By Liz Collin

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.

(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.

(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.

Liz Collin

Comments (6)
  1. Pat Flaherty says:

    roads were built for cars, not bikes. Right now there are way to many bikeways. They’ve already used many old railroad track areas. I say stay off the road if you value your life!!!

    1. Incorrect. Flat, direct roads were lobbied by and built for bicycles in the late 19th century as it was the primary way for people to take long journeys from town to town. It was in 1896 that motorists began sharing roads with bicycles. In 1930 when asphalt use became widespread, roads were finally built specifically with motorists in mind. This is part of the problem – automobile drivers have a false sense of entitlement. MN state laws gives bicycles the right to use roads just as much as any car. Maybe you need to learn to stop with the threats and start sharing the road.

      1. Barb Molitor says:

        Actually, flat direct roads where created for the horse and buggy….a precursor to the automobile, or “horseless carriage”; then came the bicycles.
        Automobile drivers may have what you refer to as a false sense of entitlement because it’s through their gas and licence tab taxes that help pay for road construction and road maintenance; including bike lanes.
        It would be helpful if bicycle riders contributed to the bike lane costs through bike permits or registration fees. These fees would include a booklet on the rules of the road.
        No more free ride!! (pun intended).
        I’m curious what bike ridership is October through March; not during the spring and summer months.
        Good luck to all the Uber drivers finding parking in Minneapolis this winter.

        1. Stumbled across this article while looking for something else and just wanted to point out that cyclists actually subsidize the cost of the roads for motorists since the motor fuel tax isn’t where the majority of funding comes from. Road construction relies heavily on federal funding.

  2. James Eckard says:

    Bike lanes are awesome & I’m glad they are installing them. However, every single road does not need to have a bike lane on it. We now have several major streets where lanes have been reduced dramatically which cuts down on how many vehicles can move or creates bottleneck of backed up traffic.

    We also now have a lot of people who drive down the bike lane as a they can not figure out what it is or choose to disregard the rules just to get home a few seconds sooner. I’ve even seen cops driving (with no lights on) the bike lanes. This makes it much less safe for bikers.

    As well, we also still have biker riders who choose to not ever use the bike lanes & ride on the opposite side of the street in traffic. I’ve also seen bikes run red lights in front of the police and never get a ticket. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the police concerned about bikes except with they used to do the mass rides in protest in downtown a few years ago.

  3. Just go through WCCO’s recent news reports and observe how many fatal crashes there are. Cars are putting people in coffins on pretty much a daily basis. Not true for bikes. As far as bike riders helping pay for the bike lanes they use, they already do! Car drivers are subsidized by tax revenues that come from other places because the gas tax and registration, etc. only cover about 50% of the cost of roads, the rest of the cost is paid for by everyone else. Major companies like Target recognize the value added by having employees commute by bike, so bike lanes ARE good for business! And yes, back in the late 1800’s it was the cyclists who were a driving force for good roads. Ironically, it was called “The Good Roads Movement”. Today it’s called having a Complete Street that honors all users, not just car users.