Last week, the Star Tribune featured an insightful article that provided details about the state’s “bike lobby” and their plans to ask the 2016 Minnesota legislature to decrease speed limits on city streets.
Current speed limits in Minneapolis and St. Paul on urban streets is 30-miles per hour. This 30-miles per hour speed limit was cited by the League of American Bicyclists, according to the Star Tribune, as “an area needing improvement when Minneapolis recently tried unsuccessfully to upgrade its status as a bike-friendly community from gold to platinum, a status held by only five cities nationally.”
Proponents of lowering the existing speed limit, such as City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, say it will make residential streets safer not only for bicyclists but also for pedestrians. Council Member Glidden is one of the proponents of a lower speed limit that would include not only residential streets in the city but also city streets.
Several years ago, Minneapolis officials tested a lower speed limit on a well-used route for cars, buses and bicyclists near the University of Minnesota. According to the city’s director of traffic and parking services, Jon Wertjes, the posting of 25-mile per hour speed limit signs in this area “produced negligible change in traffic speeds.” Wertjes went on to say that, “[I]t basically tells me that a sign doesn’t change behavior.”
For perspective, Minneapolis ranks 4th nationwide in the number of bicycle commuters. According to the most recent U.S. Census data, 3.7% of all Minneapolitans commute via bicycle to work each day. For further perspective, according to the Census, there are only 882,000 bicycle commuters in the entire United States, a number that according to Governing magazine, has remained relatively stable in recent years.
For safety’s sake, rather than lower the speed limit for the 96% of daily Minneapolis commuters who drive, carpool, ride mass transit or walk to work, why doesn’t the city first begin to make commuting safer for all by enforcing existing speed limit laws? Safe and drivable streets should be everyone’s goal. City streets could also become a whole lot safer by ticketing red-light runners and other menacing drivers who endanger the majority of us who are just trying to drive, walk or commute to work in spite of the gridlock that occurs in this city that allows never-ending and unannounced street repairs. Enforcing existing laws seems to be a whole lot cheaper and would provide a modicum of safety in Minneapolis –something city leaders should consider before endorsing any additional and unnecessary legislation that would enhance the commute of a very small but very vocal minority while inconveniencing nearly everyone else.