U looks to fix area biking problems

The area outside of STSS is one problem spot that could be addressed by spring.
November 27, 2012

Minneapolis is consistently ranked in the top three for bike-friendly cities nationwide, but students and faculty at the University of Minnesota say there’s work to be done in the area.

Alleviating the number of high-incident areas on campus, changing routes and improving the role of bikers around the University area are all issues bike activists cite as a problems.

Reducing the number of bicycle incidents in front of the Science Teaching and Student Services building near the Washington Avenue Bridge is the University’s Parking and Transportation department’s top priority for improving the bike system on campus.

The department hired a consultant at the beginning of the fall semester to improve the area. The consultant’s recommendations will be presented to the department’s staff within the next few weeks.

Steve Sanders, head of the University’s bike program, said 6,500 bikes cross the Washington Avenue Bridge each day, which intersects with
traffic coming from Coffman Union and STSS.

The spot is the No. 2 location in the Twin Cities for bike-related traffic issues, said geography doctoral candidate Bill Lindeke.

“It’s a site during high-travel times that gets really ugly and people don’t slow down,” Lindeke said. “It’s chaotic and kind of disorganized.”

Lindeke videotaped the location earlier this semester to evaluate how the accidents were happening and to study the area’s traffic flow for his dissertation.

The University’s Parking and Transportation Services sees the area in front of STSS as the location that needs the most improvement.

“We’ve known there was a problem there since the building was built,” Sanders said. “From day one it’s been a problem, and everybody realizes that it is an important issue that needs to be fixed.”

Economics senior Alexander Matson said he sees bike accidents in front of the STSS building on a daily basis.

Matson, president of the University Cycling Team, said the team discusses campus biking issues at its meetings.

“With a school our size, with the number of year-round bike commuters that we have, it is imperative that the U reconsiders how the current system is laid out,” Matson said.

Sanders said depending on the solution — whether it requires construction or just simply realigning the area’s current lanes — it’s undetermined when the improvements will be made to the STSS area.

He said after getting additional input from University students and faculty, his department and the consultant plan to move forward to improve the area as soon as possible.

“It’s our hope that it will be something that we can implement in the spring traffic,” Sanders said. “It just really depends on what the best option is and when it’ll be ready to go.”

A flawed bicycling infrastructure

The STSS building isn’t the only location on campus where bicyclists have problems.

Lindeke mentioned separating bikes and automobiles in Dinkytown. In his research, he found the area to have the most bike issues in the Twin Cities.

“Students are what make the Twin Cities a hot spot for bicycling,” Lindeke said. “The U of M is the reason we have a huge bicycling community here in the Twin Cities, but so far it’s kind of been in spite of the University of Minnesota rather than because of the University of Minnesota.”

Other concerns include alleviating the congestion at the roundabout near Pillsbury Drive Southeast and Pleasant Street Southeast and improving the crossings on the Northrop Mall.

“I think better design is the way to go,” Lindeke said. “If you have really good design and good ways to get around, you won’t have people running through stoplights and breaking the law or running into each other.”

Accounting senior and Cycling Team member Charles Kranz said he recently had an incident with a bus going south on 15th Avenue at the intersection of University Avenue.

“They just swung over, and I got cut off,” Kranz said. “Since then, I’ve been a little bit more careful.”

Bicyclists are also critical of the “out of the way” location of the University’s newest Bike Center — a year-old facility for bike storage and other biking amenities.

“It’s a good idea, but it’s really tucked out of the way in this parking lot that nobody is going to go to or know about,” Lindeke said. “I wish it was more centrally located.”

Kranz said he’s never used the bike center, which is in the first floor of the Oak Street Parking Ramp.

Sanders said that was the best location that was available with access to the street. He said when the University’s campus expands in that direction “it’s going to be less of an issue.”

“In all honesty, no matter where you put it, people who want to go there are going to go there,” Matson said.

In terms of bike planning in general, Lindeke said the University of California and the University of Wisconsin-Madison “do a better job than we do.”

“One thing that is being done at Wisconsin-Madison is the bike lane is actually a separate lane than the road with a curb in between the two,” Kranz said. “That’s kind of like the new trend in bike lanes and bike safety.”

But Matson said he lived in Portland and Washington “that are supposedly bike cities,” and he thinks the University of Minnesota is definitely a leader for bicyclists.

“We just have a few last steps to complete the system,” Matson said. “Once they do, it will definitely be one of the best places to bike.”

Matson said he hosted a discussion a week ago at a Cycling Team practice on ways to improve the bike system.

“The general consensus was that cycling infrastructure here at the U is flawed at best and downright dangerous at worst,” Matson said.

He said the best way to improve the bike system “without spending too many resources” is increasing separation between bikers and pedestrians — a strategy most prevalent on the West Bank.

The cyclists agreed connectivity is a major concern for getting navigating through campus.

Lindeke said that improvements could be made if the school had an “organized voice” for people riding bikes “to make sure the University’s administration pays attention to them when they are making decisions about how to design streets.”

Kranz said the easiest way to avoid accidents is simply having “bikers bike a little slower and people just following the rules.”

“I’d rather not play chicken with a bus or a car,” he said. “It doesn’t really take too much time to just give them the right of way.”

 

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