Janne Flisrand is an experienced bike commuter, but when she approaches some of the city's busiest intersections, she's prepared to employ her best defensive maneuvers.
"Almost all cars are really respectful and great as they drive around me, but it only takes one car not paying attention for something terrifying to happen," said Flisrand, who has ridden to work by bike since 1996.
Flisrand, who travels from Dupont Avenue South in Uptown to her office in downtown Minneapolis across from City Hall, has good reason to be cautious.
Since 2009, records show there have been approximately 1,400 crashes involving bicycles in Minneapolis, at least seven of which resulted in fatalities. The total number also includes 44 bicycle crashes reported to the University of Minnesota Police during the same five-year period.
Congested intersections are among the top spots for crashes to occur, according to bicycle crash data. From 2009 to 2013, the intersections with the highest number of crashes involving bicycles included:
• Franklin Avenue at Cedar and Minnehaha avenues 21 crashes
• Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue 11 crashes
• Hennepin Avenue at Lyndale and Groveland avenues 6 crashes
• Hennepin Avenue at 1st and 2nd streets 7 crashes
• Franklin Avenue at Lyndale Avenue 8 crashes
"About four out of five bike crashes are occurring at intersections," said Simon Blenski, the city's bike planner. "High traffic is really what's dictating the hot spots or places where crashes are the highest."
Bicycle crashes in Minneapolis 2009-2013
Bicycle crash data in Minnesota's largest city also reveals several intersections that are among the most dangerous for bicyclists.
Between 2009 and 2013, records show there have been approximately 1,400 crashes involving bicycles in Minneapolis, at least seven of which resulted in fatalities. Source: Minneapolis Police Department and University of Minnesota Police Department.
Although the number of crashes has stayed relatively steady in recent years, from 2007 to 2013, the number of people traveling by bike increased 76 percent to nearly 40,000 at 30 benchmark locations, according to the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
Cameras mounted on Flisrand's bike shed light on why some of the city's congested intersections are dangerous. She rode it at three of the five intersections while recording video and making observations.
At Hennepin and Groveland avenues, most drivers followed the rules of the road with regards to cyclists, but some appeared confused over a relatively new, but faded, crossing for bicyclists. The crossing at Groveland is painted green. Motorists turning right are supposed to yield to cyclists going straight on the green crosswalk.
But that didn't always happen.
"There were a couple of cars making right turns, one I wasn't sure if they saw me and I waved," Flisrand said.
Flisrand saw another car blocking the bicycle right of way, stopped on top of the green area when it should have been stopped behind it.
When riding through the intersection of Lyndale and Franklin avenues, a busy business area with heavy traffic, Flisrand quickly felt the pressure of fast-moving vehicles on all sides of her. By law, drivers are supposed to leave three feet between car and cyclist when passing.
"There was a car parked on the curb and a car that was on the left and wanted to keep going and I was getting squeezed between the two because the car on the curb was pulling out and didn't see me," Flisrand said.
Finally, at Hennepin Avenue at 1st and 2nd streets, Flisrand noticed that road cues for cars merging into the bike lane can be confusing. The dashed line means cars should merge into the bike lane as they would a regular lane to make the turn.
"There was an incident where a car didn't merge and went all the way to the corner and then went across the bike lane," Flisrand said.
Cyclists at fault, too
Bicyclists could also be seen breaking the rules of the road. The most common errors were running red lights and bicycling on the sidewalk in business districts.
A recent city of Minneapolis study of crash data from 2000-2010 found most conflicts between bicyclists and drivers happened where the bicyclist was not riding in a predictable way and where drivers didn't see bicyclists.
"That's something we're really focusing on -- to get bicyclists to ride more predictably and to get motorists and drivers to start looking for bicyclists and expecting them," said Blenski, the city's bike planner.
Blenski said Minneapolis has worked hard to make car-bike interactions safer, earning its bike-friendly reputation. The city was recently named one of the safest cities for bicyclists.
In three years Minneapolis has implemented at least half of its 400-mile bikeway master plan and has been using cameras to study the effects of different road configurations and traffic signals.
In addition, at least three of the dangerous intersections identified by 2009-2013 crash numbers -- Franklin and Minnehaha, Hennepin and Groveland, Franklin and Lyndale -- are slated for major overhauls in the next two years. City officials say the projects will include bikeway designs.
"I think that we're, in terms of a report card, I'd say a B-plus," said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
But Fawley said the easy projects in Minneapolis are mostly done. The next step is to tackle real hot spots, which will be more expensive and complicated. At Franklin and Minnehaha Avenues, for example, city and county roads meet. Fawley and other advocates hope roads designed decades ago can be re-designed for bikes and cars to safely co-exist.
"Make sure that we make the improvements that are going to see lasting value and safety going forward for our next generation," Fawley said.
Biking advocates say the key is building more continuous bikeways and protected lanes that separate cars and bikes so they don't have to share lanes.
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