City ditches designated bike lanes

Public officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul seem determined to cram more and wider bike lanes onto city streets, often at the expense of parking places and vehicle lanes. But in the southwestern Minnesota city of Marshall, there’s no such conflict when push comes to shove.

The Marshall City Council voted this week to remove designated bike lanes throughout the city in order to comply with MnDOT regulations. From now on bikes will share the same lane on city streets with other vehicles, according to the Independent.

Things can be a tight squeeze for drivers and cyclists on some Marshall streets, Marshall City Council members said. In parts of the city, traffic lanes, parking lanes and bike lanes are all present on the same road.

Council members also learned Tuesday that the arrangement didn’t meet state standards. The council voted to replace on-street bike lanes with symbols indicating a shared traffic lane for bikes and cars.

“They’re not dedicated bike lanes anymore. They’re kind of more ‘share the road’ type of symbols,” City Engineer Jason Anderson said.

Ironically, the change stems from a review of city streets that receive state funding for maintenance by MnDOT, a leading proponent of so-called multi-modal forms of transportation, especially bikes. Continued state funding was contingent on making the call between keeping the designated bike lanes and reducing parking and vehicle lanes versus ditching the designated bike lanes.

“Because we get state aid funding for our state aid routes, we do have to meet certain standards for lane widths,” said Anderson. “Parking lanes, bike lanes, travel lanes, they all have written rules for widths and sizes.”

Those rules say that travel, parking and bike lanes can’t all be at the minimum width on the same stretch of street, Anderson said.

“And in pretty much all of our locations, or at least most of them, we have that situation going on,” he said.

Moving forward, streets will be marked by a new symbol called a “sharrow” to indicate shared usage by bicyclists. One city councilor, a self-described avid biker, predicted the change could make biking more hazardous.

“My only concern with sharrows is education of drivers,” city councilor Steve Meister said. “They’re already clueless when we have bike lanes. I’ve almost gotten hit multiple times and I follow the rules of the road. Sharrows are going to be that much more dangerous.”

On the bright side for bicyclists, in the end the city council didn’t invoke the nuclear option that was also on the table.

“The last [option] would be to remove the bike lanes altogether, which staff doesn’t think would be in our best interests either,” Anderson said. “We’re trying to be a bike-friendly community and push multiple modes of transportation. And we think that we should try to maintain something.”