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Lessons from America's surprising No. 1 bike town

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Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes (i.e. keeping them a safe distance from cars) wherever feasible. Research shows that most people – including many women, families, and older citizens – are wary of biking alongside motor vehicles on busy streets. Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out biking as a form of transportation. Nationally, only a quarter of riders are women; in Minneapolis, 37 percent are.

Since the 1970s, Dutch city planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results. The rate of biking has doubled throughout the country, now accounting for 27 percent of all trips. Women make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average. Nearly every Dutch schoolyard is filled with kids’ bikes parked at racks and lampposts.

Statistics show that as the number of riders rises, their safety increases. Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Program Coordinator for the city of Minneapolis, notes that, though bicycle ridership is much higher, your chances of being in a car vs. bike crash in the city are 75 percent less than in 1993.

At a time when gasoline prices are high and transit service is being cut across the country, bikes can help fill the transportation gaps in poor communities.

The group from Columbus and Pittsburgh pedaled downtown along Minneapolis’s first cycle track – a bike lane separated from motorized traffic by parked cars. The configuration provides a better experience for people on bikes and in cars by creating a buffer between them. The Columbus delegation paid particularly close attention to this project, down to scrutinizing how the paint was applied to the pavement, because the street resembles one in their own downtown.

On the next block, shared-lane (“sharrow”) markers were painted on Hennepin Avenue within a continuous green stripe running down the street to send a clear message to both bicyclists and motorists that road space is used by everyone.

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