Ride Boldly!

Bikes, bicycling, and road safety.

U of M Bike Lanes: Bad Design, Bad Results


In the wake of yesterday’s cyclist death near the University of Minnesota, I pointed out that the bike lanes near along 4th and University do not seem to meet current accepted standards for width, although I’ve not personally measured them. Twin Cities Sidewalks observes that the post-tragedy discussion is likely to center on bicyclist and pedestrians being careful, rather than touching off a much-needed discussion of the poor roadway design in the University and Dinkytown areas.

Twin Cities Sidewalks is right. High-speed roadways through the heart of campus, with or without bike lanes, are dumb, yet that’s what University, 4th and even Washington Avenue amount to. The bike lanes are built such that campus buses will migrate in and out of the bike lane at spots to pick up and discharge passengers. The lane placement encourages cyclists to overtake motorists on the curb side and requires skilled lane passage to make left turns. Lanes also set up numerous right-hook opportunities, placing the bike lane to the right of potential right-turning vehicles. This is especially obvious and serious near I35-W, but is true throughout the campus area. The number of opportunities for life-changing accidents is pretty huge.

The issue here isn’t cyclists ‘looking out,’ although it’s generally true that bicyclist and pedestrian behaviors in university districts everywhere tend to the chaotic. The issue is that the roadway design through the U favors motorists over all other forms of traffic. And that’s ridiculous. University areas are obvious places where pedestrian and cyclist traffic will exceed the norm. Speedways and poorly designed bicycle facilities invite tragedy. That the bike lanes are narrow is the least of the design flaws, and one that likely results from the era in which they were designed.

Yet, the University of Minnesota is allegedly one of the top bike-friendly campuses in the US. This speaks to the standards used for such awards — and that many schools may not even be applying for such recognition.

Situations like this tragedy continue to emphasize that it takes a lot more than paint and a bike lane to make a roadway bike-friendly. Miles of bike lane are easily measured, and may lull the uninitiated into a sense of safety, but it takes a hell of a lot more design to create roadways that are safe for ALL traffic. The University of Minnesota area does a poor job considering total context, and as a result we can expect repeats of yesterday’s events.

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Author: julie

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005. She is a past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association. She has 2 children and 4 bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations.


  1. No doubt about it – it’s a design issue, not an enforcement issue. And no matter what, it’s always a user attention issue.

  2. It’s just ridiculous, because even with every user paying attention, there are so many design failures and blind spots there will inevitably be issues. And while I would be the last to say that you need to design for scofflaws, contextually speaking this is a University district. Students tend to jaywalk, ride against traffic, etc. Given that people treat bike lanes as though they are automatically ‘safe’ anyway, you need to design recognizing that you have a lot of student users, and a lot of turnover in user population.

  3. Thanks for the plug. I couldn’t have said it better. What’s worse, yesterday one of my good friends in my department was hit by a car crossing the street near the Humphrey school, another place woefully under-designed for the kind of traffic use it generates. She’s doing OK, but I just get so frustrated when things like this happen. What can we do to create change?