The Secrets of University of Minnesota Bicycle Planning Revealed!

The part wherein the
and Cloudy World of
The University of Minnesota Bicycle Planning
Has Lain for Centuries Shrouded in
Veiled by
Layer upon Layer of
Bureaucratic Doorways
And Dusty Basement Offices

["Curious... It appears that your bicycle lanes are irrational."]

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that “bicycle planning” on the University of Minnesota campus is, even by the University's Kafka-esque bureaucratic standards, majestically absurd. It doesn't take any special knowledge to recognize utter nonsense. You need only attempt to ride a bicycle to, from, or through campus, and it is abundantly clear that the U's bicycle planning is guided by a logic that would make M. C. Escher green with envy.

On the other hand, I've been fortunate enough to actually have studied bicycle planning as part of my career. I've read the textbooks, memorized the Do's and Don'ts, learned the ropes and so on.

For me, riding a bicycle on the U of MN campus every day is a special kind of torture. Many are the moments where, like a man who sees his first platypus, I drop my jaw in amazement and wonder at how on Earth something so nonsensical could come to pass. Long have I longed to understand who makes these decisions. What are the meetings like where they approve their plans? What does the whiteboard look like after a brainstorm? Do they live in families? Do they have human names?

Some of the strange and wonderful bicycle infrastructures you will find at the University of Minnesota:

Bike lanes seem to begin and end without warning. Or, far more frequently, they do not even exist. Most obviously, there is no designated bicycle route through campus whatsoever. For example, try and find any N-S or E-W bicycle paths through the East Bank (the main part of campus). Go ahead, pick any two points on a campus map and try to find a 'bike route' between them. This is a little like trying to solve a Rubix Cube with your feet.

The main bike paths East-West through campus (Washington Avenue, University Ave or 4th Street SE) are designed almost exclusively for cars: all have their problems, 3 or 4 lane roads that encourage cars to speed as much as possible. These streets are both terribly uncomfortable and unsafe places for bicycles, and frequently used by bicyclists.

Bicycle lanes, when they do exist, are placed in the worst possible places, for example on the blind side of a large brick wall, in small 90 degree-angled concrete walkways, or along the least-direct route between points A and B.

Bicycle parking is often located in the geometrically farthest-possible spot away from the doorway (e.g. Walter Library). At a number of points, signs appear on the sidewalk that say “Bicycles must dismount”. Almost all of these signs are ignored completely by everyone.

There is almost zero 'connection' between campus and anything outside of campus. This seems counterproductive. For example, there exists an excellent bicycle-friendly bridge over the Mississippi that runs right through campus, but is not connected in any way to anything else. And this lovely potholed path is the main route between the bustling Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and the West Bank campus.

Perhaps the best, most useful bicycle route in the school, the University Transitway, both actively encourages and simultaneously discourages bicycles, by having two sets of rules for bikes and buses (rules completely ignored by everybody, including drivers). Meanwhile, while 92% of the U of MN buses that 'share' the road leave you with a generous and courteous amount of space, the other 8% of bus drivers will pass you at great speed (40mph) without warning at 'reach out and touch someone' distance, leaving you with a near-death-adrenal-type panic (which, admittedly, does give your biking stamina a short-term boost).

[Note: the "Buses do not Stop" sign.]

And, to make matters worse, this transitway, once it does 'encourage/discourage' cyclists to use it, ends at an intersection by the stadium where all bicycle markings disappear completely, throwing cyclists into one of the most heavily trafficked intersections without even a sliver of a hint of guidance.

It's as if nobody at the University has ever been on a bicycle before in their lives.

Bicycle infrastructure seems to be an occasional afterthought for whoever plans and builds the space on the University campus, a fact made all the stranger by the obvious utility of the bicycle for a place like this. This is a very dense, concentrated (yet also spatially large) place with obvious transportation needs. At the same time, it is populated by an overwhelmingly young and fit group of people, almost all of whom seem to already have, and frequently use, bicycles.

… It's a real mystery!!!

The part wherein the
the Mysteries of
the Deepest Darkest Reaches
The University of Minnesota Bicycle Planning
are for
the First Time

Revealed to You!
The Reader!
In all their
Head-Shrinking Detail

Well, after doing some digging here at the University, I am here today to reveal to you the mysteries of the University of Minnesota bicycle planning. No longer will these curious paths be shrouded in darkness! No longer will you peer dimly through the foggy glass, unable to discern the shadowy outlines of that which lurks behind.

Because I, Bill Lindeke, geography graduate student, after much toil, after many long hours in musty libraries blowing dust from covers of tomes, after door knocking and stranger talking, after no small amount of first-class bona fide sleuthing, have uncovered the truth.

The Truth:

The University of Minnesota is on the top-secret cutting-edge of scientific research into alternative methods of bicycle planning. Building on Duke University Researcher Miguel Nicolelis' seminal study, which for the first time in the year 2000 successfully pioneered the science of monkey-robot telekinetic brain control, the University of Minnesota, as part of its pioneering "Driven [in a car] to Discover" campaign, has launched a unique and groundbreaking interdisciplinary public/private collaboration between the Departments of Animal Psychogenic Physiognomy, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, the College of Food Agriculture and Natural Sciences, the College of Neo-Statistical Bioinformatics, and the Division of Parking and Transportation. This project is undertaking a sure-to-be-award-winning study on developing new forms of human/animal hybrid planning projects. In other words, University researchers are attempting to breed a new species of monkey that is able to take on some of the most taxing institutional and infrastructural demands to meet the needs of a 21st century urban future.

Here's how it works. The University links together its innovative monkey genetic breeding program with the institutional synergy between the Center for Transportation Studies and Vice President Kathleen O'Brien's personal parking ramp. Utilizing these genetically advanced and bipedal simian cyclists as a 'emergent swarm', University Researchers lodged deep within the Hasselmo Nuclear Resonance Imaging Lab [pictured below] implement collated echolocation biometrical statistics to extrapolate the basic need-spectrum of the average simian cyclist, before carefully projecting the probable outcomes through a tailor-made simian/human needs accessibility matrix. This allows for a self-critical, autopoetic bicycle planning strategy to emerge gradually, first within the laboratory-generated model, and then instantiated onto the campus-at-large.

[A lowly graduate student analyzes the movements of "Chester Furbuttski", one of the chimps involved in the groundbreaking Washington Avenue Bridge bicycle/pedestrian mobility integration project (WABiPIMP)]

This is pretty scientific and impressive! But what does this mean for you, the average University of Minnesota bicycle rider?

Well, next time you find yourself riding down a bike lane that ends without warning, or proceeds down a flight of stairs... next time you are asked to dismount by a campus policeperson... next time you search in vain for a bicycle friendly route through the school, think of the monkey on a bicycle. That monkey is the leading edge of the cutting edge of the edge science, trained and honed and weened through generations of innovate research to develop new research into the research of animal-research-based urban planning research research.

In other words, if it seems like the bicycle planning on campus was designed by a drugged-out chimpanzee, that's because it was.

That's what it means to be driven to discover... (We do it for science!)

[Part of the ground-breaking experiment.]


Unknown said...

While I was a student at the U, what i always wanted more than anything was to be able to ride on the bottom level of the Washington Avenue bridge. The upper level is nice once you're up there, but it connects to the local street network very poorly on either end of the bridge.

Very entertaining post.

Amber Sausen said...

Boo! :) I thought you had actually found out why I have to carry my bike down the stairs by the Law School; or whether or not it is actually okay to ride the Scholars Walk (yes, the name does imply a mode of transit, but come on!) as it's the only east-west through-way.
Your observations are often discussed among us cyclists over in Rapson Hall!

Colin said...

Street planners in general have problems when they try to create efficient and safe bikeways. Far too often there are perfectly ride-able bike lanes that simply peter out (for example, Marshall Ave. in St. Paul). Other bike-lanes seem fine, but they mysteriously vanish when you reach an intersection, giving you the option of pulling in front of speeding cars in one lane or speeding, turning cars in the other. Some bike lanes are much like a Hall of Wonder, wherein you get to tour some of the Cities' most potholerific gutters. Others, like Fairview in St. Paul, give you about two feet of lane that offers storm-drains and deep manhole covers by the dozens (special hint, this lane is the most fun in fall, when fallen leaves hide the grates and you get to play a swell game of "where's the hole!"--even more fun at night!).

My current fave in St. Paul: the new Marshall avenue near the bridge, which offers you a bike lane if you're heading east, but gives you naught but a "Bikes May Use Full Lane" sign hidden behind a tree when you're heading west.

Still, over in Mpls, that new "Riverlake" greenway is pretty sweet! So there's something.

Brian Smith said...

Hy, I found two great books about Cutting Edge Robotics. They are FREE to download! They presents a collection of wide range research results of robotics scientific community. robot modelling & design, in which different approaches in kinematical, dynamical and other design issues of mobile robots are discussed. Its roots include many engineering and scientific disciplines from mechanical, electrical and electronics engineering to computer, cognitive and social sciences.I hope you will enjoy reading the book as much as I have. This is website where you can read & download: http://www.intechopen.com/search?q=Cutting+edge+robotics

Anonymous said...

Oh my God. Love this blog. I go to the U and had to suffer through that strange monstrosity by the STSS building and now they're talking about closing half the bridge (including the bike side) for the central corridor construction? Let the bike/pedestrian casualties begin!

Janne said...

Reading this post was by far the highlight of my day, which is unlikely to be eclipsed unless it's by the post from which I linked to this. You have perfectly captured my experience of cycling at the U over the last 15 years. It's so good to know I'm not alone.

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Anonymous said...

I love how the U's response to the several biker deaths has been to paint some bike lanes green. Ha, wow thanks that must have cost all of $10. Glad to see our tuition money going to good use. And there are still all the same problems with no connectivity, speeding motorists who dont realize there is a bike lane or that bikes have the right of way. I see left/right hook accidents almost happen daily. I almost got run over by some idiot who didn't even look before he cut in front of me to turn into a parking lot. Say a girl yesterday almost get hit as well when a car was turning right onto university and failed to yield to her. The speed limits around campus should be like 20 mph and actually be enforced. I see no speed enforcement anywhere. Police are more concerned that we dismount our bikes on scholars walk. The cross walks on the upper Washington ave bridge are the most stupid thing I have ever seen. I think they want students to die... on a side note I'm on my 4th tire inter-tube in a month because there is so much broken glass all over the bikes lanes around campus. I shouldn't have to risk my life to get to class each day.

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