A recent study of traffic accidents in Minneapolis found that although city driving sucks, city walking and city biking unequivocally suck more.
The Vision Zero Crash Study, which is part of the city’s lofty goal to reduce traffic fatalities to zero, was presented to the Minneapolis Transportation and Public Works committee two weeks ago. Analysis of vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian crash data over the last 10 years found that pedestrians and cyclists are the most vulnerable to harm out on the streets.
Even though pedestrians make up only 20 percent of all trips taken in Minneapolis, they bear 30 percent of the injuries and deaths. Bikers, meanwhile, only account for 5 percent of all trips, and they represent 15 to 20 percent of all traffic-related deaths. It isn't surprising that bikers and pedestrians are overrepresented in traffic-related injuries and deaths; they are, after all, more exposed than a person behind the wheel of a car.
Nor will it surprise you to hear that most of these crashes -- 78 percent of those involving pedestrians and 80 percent of those involving bikers -- occur at intersections. The typical scenario involves a car making a left or right turn and hitting a person trying to cross the street. That’s true of more than half of crashes involving pedestrians, and almost 60 percent of those involving bikes.
We also know where most of these crashes are happening, and it’s a smaller concentration than you might think. Thirty-six percent of crashes of all kinds are taking place on 2 percent of Minneapolis’ streets. The main culprits: Lake Street, Franklin Avenue, Lyndale Avenue South, Hennepin Avenue, Broadway Avenue, and short stretches of Central, Cedar, Lyndale North, and 28th Street.
That’s all stuff you already know if you spend any time commuting in the city. One of the committee members went so far as to say they could probably have drawn maps of the most dangerous areas just based on personal experience and the complaints of their constituents. The more surprising data is this: Traffic accidents affect poor people and people of color more often.
According to the data, 40 percent of crashes take place in the city’s more concentrated, low-income neighborhoods, even though only 31 percent of the city’s population live there. The highest concentrations are in the Near North, Central, and Phillips neighborhoods.
On top of that, people of color are overrepresented in traffic accidents. The most shocking statistic presented by Traffic Operations Engineer Steve Mosing was that Native Americans, who represent about 1 percent of the city’s population, accounted for 9 percent of traffic deaths.
There are a number of reasons why that might be, and unfortunately, Mosing says, we don’t have the data to know for sure. Most likely it’s because the neighborhoods where these communities live haven’t seen as much investment in safe infrastructure, and the roads are overly congested.
Minneapolis' traffic safety problem is worse than St. Paul's, and worse even than New York City's; both of those metros have fewer accidents per 100,000 people. The numbers are especially concerning as Minneapolis is facing the fastest population growth it’s seen since 1950. By 2020, we’re projected to have 40,000 more residents than we did in 2010.
“I think I will go as far as to say it’s irresponsible for the city to [concentrate on growth] without the safety improvements that will keep our current and future constituents safe,” City Council Member Lisa Bender said during the committee presentation. “But I know for a lot of my constituents, they don’t feel safe.”
The traffic study is just one step in the city’s Vision Zero initiative. This dataset, and others like it, will eventually become part of an action plan for safer streets to be drafted in the fall of 2019, and potentially adopted by the Minneapolis City Council in 2020.
It’s a long time for constituents to wait, the committee members acknowledged, especially given what’s at stake. Between 2006 and 2015, 35 people walking or riding in wheelchairs, 14 people riding a bicycle, and 57 people driving or riding in motor vehicles died in crashes on Minneapolis streets.