Stacking Functions Garden

Bicycle safety: the bottom line


When it comes to bike commuting, there is a lot of really great advice out there about how to stay safe.  But there is one simple way to boil that all down, and greatly increase your safety:

Design a bike route that you would never, ever drive.

What does this mean? Let me show you my bike route, to illustrate (click on map at right to enlarge).  The gray line represents my former bike route, and also the way I take when I drive my car to work.  It follows Park Avenue, a one-way street with an on-road bike lane in south Minneapolis.  Portland Ave, a one-way street 2 blocks west of Park, is the route home in that case.

Park and Portland are VERY busy roads.  Most suburbanites and all Minneapolis-ites know them as a very quick way to get through the south side when 35W is clogged.  These streets have a speed limit of 35 mph, and it’s not uncommon to get passed on your bike, very closely, by cars and trucks going 40-45 mph.

So what’s so great about my new route (in blue on the map)?

By biking on mostly residential streets, I minimize the number of cars that I come into contact with — cars don’t take these streets because it would be ridiculously slow for them.  For a large part of my ride, I’m cruising down tree-lined residential streets, saying hello to people, and watching out more for kids running around kicking soccer balls than for cars.  I only go through a handful of stoplights (mostly in and near downtown); however, I do have countless stop signs.  But because most of the intersections I’m crossing are minor, I can do a “California stop” (car drivers do it too, so don’t even start) and be on my merry way.

It sounds like a much slower way to ride, right?  Actually, it takes the exact same amount of time as my former ride (around 20-25 min), but it is different.  My overall speed is slower, but I stop less often and for shorter amounts of time.

I devised this route over a period of a couple of weeks last summer, partially out of a desire to ride past Powderhorn Park and see the lake every morning.   I ride right down the middle of the road, eliminating any risk of being doored, reducing the risk of hitting a pedestrian crossing the street, and ensuring that any of the slow-moving cars that I meet or that come up behind me definitely see me (I move to the side to let them pass immediately).  I ding my bell the entire way through the one or two dangerous intersections.

This summer was the first time that I biked an entire season, morning and night, on the new route.  And I had the fewest number of close calls that I’ve ever had.  I still had a couple, but overall fewer.  And my rides quickly became the most pleasant part of my day.  I’ve always loved riding, but now, well, I love it even more.

What do you think, readers?  If you ride, do you stick to residential streets, or are you one of those crazy bikers that I see riding down Lyndale or Cedar Avenues?  Bike paths?  I wish there was a quicker all bike-path way for me to get to work, but my current schedule doesn’t permit the extra half-hour each way that it would take.

5 thoughts on “Bicycle safety: the bottom line

  1. NEAT. I live across the street from Powderhorn Park & it looks like you ride in front of my house every day. I think you’re onto something about low-volume streets and I think it’s a great option for a lot of riders. For me personally, I think the stop signs would drive me nuts, though, so I usually tend to stick to the major streets.

    Sometimes I try to take side streets, but it can be a frustrating experience if you haven’t planned ahead to know which side streets are through streets. There are enough interruptions to the S. Minneapolis grid system that unless you’ve planned ahead a little bit you’ll probably end up picking a side street that won’t take you across some of the major barriers (freeways, lakes, parks, etc.). And unfortunately, the mpls grid will likely only continue to become less connected & less complete over time.

  2. I hadn’t heard of this initiative before. Thanks for pointing it out. It’s a really interesting idea, but my feelings are mixed. On one hand, I think I would really enjoy living on a street like this, and it would be an amazing amenity for the city. On the other hand proposals like this run the risk of creating the same problems freeways create for cities – they’re great for traveling along, but can be difficult to cross…. (for auto drivers – not for peds/cyclists, obviously…) I expect that a lot of the supporters of proposals like this think that’s a really good thing – they’d probably call it “traffic calming,” but it can create other problems, too.

    I guess I’m just more of a “complete streets” kind of guy. I guess I already consider most of the South Minneapolis residential streets to be very bike friendly & I don’t mind sharing the road with cars – so long as the roads are designed to keep drivers at safe speeds.

    I signed up for the email list from this organization. I’m interested to see how this progresses!

  3. i’m with you. residential streets are a much better and more relaxing way to get to work and go home.

    one annoying thing for me, in general, is when bike routes just abruptly end. like where lyndale and hennepin merge. what do they expect bikers to do at that point?

    • We (me/wife) take the same approach that you do and avoid busy streets. We live in the Standish neighborhood and commute year round to Northeast (although Kay is not pedaling to work with all the ice this winter). I am going to give your route a try to get to the Stone Arch bridge. Thanks for posting.

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