One weird old trick to find the best streets for protected bike lanes

March 04, 2014

Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer

sidewalk biker
Photo by waltarrrrr.

Every person biking on a sidewalk is really just casting a vote for a protected bike lane.

That's the core of another great idea from Minneapolis's remarkable advocacy coalition Bikeways for Everyone, the group that has made constructing 30 miles of protected bike lanes in the Twin Cities by 2020 its top priority.

Here's their map of the six locations in Minneapolis where more than 25 percent of people on bikes tend to ride on the sidewalk:

Minneapolis sidewalk biking map

And to get a sense for why, here's the Google Street View for one such location, at NE Lowry Avenue and Central Avenue NE:


Image: Google Street View.

This concept isn't quite the same as a "desire line," the long-established principle of urban planning that observes which routes people tend to use to move across a space and builds paths for them there. Maybe you could call it a "desire space."

But whatever we call it, this is a powerful idea that cities everywhere should be putting to work. People know where they want to go by bicycle, and they also know what sort of infrastructure they want to use while they do. Instead of just endlessly trying to explain to people that sidewalk biking isn't safe — and, generally speaking, it isn't — we should also be using people's choices as a cue to know what sort of city they really want.

And then we should build it.

Due credit: the concept in the first sentence of this post came out of a 2012 conversation with Portland Bicycle Planning Coordinator Roger Geller.

The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write michael@peopleforbikes.org.

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