The Twin Cities’ Top Neighborhoods for Biking and Walking See Even More People on Two Wheels and Two Feet

By Jay Walljasper, guest blogger

You definitely know when it's rush hour on 5th Street SE in Minneapolis's Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, even though very few cars can be spotted. What you see when the University of Minnesota is in session is a steady stream of commuters heading north from the campus on bikes, on foot, even on longboards.

Cyclists on the popular 5th Street SE bicycle route in Minneapolis

In 2011, 5th Street was transformed into a bicycle boulevard-a residential street that carries cars but pays special attention to the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians. Creating the boulevard, which extends two miles from the campus to 26th Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis, is part of a comprehensive strategy to boost biking and walking (and ease traffic congestion) around the university-home to 52,000 students and one of the largest employers in the Twin Cities.


Neighborhoods around the university have long posted the highest levels of bike and pedestrian traffic in the region but Bike Walk Twin Cities believes there is potential to reduce even more car trips. A federal pilot program focused on helping more people travel by bike and on foot, Bike Walk Twin Cities has partnered with the U of M, the City of Minneapolis, and other local governments to make the university area a showcase of multi-modal transportation.


Non-motorized traffic counts conducted by Bike Walk Twin Cities for 2011 registered a 42 percent increase for biking in neighborhoods near the university since 2007, and a 33 percent increase for walking. 


"This shows that investments to improve the safety, time and overall experiences for bicyclists and walkers make a significant difference," explains Joan Pasiuk, Director of Bike Walk Twin Cities. "An added bonus is that people who commute by bike and foot in college tend to keep doing it after they graduate."

In addition to the 5th Street bicycle boulevard, streets radiating in all directions from the university's Minneapolis and Saint Paul campuses have been made safer and more inviting for bicyclists:

Bike lanes on 27th Avenue SE have improved this route for cyclists

The "road diet" on 10th Avenue SE created space for new bike lanes


  • New bike lanes on 10th Avenue SE intersect the 5th Street bike boulevard and connect with bike lanes on Como Avenue (for an easy route to Saint Paul). The 10th Avenue lanes also pass by the U of M Law School and connect to bike lanes on 19th and 20th Avenues South, for trips through the West Bank campus.


  • Riverside Avenue, adjacent to the West Bank campus, is being resurfaced and will soon feature bike lanes created through a road diet-a redesign of the roadway from four lanes to three with the middle lane reserved for left-turning traffic. An increasingly popular street design around the Twin Cities and the country, road diets maintain a steady traffic flow for motor vehicles, reduce speeding, and create space for bike lanes or wider sidewalks. Road diets are extremely effective retrofits for urban streets-low-cost improvements for all road users that make best use of existing right of way. The new bike lanes on 10th Avenue SE were created in 2010 via a road diet.

New bike lanes coming off of the Franklin Avenue Bridge, heading into the Seward neighborhood


  • In and around the East Bank campus, there are new bike lanes on Franklin Avenue across the Mississippi River and along 27th Avenue SE, connecting to University and (via a short dog-leg on local roads) the U of M Transitway bike trail connecting the Minneapolis and Saint Paul campuses.


  • This summer, new bike routes on Fairview, Larpenteur, and Gortner Avenues will connect the suburbs of Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, and Roseville to the Saint Paul  campus, which in turn connects with the Minneapolis campus.


Better bicycle routes connecting to the U of M campuses are just one dimension of plans to encourage more students and university employees as well as neighborhood residents to shift from cars to other forms of transportation. Additional elements include a new Bike Center on campus and a just-launched high-tech system that keeps track of U employee's bike trips.

The U of M Bike Center in Minneapolis (Photo Credit: Nice Ride MN)  


Steve Sanders, the U's Alternative Transportation Manager, says the initiatives are already paying off: "We saw a nine-and-half percent rise in bicycling from 2010 to 2011. About 10 percent of our commuters bike to campus in warm weather, that's 7,000 bikes a day." He credits the new bike lanes and better bike parking facilities on campus as major reasons for the rise and hopes to see further gains this year as more improvements are made.


The Bike Center, which opened in September 2011, offers showers, secure bike parking, bike tools and a full-service bike shop. Access to the Center allays some potential bike commuters' concerns about theft, bike repairs, or arriving on campus in sweaty clothes. The center, operated by the Hub Bicycle Coop, also conducts outreach and education programs to help students and staff who have limited experience with bike commuting.


"A lot of students, especially from the suburbs and rural areas, don't have familiarity with city biking," says Mackenzie Turner of the Minneapolis Bike Walk Ambassadors, who herself came to the university from rural Chatfield, Minnesota. "I wasn't afraid of traffic," she remembers, "but when I got here I didn't realize I needed a U-lock and lights for night biking."


Another encouragement for commuters to shift to bikes is the new RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) program, in which a tiny device can be attached to commuters' bikes that is recognized by 17 sensors around campus. "That way we know who is biking, and employees who ride at least 40 days a year qualify for cash rewards and a discount on health insurance," Sanders explains. "For students, it's eight times a month."


"We've got 1049 people signed up since the program started in January," he adds, noting that the U is the first place to apply this technology on a large scale to bicycle trips. The local bike rack manufacturer Dero produces the devices.


Other new projects underway in 2012 around the University include linking the U of M Transitway-a bike and pedestrian trail between the Saint Paul and Minneapolis campuses-to a bike/ped bridge over the Mississippi River (aka "Bridge Nine"). The new trail connection will make it easier for bicyclists to connect to other bikeways heading toward downtown Minneapolis.


One of the most dangerous places for pedestrians in the Twin Cities-the Seven Corners intersection adjacent to the university's West Bank campus-will also be transformed. Wider curbs, new bike lanes, and special traffic signals that give pedestrians a head start in crossing the street will improve safety in the spot where Cedar Avenue, Washington Avenue and 15th Avenue South come together.


The overall benefits of these projects to encourage biking and walking around the university extend far beyond students and staff. "It's a very positive thing for the businesses, the residents, and the safety of our neighborhoods," explains Mark Dudek Johnson, secretary of the Cedar Riverside Business Association. He points to improved street-life, which boosts retailers in the West Bank business district, and a better quality of life for people living in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, including many low-income and immigrant families who don't own cars.


Jay Walljasper ( www.JayWalljasper.com ), author of The Great Neighborhood Book and editor of OnTheCommons.org, writes regularly about cities, transportation, and community revitalization for many publications. This is one of a series of articles  about the Bike Walk Twin Cities nonmotorized transportation pilot program administered by Transit for Livable Communities.