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Culture

The Worst Bike Lanes in Minneapolis

Let’s run down some of the worst offenders.

the bike lane on portland ave
That's a nice, wide bike lane you got there. Would be a shame if drivers used it to fly around folks going the speed limit.
Em Cassel

Minneapolis is nationally hailed as a town that’s friendly to cyclists. The Midtown Greenway, an extensive network of scenic trails, bike shops sprinkled liberally throughout, social rides for cyclists of any ability rolling out every day of the week: There’s much to love, and Minneapolis officials and advocates never get tired of crowing about it.

But for transportation cyclists—those of us who use our bikes as go-everywhere vehicles rather than strictly recreation—there’s an ugly truth to riding in Minneapolis that’s obscured by all that backslapping: Our bike lanes are bullshit.

Let’s run down some of the worst offenders.

24th Street from Cedar Avenue to 35W

A classic example of the gutter bike lane, wherein cyclists are graciously gifted a couple feet of chewed up, glass-strewn blacktop normally reserved for garbage and rain run-off. Enjoy getting pinched between the curb (or on some blocks, parked cars) and a traffic lane full of drivers blowing past inches from the thin white line that serves as this bike lane’s only “protection.”

Lowry Avenue from I94 to Victory Memorial Parkway

Another gutter lane/door-zone lane abutting a road on which drivers routinely speed, Lowry is also dotted throughout with restaurants and convenience stores, so every other block is blocked by drivers using it as a “just be a minute” parking spot to pick up food.

Hennepin between Lake and 31st Street

At any given time on this block, the thin gutter lane is populated by between three and six hustle-economy drivers picking up food for delivery or dropping off passengers. The idiots who approved it should be fired, then rehired so they can be fired a second time for emphasis.

11th Avenue from 24th Street to Eighth Street

South of Franklin only the outer line of the bike lane is painted, like the crew got tired and quit halfway through the job. Most days several parked school buses block it completely. Insult to literal injury comes at 15th Street outside the East Village Market, where all day long and into the night it’s blocked five cars deep by drivers popping in to grab Red Bulls and cheapjack marijuana paraphernalia.

Central Avenue from the river to 27th Street

The unbuffered, unprotected lane on Central is faded beyond recognizability for blocks at a time, and for much of it abuts four lanes of speeding traffic with nothing more than a strip of paint for protection and a line of parked cars just waiting to throw their door open into your path. Then at 27th it ends more abruptly than the 2020 city council’s commitment to defunding the police.

Park Avenue and Portland Avenue south of downtown 

These wide lanes, with extensive painted buffers separating riders from drivers, might seem like a welcome change of pace from gutter lanes. Unfortunately drivers on these extra-wide mini-highways routinely do 10-15 over the limit glued to their phones, and wide as it is, that nice paint buffer won’t do shit to keep them from careening into the bike lane—often intentionally, as they zip past drivers doing the speed limit. And in practice, these bike lanes primarily serve as loading and unloading zones for UPS and FedEx drivers too lazy to walk half a block from a legal and safe parking spot.

Third Avenue outside the Convention Center 

In a rare kindness to cyclists, the city opted to “protect” this bike lane with flexi-posts, those white plastic poles you mostly see smashed flatter than a black cat at midnight. They also opted to space them far enough apart that a moderately skilled toddler could drive an Abrams tank between them, so most of the time these lanes just function as a drop-off zone for Uber drivers.

Blaisdell south of 28th Street

Objectively Blaisdell’s bike lane is worse between Franklin Avenue and 28th Street, where it mainly functions as a parking spot for hustle economy drivers dropping off passengers. But south of 28th is where it becomes morally offensive. Here the city invested in actual curb protection, what should be the bare minimum for any bike lane. But they utterly neglected to build safe crossings at intersections. Cyclists—especially more casual cyclists—are lulled into a false sense of safety between crossroads. At each intersection, they’re routed directly into the path of right-turning car traffic full of drivers incapable of checking over their shoulder before plowing through. Several cyclists have already been hit in just such a way.

First Avenue between 28th Street and 15th Street 

Like the downtown Hennepin lane, this wide, two-way, flexipost-lined bike lane looks fancy. But fancy ain’t safe. The few flexiposts still standing are again spaced far enough apart that any ride up this road will encounter at least a handful of parked drivers blocking your way. Two-way bike lanes are convenient, but cross-traffic usually only checks south—toward the northbound, one-way car traffic—before blindly plowing through the intersection, t-boning southbound cyclists. Ride it with any regularity and the sheen of safety wears thin quickly.

12th Street at Hawthorne Avenue 

In 2019, the driver of an illegally long equipment truck turned right from 12th Street, driving over and killing Alex Wolf, a cyclist riding in 12th’s gutter lane. Three years later, the only thing the city has changed about the intersection was taking down Alex’s ghost bike.