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

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

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.

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.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by mark wallek on 01/16/2013 - 10:29 am.

    What I observe

    From the drivers: no signals when turning; driving partly in the bike lane for no reason at all, frequently over the speed limit. From the bikers: no signals when turning, riding side by side instead of single file when in groups, none or under illuminated nite riding. Having seen hit and run by bikers I support licsencing and insurance for bikers. I also support an actually well thought out system of bike lanes rather than the slap dash garbage that puts both bikers and drivers at risk. Drivers need to accomodate bikers now, so grow up. Bikers need to get on a fast track to road maturity, and they have a ways to go.

  2. Submitted by David DeCoux on 01/16/2013 - 11:09 am.

    I blame you.

    Here’s my understanding of the percentages you cite. They indicate that there was a contributing factor. The sum of contributing factors equates to cause or, if you will, blame.

    Look at these two differing statements.
    1) Your analysis is to blame for people misunderstanding this issue.
    2) Your analysis contributes to people’s misunderstanding.

    There’s a pretty significant difference. Also it should be noted that “contributing factors” are not considered scientific as they are totally subjective based on the attending officer.
    Additionally “share the blame, almost equally, for crashes” is impossible to determine based on the cited stat. Not all contributing factors are equal. Would a biker not having a reflector share as much blame as the driver that ran a light and clobbered the biker in an intersection?

    No, they’d both have a contributing factor.

    Not only is “equal blame” incorrect, I’d argue, regurgitating this narrative is reckless.


  3. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 01/16/2013 - 11:12 am.

    Who controls which of these streets?

    As a bike advocate, I’ve noticed that the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County have different approaches and philosophies when it comes to making sure the streets are safe for ALL users.

    I wonder whether there’s any correlation between who controls streets and the crash rates — and whether that would be a useful analysis.

    Has anyone analyzed these high-crash streets to see which are City streets and which are County streets?

  4. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 01/16/2013 - 01:11 pm.

    Shared responsibility

    I see too many cyclists blow through stop signs, turn without signaling, and even wobbling back and forth over the lane markers while talking on cell phones. As a driver I try to be alert, but sometimes bad cycling practices can defeat the most cautious driver.

    • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 01/16/2013 - 02:37 pm.

      I see too many drivers blow through stop signs, turn without signalling, and even wobbling back and forth over the lane markers while talking on cell phones. As a cyclist I try to be alert, but sometimes bad driving practices can defeat the most cautious rider.

      • Submitted by Todd Adler on 01/16/2013 - 04:29 pm.

        Bad Drivers

        Heck, I even saw a driver heading east on I94 the other night…with no tail lights whatsoever. Unfortunately that’s not an uncommon occurrence as a lot of cars have burned out headlights, tail lights, or both. Yeah, I would like to see more bikers with proper illumination at night, but that really applies to all vehicles and not just people on two wheels.

        A lot of people like to shake their fists at “those darn bikers” who blow through stop signs. And yet drivers do exactly the same thing. Last year a gentleman did a little impromptu survey at a four way stop sign and counted the number of cars who actually stopped. Not just slowed down most of the way, but the wheels completely stationary as per law. He found that all off 17% of cars did indeed stop. A full 83% blew on through the sign.

        The issue doesn’t seem to be a drivers vs bikers problem, but rather people who use all stripes of vehicles who are sloppy in their driving and aren’t paying attention to the primary task at hand. They’ve even had to lay down rules for bus drivers and train engineers telling the operators that they’re not allowed to be on their cell phones while operating the vehicle. It should be common sense and yet we see people weaving down the street every day.

  5. Submitted by jim hughes on 01/16/2013 - 04:51 pm.

    numbers that might not mean much

    It’s just about impossible, after the fact, to determine exactly how one of these accidents really happened. The 50/50 “blame split” probably isn’t a coincidence, it might just mean that the officers and EMTs didn’t really know who to believe, and that witnesses were noncommittal or uncertain. It’s the same with no-fault auto insurance, isn’t it? The insurance companies just agree to split the “fault” 50/50 and move on.

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