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Minneapolis drivers and bicyclists share the roads — and blame for crashes

The number of city bicyclists has more than doubled since 1999, but bike/vehicle accidents have remained steady at about 300 a year.

The intersection of Seventh Street North and Hennepin Avenue South saw the second-highest number of bicycle-motorist crashes (19) from 2000 to 2010.
MinnPost photo by John Noltner

Drivers and bicycle riders in Minneapolis share the blame, almost equally, for crashes during the 10 years ending in 2010, according to a study presented Tuesday to the City Council.

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Most of the crashes, 81 percent, occurred within 50 feet of an intersection. Inattentive driving or failure to yield the right of way accounted for 40 percent of the crashes in cases where motorists said they could not see the bicycle riders.

Bicyclists not riding in a predictable manner — failing to yield right of way, ignoring a traffic control device or improper lane use — accounted for about 40 percent of the accidents attributed to riders.

“Obviously there is a lot of room for improvement,” said Simon Blenski of Traffic and Parking Services.

Both riders and motorists often contributed to the cause of a crash with riders taking the blame for 59 percent of the incidents and motorists blamed in 64 percent of the cases. The total blame is more than 100 percent because blame was frequently shared.

There was some good news. Since 2000, the first year covered in the study, the number of bicycle commuters in Minneapolis has doubled, from about 3,000 in 1999 to about 6,500 in 2010, but the number of bike/vehicle accidents has remained steady at about 300 a year.

Bicyclist-motorist estimated city-wide crash rate, Minneapolis 1993–2011

crash map
Source: Minneapolis Public Works
*1993-1999 data based on the 1990 Decennial Census, 2000-2004 data based on the 2000 Decennial Census, 2005-2011 data based on American Community Survey 1-year estimates, “Bicycle Commuters” refers to Minneapolis workers aged 16 or older who commute primarily by bicycle.

“As bicycling has increased, the number of crashes has not,” said Blenski, who attributed that to motor vehicle operators who now also are bike riders.

Although intersections are the most common site for bike/vehicle accidents, there are only two Minneapolis intersections where bicycle traffic is controlled by a special bike signal light. One is in Northeast Minneapolis where Fifth Street Northeast crosses Broadway. The other is a major crash location near the University of Minnesota.

10 highest crash intersections

 Street 1Street 2Crashes
1E Franklin AveCedar Ave S20
27th St NHennepin Ave S19
33rd St NHennepin Ave S17
4E 26th StHiawatha Ave S17
5W Franklin AveNicollet Ave S17
6W Franklin AveLyndale Ave S16
7University Ave SEI-35W NB Ramp14
8E 28th StPortland Ave S14
9Vineland Pl WLyndale Ave S14
10E Franklin AveChicago Ave S13

The intersection of two busy streets — East Franklin at West Cedar, near the University of Minnesota — recorded the highest number of crashes (20) during the 10-year period. Next was Hennepin Avenue South at Seventh Street North in downtown with 19 crashes.

Hennepin South at Third Street North had 17 crashes. West Franklin had 17 crashes at Nicollet and 16 crashes at Lyndale Avenue.

The crash statistics came from citations issued by the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minneapolis Park Police. During the 10 years covered in the study, 2,973 bike/vehicle crashes were recorded.

“The first thing bike riders can do is start riding predictably,” said Shaun Murphy, the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator. Murphy said common offenses include weaving through traffic, ignoring stoplights and failing to signal turns. “Riders need to let motorists know what they are up to,” he said.

The perceived risks of riding in traffic and the possibility of a crash have combined to keep more people from becoming bicycle commuters, according to Blenski.

“People are fearful of riding in traffic,” he told City Council members.

“Something about the weight of a car, compared to the weight of a bike?” said Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee. 

There have been 14 fatal crashes, always with the death of the bicyclist, between 2000 and 2011, according to statistics that covers an additional year.

“Eight … involved a truck, and one involved a bus,” Blenski said.

Dennis Dumm memorial bike
A bike memorializing Dennis Dumm, who was killed in an accident involving a truck in 2009.

A spring safety campaign will include reminders for bicyclists and drivers of trucks and buses about the dangers of blind spots – that drivers can’t always see bikers, who might not be visible in mirrors when right next to a vehicle.

Bicycle-motorist crash density

crash map
Minneapolis Public Works
Click for larger map.

The corridor with the highest number of crashes (226) is all of Lake Street, from Lake Calhoun to West River Road. Next highest (205 crashes) is Franklin Avenue, from Hennepin to West River Road.

Weekdays are the most dangerous for crashes with 79 percent of the accidents.

The worst months for crashes are June, July and August with about 44 percent of the crashes. Winter months (December through February) accounted for only 5.6 percent of the accidents.

The time of day with the greatest risk of a crash is the afternoon rush hour, with 29 percent occurring between 3 and 6 p.m. Only 1 percent of the crashes occurred between 3 and 6 a.m.

Hit-and-run accidents account for 20 percent of the bicycle/vehicle crashes.