Snow mounds bury on-street bike lanes. Cars will sometimes even drive onto bikeways, packing down snow. Plows clear car lanes and leave cyclists to ride over slush in the gutter.
Whatever! This is Minnesota, where we don’t stay inside on our Pelotons! We persevere. We’re hardy. We have studs on our tires, dagnabbit!
“I love wintertime biking when it comes down to it,” said Zack Mensinger, co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition. “If you don’t get out — to do biking, or cross-country skiing, or whatever activity you do … you don’t experience that full experience of winter.”
But every winter, Mensinger knows he’ll deal with “challenging situations.” And this year, Mensinger said he’s encountered more than his usual share of iced-over routes and tough-to-navigate pathways.
“It’s especially bad this year,” agreed Andy Singer, the coalition’s other co-chair.
‘Until it melts, you’re screwed’
Already, the metro has seen more snowfall this winter (55 inches) than it usually sees in an entire season (the average winter sees 46 inches). As a result, cycling routes that are normally in good condition during the winter have been much harder to navigate.
Mensinger pointed to the Mississippi River Trail bikeway — which traces both the east and west banks of the river through Minneapolis and St. Paul — as “almost impossible to ride” because of bumpy snow and ice.
Singer said completed parts of the new Capital City Bikeway have been crusted over with ice, at least until the recent thaw.
“They failed to plow at a critical time,” said Singer, “and once an ice sheet forms, until it melts, you’re screwed. In order to remove it, you’d have to jackhammer it off.”
The timing of passes by plows appear to have been critical. Singer said crews did manage to clear the Ayd Mill Trail before it could ice over. Mensinger shared photos of the bike path along Como Avenue in good condition.
Other bikers replied to our Twitter callout about the status of cycling paths this winter:
1. Important to note this question is being asked during the 4th snowiest winter on record (as of end of Jan).
2. Side streets ice ruts have been bad to sometimes unpassable
3. Dedicated off street trails are as good as I’d expect given #1
4. Main arteries are okay, but the… https://t.co/do5AjFPA6z
— Tom Lukanen (@Lukanen) February 13, 2023
Biked all winter 21-22 without incident.
Biked to the pharmacy once 22-23 and had a wipeout.
Minneapolis streets have been rough.
— 白左thirst-worldist🏴🔰 (@bigfack) February 13, 2023
There are no on-street bike lanes this winter. They’ve been erased by snow, ice, and cars parking . I gave up hope of being able to bike safely this winter and put my bike away. Some of trails look clear, but there’s no way to bike to them safely.
— Serafina (@SerafinaScheel) February 13, 2023
Not markedly different from most years. Side streets are probably more rutted and icy than average. I do think more people are out there biking through winter tho.
— Dan Marshall (@DanMarStP) February 14, 2023
Second season. Last year no problem. This year terrifying.
— Mike Schowalter 🇺🇸🇺🇦 (@SchowalterOne) February 13, 2023
In Minneapolis, Browdie Daul — who said he gets around “full-time” on a bike — has found it “inspiring” that “at least half of our warm season grid [is] intact and safely rideable throughout the winter.”
“Yet I am discouraged by how many barriers to winter biking still remain for so many people in this city,” Daul added. “It does currently require a level of determination and fortitude” to navigate often-icy or snowy bikeways.
Cutting public works, parks crews some slack
In an interview, Mayor Melvin Carter said an “outlier” weather year and a challenging freeze-thaw cycle is to blame for less-than-ideal conditions elsewhere: “We’ve had just dumpings of snow — and super wet, heavy snow — and then we’ve had it go down to, you know, 20 below.”
But the snow and ice will melt one day, and underneath are 30 miles of paths Carter said his administration has added during his tenure. The mayor said he gave up his parking spot for a bike path — a token of his commitment to bike infrastructure.
The cyclists didn’t fault crews charged with clearing the city’s streets and paths. Singer noted that public works and parks crews often have to deal with poor design choices such as protected bike lanes that are too narrow to plow.
“I know [the city’s Department of] Public Works has been working hard,” said Mensinger. “It’s been a rough winter, absolutely — so I cut them a lot of slack.”