Nine months after the installation of new bicycle lanes and markers along Hennepin and First Avenues, Minneapolis officials said the project has been a success. But many bicyclists aren't convinced.
In a report released Tuesday, city officials said the changes have reduced crashes and made it easier to bike in the downtown area. But many bicycling advocates say that faded markers, narrow bike lanes and confusing signs have led many cyclists to take different routes.
The city reconfigured the lanes in October, as part of the conversion of Hennepin and First Avenues from one-way to two-way streets.
On Hennepin Avenue, the city removed a bike lane in the middle of the street and added a new, shared right-hand lane in each direction for bicycles, buses and right-turning vehicles.
On First Avenue, the city added a bicycle lane between the curb and a row of parked cars.
The city's report examined data from the first six months following the changes. The report found that the number of bicycle crashes on the downtown stretch of Hennepin and First Avenues dropped from a yearly average of about 12 to zero in the past six months.
"Although a longer study is needed, the data so far shows greatly improved bicycle safety in the corridor," city officials said in a statement accompanying Tuesday's report.
Despite the improved safety record, the report found that six months after the changes, bicycle ridership on the downtown blocks of Hennepin Avenue had dropped by more than 50 percent.
Bicycling advocates say that many cyclists don't feel safe riding in a shared lane, regardless of the statistics.
"It's a perception thing," said Nick Mason, program manager for the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. "And the perception is that these lanes are very dangerous, even though they're pretty safe."
Many bicyclists say they're concerned that motorists don't understand that they are supposed to share the lane with bicyclists. They point out that many of the painted bicycle markers along Hennepin Avenue are worn down and barely visible.
"It's not an enjoyable experience," said Lisa Bender, co-chair of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition's steering committee. "I think the lesson is that if we really want to support bicycling for all kinds of people, we need to include more facilities like First Avenue."
The city's report found that First Avenue now attracts slightly more bicyclists than Hennepin Avenue -- about 605 a day, compared to about 513 a day along Hennepin Avenue. (The city did not track the number of bicyclists along First Avenue before it installed the bike lanes.)
Bicycling advocates have been meeting with city planners to discuss their concerns, and said they're pleased that the city's report includes several of the changes they had requested.
AMONG THE CHANGES:
The city plans to add a green stripe down the right side of the shared lane on Hennepin Avenue. Officials say the brightly-painted stripe will encourage bicyclists to stay in the right portion of the lane, along with reminding motorists to share the space.
Along First Avenue, the city began painting a two-foot buffer between the rows of parked cars and the bike lanes on Wednesday. City workers are also placing orange traffic delineators to act as an extra barrier between parked cars and bicycles.
Officials said the added space will reduce the risk of bicyclists being hit by car doors, and will make it easier for wheelchair-accessible vehicles to unload passengers.
Most of the traffic markings along the two streets will be repainted and enlarged.
"I think the changes are a huge step forward, and probably where we should've started in the first place," Mason said.
Mason said the changes are particularly important given the recent launch of Nice Ride Minnesota, one of the country's largest urban bike rental programs. The group has opened 65 bike rental kiosks through Minneapolis since June, including over a dozen in the downtown area.
"Many of these bicyclists maybe don't know all the rules of the road," he said. "We need facilities that have both a perceived and a real sense of safety on downtown streets."
The city's full report can be viewed here.