10th Ave Bridge, car lanes separated from bike path by curb, downtown Minneapolis in distance

The Exhausting Fight of Just Wanting to Survive Biking in Minneapolis

This winter, I sustained what doctors call a mild traumatic brain injury as a result of poorly maintained winter bike infrastructure along the Midtown Greenway. How a massive patch of glassy ice was allowed to exist throughout the winter, I do not know, and my studded tires and helmet were no match under a fresh few inches of snow. I’m still recovering, moving into my sixth month on disability leave from work because sometimes concussions become Post-Concussion Syndrome, and brains take a long time to heal.

I tell you this to explain that when I and others say we’re tired of just trying to survive while biking in Minneapolis, the survival part is real. Safe biking infrastructure matters so that vulnerable street users, pedestrians and cyclists — who have just as much a right to use our streets as car drivers — feel and remain safe while trying to get where we want and need to go.

Safe bike infrastructure separates cyclists from cars to prevent collisions, giving space between both moving cars and people exiting parked cars. Safe bike infrastructure likewise is:

  • Built to prevent drivers from using the space so that cyclists don’t have to move into car traffic to get around cars in bike lanes.
  • Maintained to remove slippery grit or snow and ice, with the same expectations for safe passage we expect for cars.
  • Exists where people want to go, so that it is used and effective. Just because I travel by bike doesn’t mean I should be expected to travel miles out of my way so that car drivers aren’t inconvenienced on the roads which are all of ours to use.
Picture of road on bridge, downtown Minneapolis in the distance. A two-lane bike path is separated from street traffic with a concrete curb, and some bollards.
Here’s an example of safe bike infrastructure on the 10th Avenue bridge in Minneapolis, with a separated bike path. (Photo by Christy Marsden)

We’re Doing This Again?!

Which brings me to the latest fight about Hennepin Avenue, an effort to solicit enough signatures to halt the reconstruction plans. Removing 24/7 bus lanes for transportation prioritization after the plan was approved apparently wasn’t enough, and now these folks want to remove the bike lanes, claiming the Chain of Lakes and Bryant Avenue should be good enough.

As an East Isles resident who lives just a block from Hennepin, why should I have to bike blocks out of my way so that car drivers can treat our road like a highway? Not to mention that Bryant Avenue north of Lake Street is not a protected bikeway, and the Chain of Lakes is one direction for cyclists — hardly helpful for someone who is trying to get to the same places those car drivers are going.

After complainers successfully got last-minute changes to Bryant Avenue, which make the infrastructure less safe for cyclists and pedestrians, I fear these folks may find eager ears with the mayor’s new public works approach, and it just makes me tired. I shared my opinions, wrote letters, protested and fought for climate-forward, people-first, safe infrastructure for Hennepin Avenue, which aimed to follow the city’s own transportation goals.

In the Minneapolis Transportation Action Plan, the city aims to:

  • Promote a safe and inviting walking and rolling environment.
  • Increase the availability and safety for bicycling and micro-mobility transit.
  • Define the Minneapolis transit network with improved transit coverage, speed and reliability.
  • Invite new technology to advance transportation options.
  • Manage increased freight needs while preserving the street.
  • Improve street operations and address competing demands.
  • And, design for people.
A yard sign which says, "Streets are for People" and lists many things people like to do on streets, such as walking to school, catching a bus, riding a bike, falling in love, etc
A “Streets Are for People” yard sign, by the advocacy group Hennepin for People, shows the many ways streets can be used — in addition to driving. (Photo by Christy Marsden)

According to the city’s own approved goals, “Streets are important community public spaces where we live, gather, travel, shop or wait for the bus on a daily basis. We aim to design, build and maintain streets that are safe, functional, and support the movement of people and goods throughout the city.” The Hennepin Avenue redesign plan followed these guidelines, only to have the politically well-connected subvert the input process and move the plan outside of the Transportation Action Plan goals after the fact. And, they are trying to again. 

I’m tired. I  just want to be safe on my bike, to not fear another brain injury, and to know that I and my loved ones will be safe when we use the same streets those in cars wish to use. And, I want the city to follow the very goals it agreed upon, for the good of us all. Is that too much to ask?

Christy Marsden

About Christy Marsden

Christy Marsden lives in Minneapolis, where she tries to bike, bus, or walk wherever she can. Christy works in horticulture, teaching others how to grow and enjoy plants. As the 2023 Streets.MN co-chair, she is looking forward to making sure Streets.MN can continue to be a place to share people-forward stories about the places we live in.

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