Category Archives: bike

Time for a change on Park and Portland

This morning I witnessed a very near miss between a cyclist and a school bus on Park Avenue South (also known as County Road 33).  This “bad interaction” would be classified as a “left-hook” where the bus was slowing to turn left, and failed to yield to the cyclist in the bike lane (approaching from the left and behind). Had this crash occurred, it would most likely have been severe, if not fatal for the cyclist.  This is the same kind of crash that killed a cyclist on Park Avenue in 2009.

It’s always seemed a little crazy to me that some of Minneapolis’ most heavily-used bike facilities are located on streets that are functionally freeway relievers (see Blaisdell/1st Avenue on the west side of 35W).  Drivers expect (and marked speed limits permit) travel at 35, 40 or 45 miles per hour on these routes, feet away from cyclists traveling 5, 10 or 15 miles per hour.

Don’t get me wrong, Park and Portland (likewise Blaisdell and 1st) are pretty great bike routes.  Given their heavy traffic, they have priority over most cross-streets at intersections, meaning a speedy trip.  They’re also huge, so there is space for adequate bike lanes.

I don’t know what the ideal configuration is for bikes and cars on these two one-way pairs, but as Hennepin County prepares to repair and re-stripe Park and Portland this summer, I think it’s a good time to think about how both of these pairs could be made safer and more inviting for cyclists.  In fact, Hennepin County’s Complete Streets policy actually requires them to assess all road projects for inclusion of Complete Streets features and “integrate innovative and non-traditional design options”.

So, in order to get the discussion started, here are some questions and ideas:

  1. Do these streets need to be one-ways? Park/Portland and Blaisdell/1st became the one-ways pairs we know today to address traffic capacity prior to the construction of the freeway system.  Well, we have a freeway now (and a newly widened one at that), so I think it’s time to reassess this configuration. Blaisdell at 40th sees 2,800 AADT, hardly two-lane one-way street territory. Access Minneapolis, the adopted citywide transportation plan, specifically identifies the Park/Portland and Blaisdell/1st Ave one-way-pairs for evaluation and eventual reversion to two-way streets. Two-way traffic would mean slower traffic, and better streets for bikes. Two-way streets also might allow more space for a “multi-street” solution (see #5).

  2. Do these streets need to be three lanes wide?  At any time other than rush hour, three lanes are way too many.  This encourages speeding (see #1) and wastes space that could be used for other modes.  Hiawatha handles similar and greater traffic volumes, and is only two lanes in each direction for most of its length.
  3. Do we need on-street parking on both sides of the street? Park and Portland have parking on both sides.  Losing parking on one side would free up a lot of space to better incorporate bike and ped facilities.
  4. Is there space for an “innovative” solution?  Hennepin County is already apparently considering moving the bike lanes on Park/Portland to the right side of the street, which is a good start.  But what about “buffered” bike lanes (paint, bollards, etc)?  What about putting the row of parked cars between moving traffic and the bike lane?  How about a full-on cycletrack?  New York and Chicago have some great examples of protected facilities on very busy streets that use just paint and parked cars.  With one less row of parking, I’m sure Park and Portland could each fit a wide bike lane and a 6-foot buffer between the curb and a rowed of parked cars.
  5. How about a multi-street solution?  I’ve outlined a multi-street solution to providing a segregated two-way bike facility on the Blaisdell/1st Avenue pair at Net Density.  If Park and Portland were both two-way (or one two-way and one one-way) perhaps both a segregated two-way bike facility could be used on one half of the pair while the other reverted to all-car.  Maybe we could develop one really excellent two-way facility on 1st Avenue south (an at-grade Greenway perhaps)?

  6. What solution is potentially the most safe AND inviting?  We shouldn’t be planning bike facilities for 30-year-old males.  We should be planning facilities for mothers with kids in tow and retirees riding trikes at 5 miles per hour.  Any new facility should increase safety AND be a marketing tool for hesitant cyclists.  People should drive by on their car and think to themselves, “I’d be willing to ride on that.  And I’d be willing to bring my child along with me”.  (Note: there appears to be some controversy over the safety benefits of “segregated” bike facilities.  I won’t weigh in here, except to say that recent evidence seems to show additional bikes on the road means more safety. If better facilities attract more riders and make drivers more aware of cyclists, that is a good thing.  Traffic engineers, please debate in the comments)

What do you think?  Do you ride or drive on Park and Portland?  Are you one of those traffic engineer people who can tell me more about lane widths and design speed and why we’ll eventually be told we can’t have nice things?  Let me hear it (here’s something from twitter to get you started).

At present, according to the Minneapolis Bike Coalition, Hennepin County doesn’t seem interested in anything beyond moving the bike lanes to the right side of the street.  If you’d like to see something different on Park and Portland, contact your County Commissionercontact the MBC and contact your City Council member.

Cross-posted at

Where do the Nice Riders go?

Nice Ride released their 2011 ridership data in January, and I’ve been itching to map it ever since.  Flows (don’t call them fluxes) are a particularly interesting way to visualize the ridership over different route segments.

I used ArcGIS with Network Analyst on a heavily modified Open Streets Map metro shapefile to generate routes between the start and ending station of each Nice Ride rental. The Open Streets map file allowed me to include off-street trails (very important in Minneapolis), which weren’t included in my previous attempts. I set Network Analyst to prefer off-street trails, bike lanes and regular roads (in that order).

Other than being pretty, you can draw a few interesting conclusions from the flows:

  • The most traversed segment, with over 16,000 trips, was the off-street trail through the Hennepin-Lyndale bottleneck (although likely some of this traffic went to the Cedar Lake Trail in real life).  In my opinion, this is a horrible segment for bikes and peds and if we’re trying to attract visitors back to Minneapolis, we should do something about it.
  • Other heavily-traveled areas are the Mississippi River bridges, downtown streets, and Uptown.
  • Men and women take similar routes.  I mapped both, but the flows looked very similar.
  • People are using Nice Ride even in the middle of the night. They are sticking even more closely to the southwest-to-northeast spine common during the day.
  • 30-day and Annual subscribers are getting into the neighborhoods more than casual subscribers (single day), pointing to the obvious conclusion that they are full-time residents who are using Nice Ride to go to and from homes more often.
  • Since Saint Paul only had a partial year of service, it’s hard to draw many conclusions yet.

What else do you see?

Cross-posted at

Nice Ride 2011 route fluxes

Nice Ride has released their data on rentals from 2011.  After seeing these maps of “route fluxes” from bike sharing systems around the world by Oliver O’Brien at the Suprageography blog, I just had to figure out how to make them myself.

I didn’t use Routino as Oliver did, but instead figured out a way to make ArcGIS Network Analyst do what I wanted (after a fair amount of data wrangling and lots of loading time).  I’ll probably post more on that later.

Trip counts on each segment vary between 4 and 29,000.  I restricted bike routes to roads with a speed limit under 40 mph.  One drawback is that my road network did not include off-street trails (greenway, etc).

Nice Ride data is public. Who wants to map it?

Nice Ride has released all their 2011 data.  And by all, I mean ALL.  One file in the bunch has every “rental” for the entire year with origin and destination stations, trip duration, and time.  Another has every subscriber and his/her rental counts.  The greatest number of rentals by one person in 2011? 1,028 by a male born in 1946 (?!)

Anyway, I’d like to make a map like this, but I don’t quite have the mapping/programming chops.  Its something like combining a spider diagram combined with Network Analyst’s best route analysis but doing it thousands of times.

Anyone else doing anything with this data?

Mapping the Twin Cities bike counts

View Larger Map

Much has already been written about the 2011 bike counts: the great news that counts continue to climb, how we might use them to prioritize infrastructure improvements, and even what grains of salt we should consume along with the data.  But I haven’t seen anyone map them yet.

So here’s my contribution.  Circle size represents 2011 count totals.  These are also the true counts, not extrapolated to annual numbers (I don’t think those numbers have even been released yet).

Cross-posted at

Using bikes for serious emissions reduction

Bicycles in a square

According to the European Cycling Federation, if the whole of the EU cycled like the Danes, they could achieve significant emissions cuts.

If the EU cycling rate was the same as it is in Denmark, where the average person cycles almost 600 miles (965km) each year, then the bloc would attain anything from 12% to 26% of its targeted transport emissions reduction, depending on what forms of transport the cycling replaced, according to the report by the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation (ECF).

This figure is likely to be a significant underestimate as it deliberately excludes the environmental impact of building road infrastructure and parking, or maintaining and disposing of cars.

These figures are for the EU’s 2050 emissions reduction target.  The figures are even greater for 2020 targets.

Bikes are not a new technology that would require long adoption periods and high initial capital costs.  Almost everyone knows how to use them, and they are cheap.  They also have myriad co-benefits, not least of which is increased physical activity.  To get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we should take a close look at the bike as a potential solution.

Using ECF’s study as a model and making some estimates, the Twin Cities metro could see some significant emissions reductions if we biked like the Danes, but getting there would be tough.  I’ll get to that, but first some initial thoughts on the Europeans. Continue reading

Not really Streetless in Seattle

A better movie

City Journal, a creation of the Manhattan Institute, has a profile of Mike McGinn, Seattle’s newest Mayor.  What really grabbed my attention was the reference to Seattle’s Bike Master Plan and what City Journal claims is it’s call for converting 3 percent of Seattle’s car lanes into bike lanes.  This little tidbit is getting this article a lot of play, at least in my planner-nerd circles.  However, I can’t find any evidence to back up this 3 percent figure.

City Journal is anti-McGinn, calling him “anti-car” and painting his transportation initiatives as misguided.

Sure enough, when McGinn became mayor, he began pursuing anti-car policies. He’d like to levy an $80 fee for registering a car in Seattle, and he has raised taxes on parking in privately owned garages. He now plans to raise parking-meter rates downtown to $4 an hour from $2.50, which would make it costlier to park in Seattle than in any other American city except Chicago. He also supports maintaining the so-called head tax, which docks businesses $25 annually for every employee who drives alone to work.

But McGinn’s road diet, which went into effect in July, is probably his most audacious idea. As the centerpiece of the city’s $240 million “Bicycle Master Plan,” which mandates the construction of 118 miles of bike lanes and 19 miles of trails by 2017, the diet will convert 3 percent of Seattle’s car lanes into bike lanes. Even major freight routes, including one that leads to Boeing Field, will see car and truck lanes converted to bike-only use.

Then there is this:

Factors both meteorological and topographical make Seattleites unlikely to forgo cars as their primary means of transportation. Rain falls more than 150 days a year in this famously gloomy city, rendering cycling both unpleasant and unsafe. And Seattle’s ubiquitous steep hills make San Francisco look like Des Moines. It’s hardly surprising that, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation, a mere 2,600 people—out of a total downtown workforce of 230,000—commuted downtown by bicycle in 2009.

They forget to mention that citywide, Seattle is now tied for second among the 70 largest cities in the US in terms of bicycle commuter mode share and that cycling to work has grown 93% since 2000 and 22% since 2009.  They also forget to mention that (auto) vehicle miles traveled has been basically flat in King County since 2005, and VMT per capita has been on the decline in the region since 1999.

What about that 3 percent figure?  That seems substantial if true.  It wouldn’t totally surprise me given the other press I’ve seen about McGinn and his opposition to new auto lanes or facilities (see Deep Bore Tunnel and 520 Bridge), but this is taking away lanes, not just not creating new ones.  However, on my  brief scan of the bike plan, I can’t find any explicit reference to converting car lanes.  Is City Journal taking liberties, or did I miss something?

Appendix F, “Guidance for Retrofitting Seattle Streets to Create Dedicated Bicycle Facilities“, which includes guidance for arterial (high-volume) roads, does say “Implementing some of these facilities will require a change to the existing roadway configuration.”  However, it goes on to lay out a process for analyzing existing roads to see how a bicycle facility could be accommodated.  The process includes considering how the changes in the street cross section will effect traffic volume, speed, heavy vehicle traffic and on-street parking demand, among other things.  This seems like pretty typical engineering stuff.  The plan says where generally the city would like a bike lane, and then the engineers look at the details to see what might be possible.  Sometimes, it might not be possible at all, and the plan admits this.

If analysis finds that the target bicycle facility type is feasible, the project can move forward to implementation. If there are constraints that would prevent the target facility from being achieved, alternatives should be developed with the goal of improving bicycle safety and access to the highest degree possible, given the constraints of the particular corridor.

The process of developing alternative designs should always be informed by the recommendations of the Bicycle Master Plan, which identifies a facility type for all segments of the proposed bicycle network. Other alternatives should be explored as well, again with the goal of improving bicycle safety and access, and providing the most suitable bicycle facility given operational and environmental constraints within the corridor. If the city decides not to proceed with implementing the Bicycle Master Plan recommendation on a particular roadway, it will document the reason for its decision to choose a different alternative. The burden is on the city to explain why it is not implementing a recommendation in the plan.

Later, the appendix actually says if the desired cross section can’t fit because of “operational or environmental” factors, roadway widening should be considered.  That part didn’t make it into the City Journal article.

Here’s my guess about the 3 percent figure.  City Journal writer Epstein looked at the total miles of planned on-street bike lanes yet to be built (118).  Then he found the total number of lane miles of Seattle surface streets (3,745).  Then he assumed that each mile of new bike lane equals one less lane mile for cars (there are a lot of things wrong here, the biggest being that the plan prefers reducing lane widths in order to add facilities, which wouldn’t reduce car lane miles at all).  Then he did some long division, and presto: 3.15%!  Remember, City Journal is “the nation’s premier urban-policy magazine“.  If anyone, including the editors of City Journal or writer Ethan Epstein would like to explain an alternative calculation, let me know and I’d be happy to post it.