Minneapolis cyclists find strength, safety in numbers

City plans to add 80 miles of additional bike lanes and paths in 2011

According a recent study by the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota there are more cyclists on the city’s streets, but fewer bike related accidents.

While this might seem contradictory, Shaun Murphy, NTP Project Coordinator for the Minneapolis Department of Public Works said the findings are on par with other similar studies. More riders on the road increase awareness among drivers, and where there is awareness there are fewer accidents.

For 2008, the most recent year for which complete data is available, the crash rate was one-quarter of that from a decade earlier. More importantly, the trend line suggests a steady decrease in the crash rate even as the number of commuting cyclists more than doubled.

“More bicyclists on the road actually means less crashes,” says Murphy, who also noted that ridership has been strong this winter, despite heavy snowfall. Some of the increase can be attributed to the hearty riders that city’s long winters breed, but the city also makes considerable effort to keep the bike routes open through the winter months.

The city has 45-miles of on street bike lanes, and 85-miles of off street lanes and bike paths, including those that are from converted railroad tracks. Murphy noted that the city attempts to keep as much of it open as possible, even in the dead of winter.

“The thing about the bike lanes is that these do disappear in the winter as the snow gets pushed to the side of the road,” says Murphy, though he noted that the city does their best to keep the paths clear. “Our off street lanes are plowed within 24 hours of a snowfall, and a lot are plowed sooner. The sweet spot for the winter rider are the off street paths.”

Murphy estimates, without formal study, that 20- to 35-percent of people who commute regularly on bicycles continue to do so throughout much of the winter. Those commuters, as well as recreational riders, will also have far more miles of city bike path and lane to ride in 2011.

“We’re working on our on street system,” says Murphy, “and we hope to add up to 80 miles this year.”

The city is also working to expand its bike-sharing program, which Murphy says was once among the biggest in the nation. The city has since been passed as bike-share programs propagate across the nation, but they have plans for expansion this year, which could put Minneapolis back on top.

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