By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Jimmy Nisser just might have been the nicest person in all of St. Louis Park. He had a trimmed mustache and buoyant eyes, and always knew the score to the Twins games. He was the type of guy who cleaned the storm drains on his block, showed up an hour early to church to prepare coffee for groggy parishioners, and never forgot to send a birthday card.
He was also a lifelong cyclist. Born with cerebral palsy and unable to drive, he used his bicycle as his main mode of transportation. On sunny days, he'd wake up and pedal to work at 4 a.m. to prepare for his job at the Minikahda Club, the delicately combed golf course where he worked for 43 years. His daily path took him down Excelsior Boulevard, a four-lane roadway lined by American elm trees and Virginia creeper vines that separates the fairways like a deciduous canyon. Its green leaves and branches arch over passing traffic like solemn guards.
On September 11, Nisser strapped on his helmet, turned on his safety lights, and took his bike to work. But a block away from his turn off Excelsior, a tan Jeep Grand Cherokee slammed into his bike. The Jeep dragged Nisser across the pavement about 30 feet before he fell in a heap. The Jeep sped off.
Nisser's death echoed like a gunshot through the Twin Cities' close-knit cycling community. He was one of four riders killed as the result of collisions with cars within the last few months. The reaction has been an upsurge of concern for bicycle awareness, including black-clad memorial rides and ghost bikes at accident sites.
Yet despite these high-profile incidents, it is actually safer to ride on the street than at any other time in recent memory, according to city statistics. Minneapolis reports that accidents are down 20 percent from the 1990s.
To nervous cyclists, it sure doesn't feel that way, which is why we decided to assemble a list of the city's 10 most dangerous intersections for bike riders. We obtained crash reports from the city of Minneapolis that pinpoint intersections with the highest number of car/bicycle collisions over a recent three-year period. But raw numbers don't tell the whole story, as not every incident gets reported. So we also went out and polled the local cycling community, bicycle shop owners, race organizers, city planners, nonprofits that allocate federal funding for bicycle infrastructure improvement, and messengers who make their living crisscrossing the city's streets.
"It's really about safety and convenience," says Doug Shidell, publisher of the Twin Cities Bike Map. "It's the same reason why people lobby to change intersections for motorists. We want to get through them safely and quickly."
In 2006, Emily Wergin was waiting at this intersection when a truck pulled up and blocked her view. As Wergin pedaled forward, an onrushing van slammed directly into her, striking her front tire and handlebars with enough force to send her cartwheeling across the pavement.
"I ended up contorted in a very strange way," she says. "And my handlebars got torqued."
Luckily, she walked away with only bruises and cuts.
Even before her accident, this intersection frustrated Wergin, who works on projects, some federally funded, to make neighborhoods more pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
She says the technical term for the LRT and 26th is a "double threat intersection," meaning that a cyclist has multiple dangers to look out for. "When you get to this intersection you never know where to look," says Wergin.
It's also one of the busiest intersections in the city, with 2,000 cyclists passing through it daily. And the only time cyclists really get the right of way is when the Light Rail train goes by, once every five minutes during rush hours.
Wergin's idea to solve the tricky intersection would be the installation of a larger median in the center of the road. Cyclists could then make their way through the trouble spot in two steps. "But I don't even know if there's enough room for that. There is no easy solution to this one," she says.
If a cyclist makes it north and out of the Franklin and Lyndale gauntlet, they come upon a two-lane bike path off the street. It runs parallel down the length of the Walker Art Museum, in the shadow of the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist church, and is protected by raised pavement.
But all this safety comes to an abrupt end when the bike path suddenly vanishes at West 15th, spitting cyclists out into traffic.
Along this stretch there have been at least five car-bike accidents between 2003 and 2005. And about 900 cyclists a day ride this path.
"That one is a bad one," says Hurl Everstone, owner of CRC Cykel Garage. "I really think it has to do with the five stoplights. I avoid that one if possible."
When Nick Mason biked into the Minnehaha roundabout, he was following the law to behave like a car. But someone should have told that to the drivers. As he veered around the lane on his Trek 5200 road bike, a vehicle shot out in front of him. Mason slammed into the side of the car, crushing the front end of his bike and sending his body skipping across the pavement.