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Why Are Minneapolis Bike Lanes Plowed Faster Than the Roads?

The answer might surprise you. Or not. We don't know you!

City of Minneapolis|

Ha, yes, that’s exactly what things look like out there.

When an early January storm dumped about a foot of snow on Minneapolis, there was widespread dissatisfaction with how the roads were plowed. Many complained that Mayor Frey should have immediately declared a snow emergency, rather than waiting for a second day of snow to make it harder for people to move their cars. It was, you may remember, a whole thing.

When it came to how bike lanes were plowed, though, there was a different kind of controversy. The problem wasn’t that protected and raised bike lanes hadn’t been cleared quickly and effectively—compared to the roads, they were looking good. For cyclophobes, the problem was that they’d been cleared at all, offering further evidence of Minneapolis’s misplaced priorities (as does nearly everything that happens in the city). 

But the question remained: Why were the bike lanes cleared so fast? Disinfo proliferated on social media (shocking, I know). Private contractors handle the bike lanes with special equipment, some contended. No, the private contractors handle the streets, and the city takes care of the bike lanes, others argued. Jacob Frey rides a bike and so he doesn’t care if the roads get plowed, those of a more conspiratorial bent insisted.

Everyone was very sure of their answers, and everyone was very wrong. 

We got curious here at Racket, and rather than simply guessing, we decided to try some of this “reporting” we’ve heard so much about and ask the city of Minneapolis directly. The Minneapolis Public Works Department clears both roads and bike lanes, we learned. But dedicated bike lanes are just easier to plow.

“The bike lanes that are on the road get cleared with the normal snow plowing equipment,” said Joe Paumen, Director of Transportation, Maintenance, and Repair for the city. “For our dedicated bike lanes we have at least three pieces of equipment specifically for those.” 

To clear bike lanes, Public Works uses a pickup, a Jeep, and a smaller, more specialized vehicle. “Those personnel are dispatched at the same time that everyone else plowing snow is,” Paumen says. 

If that’s the case, why do bike lanes get plowed faster? “There’s no parking on bike lanes, so it’s a lot easier to effectively go through those areas and clear that snow without having to manage the parking aspect of it,” Paumen says. So there you have it.

As for bike trails, they’re largely handled by the Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board, which added a handy map to its website last year to let cyclists know where and when they’ve plowed.

Remember, of course, that we’re not talking about the unprotected lanes on the side of roads. As the parking spaces on those roads get swallowed up by giant mounds of plowed snow, parked cars take over most, if not all, of those lanes. And Paumen says the city is still working on better maintaining the protected lanes after the initial plow.

“As the number of lanes have increased, we’ve had to proportionally dedicate more resources,” he says.

As the winter has worn on, many cyclists have had their own complaints. At MinnPost, Kyle Stokes suggested recently that this winter may be "especially bad" for the always fraught practice of winter biking. Maybe hearing that will make folks who follow Crime Watch MPLS happy, if anything can actually make them happy. 

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