See more of the story

Besides ranking near the top places in the country for bikers and walkers commuting to work, Minneapolis now can boast of safety rates for walking and biking that are also among the best.

The latest statistical almanac for biking and walking, released Wednesday, puts Minneapolis ahead of most of the nation's largest cities in almost every major category. The city also fares much better than the state of Minnesota as a whole.

Minneapolis ranks second in bike commuting and ninth for walking to work.

The survey also finds that Minneapolitans are far less likely to die walking or biking, with rates about half the average for the 52 largest U.S. cities. The city is tied for ninth in bike fatalities per 10,000 bikers and tied for seventh in pedestrian fatalities by a similar measure during 2009 to 2011. Pedestrian and bike safety concerns have been fanned recently by the February deaths of cyclist Marcus Nalls, 26, on a high-crash portion of Franklin Avenue and pedestrian Caitlan Barton, 25, on Lake Street.

Safety in the city is helped by the fact that Minneapolis bikers are more likely to have bike lanes or off-road paths to use, the survey found, with 3.9 miles of such routes for every square mile of land area.

That's more than double the national average among large cities of 1.6 miles. Minneapolis ranked eighth overall in that category and 10th specifically for painted bike lanes.

"I certainly won't rest until we're at the top of those lists," said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, a local advocacy group. Fawley said good biking conditions improve the tax base and attract residents.

The federally subsidized study comes from the Alliance for Biking and Walking, a national nonprofit advocacy group that has documented trends in walking and biking since 2003. Much of the data comes from federal statistics and surveys completed by state or city bike and pedestrian coordinators.

$28 million helps

The high Minneapolis rankings in part reflect the $28 million in federal money directed to the Twin Cities in recent years by the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, championed by former U.S. Rep. James Oberstar.

Even before that investment, Minneapolis had developed miles of off-road bike routes, including the Grand Rounds bike and walking trails that date to the 1970s, and the more recent Midtown Greenway, Cedar Lake Trail and Kenilworth Trail. But the Oberstar money allowed the city to rapidly expand its on-road lanes, said Jon Wertjes, the city's director of traffic and parking services.

It also helped Minneapolis to rank third nationally among cities in the share of its federal transportation dollars spent on biking or walking improvements at 24 percent, the study found.

With almost all the money spent, that percentage could plunge. But Fawley looks to the city's five-year $568 million capital spending budget and state money as sources to keep the bike infrastructure growing. Wertjes said the city will look for opportunities to do bike-pedestrian projects with the state and Hennepin County.

Push for protected lanes

The next big wave of potential bike improvements is a push for protected bike lanes, in which biker space is protected from traffic by a raised surface, curbs or posts. One has already been approved for part of Washington Avenue downtown, and the city is working to develop a plan for where to install more.

The alliance report portrays protected lanes as a way to attract more female commuters, saying they are less willing to ride in mixed traffic.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib