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Bicycle Safety, Minneapolis & the Unnamed Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room

There’s an elephant in the room…

Today is US DOT’s Safety Summit in Minneapolis. Ray LaHood and an all-star cast of speakers are getting down in Minneapolis town to talk about the funk of bicycle safety.

But if you look at the Minneapolis here we come post on the FastLane blog, notice anything missing in the trumpeting of how bicycle mode shade has increased by 56%? I’ll give you a second to scan it.

…wait, no mention of that $25 million dollar federal investment in Minneapolis cycling via the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program?

Minneapolis was by far the most successful of the NMTPP pilot sites, the other being Columbia, MO, Marin County, CA, and Sheboygan County, WI. There are some solid reasons for that — one being almost certainly relative density, another being the chain of command in the use of the funds, and another being how the funds actually got used. That last is undoubtedly important. But it isn’t isolated. And it also doesn’t address how cities and counties can fund significant improvements using piecemeal funding under current federal, state and local programs to fund transportation enhancements. Even Minneapolis is now facing this as the end of the funding comes near — while that technically already occurred, public works projects are rarely instant, and federal funding is not quite like a personal checkbook.Minneapolis

Minneapolis has done a great job choosing projects and promoting cycling within the city, and with links to tier 1 suburbs. This is not debatable. But to hold up Minneapolis as an example of rapid progress without mentioning the grant funding simply ignores context. Most cities are going to make slower incremental changes due to the funding available. Because of the safety in numbers effect, which has been studied extensively and is known to be a factor in Minneapolis, this also means most metros will have a slower approach to safety numbers because their growth rate will be lower.

Maybe this will be discussed today. The agenda includes people who have been closely associated with administering NMTPP funds. But let’s be honest: If you spend $25 million even adequately well in a city like Minneapolis, you will achieve rapid modeshare growth, and get associated safety-in-numbers effects. It’s basic math.

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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. Ray LaHood couldn’t make it today. The new Secretary of Transportation nominee was announced today and Ray had to stay in Washington to be part of that. He did make a recorded video appearance notable for its careful balancing of mentions of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

  2. A large % of the funding hasn’t been spent yet and the large jump in mode share was observed before any of it was spent. Since then the mode share has even decreased! Has anyone looked into if the count methodology changed from ’06 to ’07 when the big spike happened?