Watch CBS News

Are Bike Lanes Making Traffic Better Or Worse In Downtown Minneapolis?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Traffic congestion in downtown Minneapolis has some drivers placing the blame on bicyclists this summer.

Bike lanes have blocked off some lanes of city streets once used to carry cars. Some billboards go so far as to blame what one think tank calls bad policy for spending billions of dollars on mass transit and bike paths.

So, how does Minneapolis measure up when it comes to two-wheeled transportation? WCCO cycled through the numbers and found some strong beliefs on all sides of the road.

To say Barbara Nylen has some beef with bicyclists is a bit of an understatement.

Barbara Nylen
(credit: CBS)

"A busy intersection and there he goes, completely ignoring the rules," Nylen said. "They must be giving away lollipops if you ride on the sidewalk! I don't get it."

A self-described "stubborn Swede," Nylen has spent 80 years living within a five-mile radius of downtown Minneapolis.

"I think they're arrogant in not following the rules," Nylen said. "I'm sorry, I'm just honest."

It's a background she relies on when sharing her approach to urban planning in her op-eds that appear in the Star Tribune.

"You want businesses to come downtown? You want them to expand their businesses downtown? Make their commute pleasurable, not a nightmare," she said.

It's a nightmare Nylen believes is only getting worse with each new mile of bike lane.  She questions a number of what she considers bad decisions -- like the bike lanes on major Minneapolis arteries Park and Portland Avenues, East 26th and 28th streets and the protected bike lanes on Blaisdell Avenue South that took away a car lane.

"No common sense," she said. "Location, location, location."

Minneapolis has 235 miles of bike paths -- the most per square mile than any other city in the country. Still, the city wants more -- with a goal of 402 miles of bike lanes.

So how many bicyclists using them? The U.S. census bureau says about 12,000 do every day. That's about 5 percent of Minneapolis commuters.

Mpls bike lane
(credit: CBS)

WCCO watched the morning and evening commutes on Blaisdell Avenue and 36th Street in south Minneapolis. On a Thursday morning we counted 10 times the amount of cars than bikes -- 104 to 9 in a half-hour's time.  In the evening, it was double that; 287 cars and 16 bikes went past our camera.

We asked Ethan Fawley, the Executive Director of Our Streets Minneapolis -- why cater to such a tiny population?

"Well, it's been growing a lot. Three times as much biking today as 15 years ago, and that's because of the investment we've made," Fawley said.

His pedestrian advocacy group highlights some different stats to make their point: 40 percent of people who come to downtown Minneapolis get there in some way other than driving. So, without bikes or mass transit, Fawley says it's obvious how much worse congestion would be.

Fawley believes the real culprit this summer is construction, making it worse for anyone in the middle of it. Barbara Nylen is fired up about same thing, now fearing a new four-year project on I-35W between I-94 to 46th Street. She says it will only force more cars to side streets to share with bicyclists.

But Fawley doesn't think the debate should be on bike versus car, since the environmental and health benefits of two-wheeled transportation are so clear.

"I want everyone to know that we work really hard to find the balance and the compromise," he said. "We're really excited about working with our community partners and trying to find solutions together."

He's even OK to look for solutions from someone like Nylen.

"I would pay their fine if I could find a police officer to write them a ticket," Nylen said.

Or, anyone else just slightly set in their ways.

A city representative told WCCO they look at a number of factors before adding bike lanes in Minneapolis, such as motor vehicle volumes and speeds, connectivity and the distance between routes.


View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.