Bicycling is up by about a third in recent years in Minneapolis, and the number of bike-car crashes has declined. But drivers and bicyclists still complain of mutual disrespect — they say both sides need to do a better job of sharing the road.
A multi-million dollar expansion of bike lanes and other infrastructure is underway in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis has spent $1.7 million this year to expand its bikeway system with new on-street striping, signs, traffic calming and other measures to make walking and cycling easier and safer. The city plans next year at least 15 to 20 additional bikeway miles.
In addition to the expansion comes a city campaign to raise visibility for cyclists and make the streets safer for everyone, The city is coordinating an effort to educate drivers and cyclists on rules of the road.
Mounds View bicyclist Stuart Raymond, 36, has witnessed many of near-accidents between bikes and cars. Most days, he bikes 26 miles roundtrip between his home and work on the University of Minnesota campus. One close call still sticks in his mind.
"A girl was going forward, green light, she had the right of way. He was in a truck and he just gunned it and pulled right in front of her to make that turn. He could have killed her," Raymond said. "If she was going any faster he could have killed her."
Raymond tries to make himself more visible to drivers by wearing bright, reflective clothing and using lights. He also drives defensively. Many drivers are impatient and cut cyclists off in their rush to turn or pass, he said.
But Raymond admits some bikers also drive recklessly. It's common, he said, to see them ride against traffic or ignore traffic signals.
"Cyclists will break the law, especially here in Dinkytown," he said.
The Dinkytown area near the University of Minnesota campus is the city's most heavily bicycled neighborhood.
There are more bikes on 15th Avenue than any other street in the city. More than 3,800 people daily rode bikes, according to city estimates — that means 10 percent of all the people are on bikes.
At the busy intersection of 4th Street and 15th Avenue SE, there is often a pack of bicycles waiting at traffic lights and in bike lanes. This is the same intersection where a student on a bike was killed last April in an accident with a turning truck.
Since then, both the city and the university have painted new bike lanes and other markings in the neighborhood to alert drivers to cyclists. The changes are similar to what's happening citywide.
Coordinating the effort is Shaun Murphy, NTP Project Coordinator for Minneapolis Public Works, who said increasing visibility for cyclists makes the streets safer for everyone, but more education is needed to help drivers and cyclists understand the rules of the road.
"I think there is a sense by a lot of people who drive, and I notice this too, that bicycles won't follow the same rules that people in cars have to follow."
The law requires bicyclists to follow the same traffic rules as car drivers. Bicyclists are required to obey stoplights and stop signs. They should use hand signals to indicate turns and when switching lanes, and bicyclists must ride with the flow of traffic.
Yet, Metro Transit bus driver Anthony Taylor said after more than three decades behind the wheel, he's learned to expect the opposite from cyclists.
"They run the lights, they ride on the sidewalk, they go back into the street," Taylor said. "You get some that are courteous but I'd say by far there are more that aren't. There is no etiquette there, they don't follow a pattern. They just do what they want to do."
Taylor says bikes often try to squeeze between him and the curb as he's pulled over at a bus stop, fail to yield or dart out in front of his bus as he pulls away. It's dangerous.
"Then it's like 'Bus driver runs over bicyclist.' They don't say what actually happens — just read the papers — they say, 'Oh, a bus driver hit a bicyclist.' They don't say the bike came out with no signal, didn't look," Taylor said.
The number of reported bike-car crashes in Minneapolis has dropped 20 percent since 2000. City data show that, on average, there were more than 330 crashes annually between 1993 and 1999. Since 2000, the number has dropped to nearly 270 crashes a year.
Minneapolis officials hope their program to make cycling safer will be successful in bringing the number of accidents down even further.