New Bike Lanes Create New Snow Removal Challenges

December 05, 2017 06:27 PM

In a state that averages as much snow as Minnesota, you'd think public works departments could plow anything.

And while that's probably true, a new style of bike lane popping up all over the Twin Cities is making the job a little trickier, public works officials say.


RELATED: Survey: Support For Bike Lanes, But More Favor Additional Funding For Roads

"Oh, you know, everything new and different is going to be a concern," said Joe Spah, a St. Paul Public Works division manager for street maintenance. 

He was referring to plow drivers' reactions to the city's newest bike lane on Pelham Boulevard. The lane is unique in that it's a protected bike lane, with both northbound and southbound cyclists riding along the same side the road. Cyclists are separated from vehicles by white dividers every 10 feet along the length of the bike lane.

Spah said engineers actually started planning for snow removal in the design phase of the Pelham project. He has reminded plow drivers that as bike lanes change, their approach to clearing the roads may have to change slightly, as well.

"Just had to reassure them that, 'You know what? There is a plan in place, and if it's not perfect we'll figure it out as we go, but this is just a test,'" Spah said.

5 Winter Biking Tips, courtesy City of Minneapolis:

  • Travel slowly when snow and ice are present. Riding a bike on a street can be challenging, particularly when ice has formed or snow has become lumpy and compacted by vehicles. Ride in bare patches of pavement or non-compacted snow when possible. Take turns and curves at a slower speed, and allow longer distances for braking. Be sure to plan ahead for extra travel time. And remember that cyclists have the right to ride in a general traffic lane, which (among other instances) may be necessary if bike lanes have not been cleared.
  • Ride defensively around motorists. Cyclists are less visible in the winter (with fewer cyclists riding and less daylight), and roads are more narrow (when snow banks creep into the street from curbs). Always be prepared for motorists to make a mistake. Follow traffic laws and be as considerate as possible. Educate yourself and your friends (motorists and bicyclists alike!) on traffic laws and safety.
  • Take the off-street trails. Since Minneapolis has so many miles of trails (84 miles and counting!), urbanites from across the country often suffer from "trail envy." To top it all off, the Park Board and Public Works Department have policies of clearing snow from off-street trails soon after the end of a snowfall (read more about how the Midtown Greenway and Hiawatha Light Rail Trail are plowed). In most cases, this occurs in less than 24 hours. If you have the choice, leave the grime and compacted snow of the streets behind and head for the trails!
  • Dress in layers. Just like other winter sports, bicycling can heat up your body rapidly. Apply layers to your torso and legs, and be prepared to strip them away as your body warms. A good rule of thumb is that you should feel chilly when you step outdoors – if you're cozy before you start riding, you'll likely be boiling when you stop.
  • Cover your extremities. All of us have experienced the extremes of a sweating torso and numb ears or toes. Don't ignore your head, neck, hands, and feet when you bike. Comfortable stocking caps, scarves, socks, and gloves (which allow dexterity) should be considered. And goggles don't just look cool; they're great eye protection from the cold wind and road grit.

So far, so good, at least according to cyclists who spoke to KSTP Tuesday, just hours after the first big snow of the season.

RELATED: Battle Brewing Between Bicyclists and Businesses in South Minneapolis

"I took this route today because of the dividers," said John Guerra, who typically takes nearby Franklin Avenue instead. "Especially in the snow and ice, I feel like this is a lot safer route to take for my commute."

For the record, it's not just St. Paul that has to remove snow from similar types of protected bike lanes. Minneapolis has 13-miles worth of protected bike lanes, and city officials say they have dedicated crews that focus exclusively on bike lanes and trails.


Josh Rosenthal

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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