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.