friendly cities in the US, we are far behind the bike capitols of the world. How can we get our ride share numbers into the double digits? I feel the answer is bicycle infrastructure that makes riders of all ages and abilities feel safe. Painted bike lanes, in the door zone, will not get us there and should be considered a small step in the right direction. Let’s dedicate the funds needed to convert our painted bicycle lanes to curb or parking protected lanes.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Wish you’d included a buffered bike lane in the mix, or even just a standard-width (6′) lane, on the right side, not in the door zone, and not with crumbling pavement. I expect you’d still have lots of folks who’d prefer lanes protected with a vertical barrier, but it’d be nice to know how it compares.

    Not appropriate for every street, but I absolutely love the wide, smooth buffered bike lanes on Park and Portland.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      And just a quibble in how this is presented: “24-to-1”, really? You gave four categories of protected bike lanes, and one category of traditional bike lane — the worst possible version.

      It’s like I’m asking what your favorite sandwich is, and the options are:

      -Subway sandwich with stale, slimy lettuce
      -Jimmy John’s with mustard
      -Jimmy John’s with avocado
      -Jimmy John’s cut in half
      -Jimmy John’s club sandwich shape

      Surprise — Jimmy John’s wins in a landslide 😉

      It’d be nice if these were instead scored 1-10, and you reported the average score of the protected vs. the average score of the unprotected.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Well, Jimmy John’s is going to beat the socks off Subway even if the lettuce isn’t stale.

        I guess I don’t see any real difference between a bicycle lane and a buffered bicycle lane. A texting motorist could swerve over the “buffer” in a fraction of a second, and the comparison between any kind of painted lanes and real protection (concrete curbs or better) is the difference between a Subway sandwich that’s been left in a hot car for 8 hours vs a Manny’s ribeye steak.

      2. Lila Franklin Post author

        This info was gathered at each Open Streets event this summer as an attempt to get a quick passing vote from attendees about their bike preferences in a fun and interactive way. I suppose the point wasn’t to get a super sound data set, but rather to get people interested and talking about the bike infra we currently we possess. In regards to including a buffered lane in our survey, the second image down is buffered in addition to having bollards. We were primarily trying to separate by types of physical infrastructure, not just width from traffic. In comparing a painted lane to a buffered lane, there is no difference in the physical makeup (paint is paint) and will do nothing to physically hinder a motorist from veering into a bike traffic.

        1. Andrew Evans

          Lila, bikes will still need to cross intersections where there is (at some level) a trust involved that traffic will follow whatever given rules they have and will look for pedestrians and bikers. Unless you’re talking about completely separated and protected lanes.

          Biking I had no issues on the side of the road, and more or less no issues today. I’m much more worried about the left hand turner that won’t see me, or the selfish person running a stop sign or light. No barrier in the world would protect me in those cases.

          1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

            Junctions are tough. The basic Dutch junction works quite well for all users:


            Roundabouts are particularly difficult though good design can help. There is considerable debate among Dutch engineers about when bicycle riders or drivers s/b given ROW, how tight of exit radius should exist, reverse camber on exit radius, etc.


            Dutch engineers are leaning increasingly towards underpasses for bicycle riders and this particularly with roundabouts where they are increasingly lowering the threshold for when an underpass is required. They’ve had a number of roundabouts where the volume of motor traffic could make it not only dangerous but time consuming in waiting for a safe time to cross.

            1. Andrew Evans

              But still you’re relying on the vehicle to stop at the proper place. Car doesn’t stop and it starts to get dangerous for everyone.

              Roundabouts are terrible for pedestrians, the only input I have is that pedestrians need to be right at the exit and visible or offset away from the roundabout giving traffic enough time and space to exit and then look for pedestrians. Some like the one around Minnehaha falls are just terrible.

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

                Road design helps to get drivers to pay closer attention and to stop. Narrower lanes, sharper radius turns, reverse camber in turns, tabled or raised crossings all help.

                And then there’s general theory – we need U.S. traffic engineers to stop placing speed and throughput and low delay ahead of safety. Things like slip lanes and other bits encourage overall fast driving focused on getting from A to B as quickly as possible.

                1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                  Speaking of which, I drove part of the new Lyndale Avenue in Richfield this weekend, in a huge rental SUV. I think it is the only street in the metro where the lanes are narrow enough to keep you at or under the speed limit without continuous monitoring of the speedometer.

            2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

              It’s also important to keep in mind the European engineers practice ‘separation in time’ – using signals to prevent conflicts.

              The U.S. is also one of the only countries that still allows right-on-red (and we’ve just gone hog wild with left-on-flashing-yellow-arrow). As Monte mentioned, RTOR does not result in a huge number of deaths. OTOH, it does result in a large number of injuries and it makes walking or bicycling extremely uncomfortable, unsettling, and fear inducing with the high number of close calls or even non-close-calls but simply not knowing if the driver will look or not.

            3. Andrew Evans

              Then I need to add that in my time driving in Europe (mostly France) pedestrians (away from tourist areas) were extremely good about using crosswalks, and drivers were extremely good about stopping in the proper place. Everyone follows the rules and it is pretty safe.

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

                Did you notice also the there are a gob of crosswalks and that they are all marked? And that many are tabled? And that lanes are usually very narrow anywhere near pedestrians and that there are other bits to control speed?

                1. Andrew Evans

                  I really liked the street lights they had in Slovakia that illuminated the whole crosswalk rather than only the sidewalks.

                  But yes, generally France (at least) is a lot better at meaningful speed bumps and markings than we are here.

                2. Andrew Evans

                  Walker, although I just remembered that in Slovakia it’s somewhat standard to pass regardless of incoming traffic, and that in such cases it’s the oncoming cars responsibility to move out of the way.


                  On that note too, France has much worse rural roads than we do here. Quite a few lane and a half, no guard rails, and no real shoulders. Biking in town may be great, but it’s a different world out in the country. Granted, cars aren’t generally going as fast, but still it’s not the same as here.

                  Maybe one of these trips we will get to your part of the continent and see what your cities are like. Or at the very least stay in Amsterdam a day on each side of a trip and get out in the city.

              2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                Having driven in Ireland, the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, Corsica (not recommended) and been a passenger and a pedestrian in many more European countries, I do not agree that pedestrian use of crosswalks is meaningfully different. If anything, in city centers with narrow streets, I’d argue that crosswalk usage is probably less in Europe than here.

                1. Andrew Evans

                  That wasn’t at all my experience, but more than likely I have way more time in and around rural areas than dense tourist centers. If you spent all your time being a normal tourist (which is fine and what most do) then the experience would be totally different.

                  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

                    In my experience it varies a bit across countries. Germans and Austrians will all strictly obey every law. If you have Do Not Cross signal on a 2-lane road at 3a and there are zero cars anywhere in sight they will wait for the signal. Even on very narrow little streets w/ one car every 20 minutes they may well hike to the marked crossing.

                    Sweden, Norway, and Finland are highly law abiding but not to the extent of the Germans.

                    Dutch are quite similar to U.S., with two exceptions; 1) They are a bit more considerate of others (or a lot vs some Americans) and 2) Their roads are designed very different. There are a lot of marked crossings, in thoughtful places (desire lines), with short signal cycles – so there is little pain in simply obeying. OTOH, they will cross mid-block rather than walk a long way like the Germans and Swedes usually will.

                    Also, crossings in Europe are generally much safer than those designed by U.S. engineers so walking to one provides considerable benefit. They are well marked, in most if you have a cross signal then no cars will also have a signal that allows them to cross you (separation in time), etc. Unsignalized crossings are increasingly following Dutch CROW so no more than 8-9′ (cross 1 narrow lane to a refuge, then the next narrow lane). IIRC unsignalized crossings can only exist where speeds are 19 MPH – higher speeds requires full stop signals.

                    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

                      And yes, it varies by tourist area vs the rest. Amsterdam is very different than anywhere else in The Netherlands. Somewhat similar for Copenhagen, Paris, etc.

                      Oh, the Danes are possibly the most courteous drivers in Europe. Followed by Finns.

                    2. Andrew Evans

                      One thing my partner and I were wondering about, and partly it’s on us to look this up. But, we’re guessing that insurance and licensing is a little more expensive and strict in some European countries. Along with that fines or consequences are a little steeper than they are here.

                      We noticed in France that most traffic outside of auto-routes, pretty much follows the speed limits posted. Not that there are any police doing speed checks (we never saw any aside from posted areas that had cameras) but that if an accident did happen it’s a much bigger deal than here.

                      In any event, walking around the outskirts of the historic Paris city center, it seemed most pedestrians kept to cross walks. Although traffic is terrible no matter where you go there that it’s hard to cut in mid block, even on narrow roads. Especially when most drivers (cars and mopeds) are use to pedestrians keeping to crosswalks and aren’t expecting someone to dart out. I’d also assume any ambulance is going to take a while to get there that there is an element of self preservation as well.

                      In the south of France most everyone was great, again getting away from crowded city centers or tourist areas. For instance it’s more or less a freeforall inside the city walls of Avignon, but then more civilized in Niems/Uzes, Aix or Macon.

                      I remember once in a small town west of Aix that we decided not to cross at a marked crosswalk. A motorcyclist was surprised and almost went down trying to stop for us. Then gave us a look that hinted that we were in the wrong. You really don’t see that as much over here. Not really the stopping, but the expectation to follow the rules.

                      Slovakia seemed to be a mix, and a little more lax. Although their police really crack down on speeding, and headlight use. So most everyone seems to behave themselves pretty well. Presov had some of the best lit crosswalks I’ve ever seen. Wished I got a picture of them to send to our city planners and leadership.

                      We did drive into the mess that is Geneva, however we went right to the old city and parked, so I can’t comment much about pedestrians. It was a mess since they follow most French cities and don’t believe in major roads going to the center of town. So it’s off the A40 and 1a adn right smack into city streets with stoplights everywhere. It was a pretty drive on the A40 though, and renewed my fear of heights.

                      We haven’t been to Italy yet…

          2. Lila Franklin Post author

            I totally agree that half of the conversation includes making drivers more aware of bikers, especially at intersections. But we have to start somewhere, and improving the bike infrastructure along roads is a fantastic step in the right direction, and a lot of people I spoke with said that they would bike more often if more protected, connected bike lanes were established. I think part of the issue now too is there aren’t enough bikers on the road and cars still aren’t completely used to them… if we make this step to add more protected lanes this will lead to more bikers riding and drivers will have to pay more attention. And of course it will take a lot of outreach/education/signage… I’m not saying all of this is easy, but we have to make an effort to start somewhere and move in the right direction if we want to see change!

            I also think it would be fantastic to see designated traffic lights for bikers pop up at busy intersections throughout Minneapolis as a way to give bikers the right of way and feel safer crossing in these places. In Copenhagen, they have these designated lights at almost every busy intersection, giving bikers a head start to car traffic. I encountered these everyday when I lived there and it made me feel much safer as a biker at intersections. Here’s an article to read more about how they work:

  3. Brian

    Shocking that the most expensive option would be chosen without any other context to it. What if it was presented with cost in mind as: A single cycletrack in one year, one mile per year of fully protected bike lane, 10 miles per year of parking protected lanes, or painted bike lanes wherever possible in a single year?

    The reality is a cycletrack would take years to plan and build in today’s environment. A full network of cycletracks to make them actually useful would end up tied up with lawsuits for years. Drivers would not want lots of streets made off limits to vehicles. Protected bicycling lanes are great, but the city would probably only build them when a road is being reconstructed.

    If you asked drivers with no context if they preferred gravel roads, paved city streets, four lane freeways with cloverleaf interchanges, or 12 lane freeways with full flyover interchanges I expect the overwhelming majority would want the 12 lane freeways.

    1. Monte Castleman

      I think the idea was to deliberately view it without context, do determine in an ideal world what our inspirational goal should be in 10, 25, even 50 years, as opposed to making decisions about what to fund for next year. Although I’d still personally take the cycletrack since it would be one more mile of bicycle infrastructure I’d use, as opposed to 10 miles or “wherever possible” I wouldn’t. I don’t think I’m alone here.

      And “wherever possible” is still pretty limited because the current value of “wherever possible” is “only streets up for a mill and overlay” and there’s a state law that above 15,000 ADT four through lanes be provided for people in cars unless a traffic study determines that the road will operate acceptably with fewer.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Seems like you add a bike lane, preferably buffered, when the street is being chip sealed or a mill and overlay and a cycle track when it’s being re-built curb-to-curb. And add curb protection to the buffered bike lanes when the rebuild is a long ways off.

      1. Brian

        Isn’t a cycle track a complete replacement of a street/road with a bicycle only through way that excludes all motor vehicles? I find it hard to imagine that every street/road reconstruction would be bicycle only.

        I expect a lot of people would eventually leave Minneapolis if cycling and walking were the only transportation option.

        There are simply many people who would never bike in the winter. The temperature is often less an issue than snow/ice and wind. Sure, people ride bicycles year round in Amsterdam, but the weather is much different than here. Amsterdam has an average high in January of 43 degrees and in July the average high is just 71 degrees.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          No, a cycle track is a grade separated space for bikes, like parts of Washington, Park and Portland Aves Downtown.

          I don’t know why you think people leaving downtown who only want to drive would be bad, though.

  4. James Kohls

    If the goal is simply to give existing cyclists dedicated space, then painted lanes with sharrows would suffice. This would provide mild awareness benefits, but no protection and next to zero incentive for people who aren’t comfortable riding on existing streets/shoulders reason to start.

    If the goal is getting people who don’t bike/commute-by-bike to start, the only solution I see is highly protected cycletracks, off-street trails, etc. The more protected the infrastructure, the greater number of people will use them. Of course this would be incredibly expensive and take a long time, but it really needs to be part of the plan.

    Personally, I think we should be building both. The paint sucks, but it helps clear hurdles for future ROW, traffic and parking concerns. I think anytime a street is reconstructed, off-street should be the status quo, excluding maybe side streets.

  5. J T

    I live with three “interested but concerned” cyclists – aka people who I can convince to bike with me on occasion – and I’ve gotten way more positive feedback by only taking them to areas that are separated or on residential side streets.

    Anything less safe and I can sense the nervousness and hear some grumblings.

    I think fully separated is a laudable goal if the point is to get the concerned and the nervous trying biking again.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      JT, people in The Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Germany and elsewhere are no different. They’d be nor more likely to ride a bicycle here than your Interested But Concerned folks. The difference is all in the design of the roadways, bikeways and walkways.

      A great example here is Chippewa Middle School in Shoreview. Extremely few kids rode bicycles to school until protected bikeways were put in. The more protected bikeways, the more kids ride. IIRC about 18% of students ride today.

  6. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Great post!

    To what extent were the people voting also people who are fairly interested in bicycling for transportation? I wonder how this would look for the general population…

    One interesting bit is that the photo for the ‘offstreet cycletrack’ appears to be a quite narrow slow-moving two-way bikeway. I wonder if the voting would have changed had it been something closer to CROW standards. A major complaint in the U.S. is that many of the lycra clad folks are afraid of being forced on to poorly designed bikeways that force riders to ride slow and stop frequently. Bikeways built to CROW standards often allow riders to ride quite fast (30+ MPH) and stop about the same or sometimes less frequently than motor traffic (and people who train in such environments win stages of The Tour de France, World Championships and other pro races – so they can’t be that bad.

    1. Andrew Evans

      Well that’s my biggest amusement about our parkways. There are a few riders who seem to need to use the road, even though they are going as fast or slower than some on a separate path. Granted someone more than likely couldn’t bike around 20mph along the river, that’s a design error, but no reason someone going slower couldn’t use them. Especially given the parkways sometimes have limited shoulders and aren’t ideal to pass bikers.

      I really don’t have any issues or amusements with those who seem to be training for the Tour, only the ones going slow.

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