Wishful (delusional) thinking

Minneapolis’s grand plan to reduce auto congestion through bike lanes takes bicyclists who barely exist to pathways they don’t want to use.

The city of Minneapolis has made it clear one of its top infrastructure priorities is bicycle lanes. With 235 miles of bike lanes in place, Minneapolis has the most bike paths per square mile in the country. But a quick cycle through the city’s “Bicycle Master Plan” reveals Minneapolis is planning for an eventual goal of 402 miles dedicated to two-wheeled transportation through more protected bikeways, bike lanes, shared lanes, and bike boulevards.

Why is Minneapolis so intent on mapping out all these bike lanes atop an already chaotic street system? Well, for one, the Minneapolis City Council wants to “increase the number of trips taken by bicycle”—prioritizing human-powered mobility to decrease traffic congestion.

But catering to the tiny bike population has not inspired commuters to ditch their cars and climb on to bikes. Cars are still Minneapolis’s chief road authority.

Minneapolis has about 9,400 bicyclists on its streets, according to an American Community Survey Data Report from 2017—roughly 3.9 percent of total commuters bike to work.

Minneapolis doesn’t report traffic data broken down by day and time, so in July American Experiment’s summer interns took to the streets to gauge what bike lane usage looks like during prime weather season at various times throughout the day.

Take Washington Avenue, where the city reduced the number of automobile traffic lanes from six to four to provide two lanes for bicycles, despite an analysis Hennepin County commissioned in 2013 that concluded the project would significantly increase traffic congestion on Washington Avenue and on parallel streets, as well.

During a Tuesday morning commute on Washington Avenue, with sunny, 68-degree weather, there were 30 times as many cars as bikes traveling east in an hour’s time—1,025 cars to 34 bicyclists. Six of the 34 bicyclists used the sidewalk instead of the bike lanes.

On 26th street, the one-way road leading west from Children’s Hospital, all sighted bicyclists opted for the sidewalks and street over the one-way bike lane. From 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m., there were 231 cars and 5 bicyclists, but none of the bicyclists traveled in the same direction as the flow of traffic.

Over on 28th street, a one-way road leading east to Abbott Northwestern Hospital, the one-way bike lane did not get any use during the start of an early afternoon commute. Instead, 13 bicyclists chose to ride in traffic lanes and two on the sidewalk. One hundred seven cars were counted during this half hour stretch.

The city of Minneapolis is mistaken to think adding bike lanes will convince large numbers of commuters to leave their cars behind and start pedaling. The city is also mistaken to think bike lanes are the optimal way to improve automobile congestion. And with the massive multi-year road construction projects currently underway, reducing traffic lanes and limiting parking spots to make room for bicyclists has increased traffic congestion on city streets.

Cars and other vehicles far exceed the number of bikes on the road, and with overwhelming demands already on vehicle lanes, Minneapolis should put the brakes on its bike lane aspirations and focus on what is really needed: more traffic lanes.

American Experiment interns Kyle Hooten, Mitch Rolling, and Andrew Scattergood assisted in compiling the bike data.