Sunday, March 13, 2016

Small Mistakes Will Cause Big Problems for Bikers on 26th Ave

Northwest corner of 2nd St and 26th Ave N
Last fall, several northside bicyclists got together to see how the 26th Ave bike path was shaping up and to take a look at possibilities for riverfront connections at the end of 26th.  That's when we noticed the curb cut above.  The problem with this design, in case it's not obvious enough, is that the sidewalk and the bike lane bottleneck right at the point where we also have a fire hydrant.  There is literally no way for a biker to get on or off the bike path without either jumping a curb into traffic or jostling for sidewalk space with pedestrians.  Thanks to the building that abuts the sidewalk, there isn't even anyplace else for bikers or pedestrians to go to avoid conflicts with vehicular traffic.

We chalked that error up to the possibility that larger trucks along the industrial corridor may need a wider berth for their turns.  And for the time being, there will be very few pedestrians and bikers starting their route on the east side of 2nd.  Until a 26th/riverfront connection is cemented, there isn't much of a reason for bikers to be on the other side of this intersection.  So we chalked this up to one more mistake in a series of bad designs between Washington Avenue and north Minneapolis river connections.

That is, until we saw...


Northeast corner of 26th and Lyndale
From the opposite side.
Let's walk through what's going on here, because there is a phenomenal amount of horrible design, and I don't want to miss a single bit.  Leading up to the 26th and Lyndale intersection, we currently have two-way vehicle lanes, a bike path wide enough for two cyclists to pass each other, and sidewalks wide enough for the same dynamic.  Once the interior section of the 26th Avenue bikeway is complete, we will have the same corridor that will allow for two-way car, bike, and pedestrian traffic.

But that all comes to one jumbled, incoherent cluster of a bottleneck at the crossway.  The bike lane disappears to allow for a right-turn/passing segment for vehicles.  And the step down from bike lane to street is a curb, not a grade.  Furthermore--and I actually zoomed in on the two shots above to be sure that my eyes and my memory weren't deceiving me--there is only one way to get from the sidewalk to the street and it's blocked.  Like Gandalf standing down the Balrog, we have a fire hydrant that may as well be screaming "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"

It's really that bad
And yet, somehow this manages to get even WORSE.  See, this all happens along the descent from Farview Hill.  From Aldrich Avenue all the way to 3rd Street, which is one of the steepest and most prolonged topographical declines in north Minneapolis.  It's not uncommon for bikers to reach 20-25 mph along this descent.  Here is where a biker will be coming from once the new lane is completed.

So the cyclist will be zipping along, picking up steam, coming to a traffic light and probably trying like crazy to zip through the intersection before the light turns red, only to wind up contesting with oncoming vehicle traffic, pedestrians (Farview Park, which is to the left in the photo, has a LOT more of those than the industrial area) other bikes, AND a fire hydrant.  The Marquis de Sade and Friedrich Nietzsche must have somehow taught a master's course on urban design, and this was the only way to pass their final exam.  That's the only explanation I can come up with for how anyone thought this was even a remotely workable idea.

Other more sophisticated blogs, like have all sorts of fancy computer designs to show how bikes, cars, and pedestrians would interact in the ideal and actual design settings.  I'm not up to their level, so I am going to do a design model with the most sophisticated technology I know how to use, and that I think the planners of this intersection will grasp.

I thought about using Mario Paint, but my Super Nintendo is in the basement of my parents' home in Michigan.
So here's my working model for what a healthily functioning intersection would look like at 26th and Lyndale.

We have enough room for cars to travel in either direction, as well as bikers, a guy walking his dog, and a woman with a baby stroller.  Sure, it gets a little complicated when somebody wants to turn instead of heading in one direction.  But it's easy enough to figure out who's going where, and ultimately the intersection will be quite manageable.

And here's what happens in my model when we introduce a wholly unnecessary curb cut and throw a fire hydrant in the middle for good measure.

One car remains relatively unaffected, and may even get an epic 3-second cell phone clip to turn into a gif and post on Vine.  The dog is smart enough to slip away from his leash and avoid the intersection altogether.  Everyone else is pretty much hosed, and the baby will be traumatized to the point where as an adult he is never quite able to use separated bike paths again.

I have thought about why the curb cut was thought to be a good idea, literally until my brain hurt.  Sarcasm aside, the only benefit I see to this is that it allows for a car to slip around the vehicle in front of them if the front car is waiting in traffic for a left turn.  Even then, there's only enough length for one car, maybe two.  Any more than that and the intersection will still see a backlog of vehicles waiting for a clear left turn.

And the solution to that problem is so simple I cannot understand why nobody thought of it before implementing a layout that is likely to get people seriously injured.  See, quite some time ago we developed this technology called a semaphore, or "traffic light," in the common term.  These lights can do amazing things, like telling cars and bikes when to start and stop.  If you look closely, you'll even see one in use at this very intersection.  That invention has even evolved to the point where it can direct pedestrians to walk or not walk, if you can imagine.  Although the denizens of north Minneapolis, Lake Street, and downtown Saint Paul all claim a religious exemption from obeying such laws.  In any case, the traffic lights can also tell one set of cars to both go and turn left, while telling the oncoming traffic it is not okay to move at all.  We can direct our semaphores to do this in alternating directions as well.  Crazy, right?  But it's true.  Next up, warp drives and teleporting and we'll be at Star Trek levels of transportation.

Before we can say that the 26th Avenue bike lanes are complete, this error at 26th and Lyndale has to be corrected, and similar mistakes must be avoided.


  1. I've been looking at these exact spots for months thinking wtf?

  2. Time for a post on Sanctuary Covenant Church and their house wreckin ambitions...or Atomic Recycling and their expansion at Mereen Johnson and what Will Lumpkins would like to achieve with the cool office building across the street or perhaps the upcoming Henn Cty Auction OR what in heck is NOT HAPPENING at 1522 Hillside...or even how the plastic bag ban discriminates against the poor...or...???

  3. I'm actually a part of a dialogue right now with Sanctuary about moving those houses. I'm not sure if it will happen or not, but I am satisfied that Sanctuary is having the conversation. Based on the discussion so far, if we can't save those houses, I would be satisfied with the information shared about why. And at least they're entertaining the proposal and putting it through a process, which is more than other developers have done.

  4. All i can say about Hillside at this point is that Nicole Curtis is clearly not coming back to finish the job, so we need to get it out of her hands. Then I'd like to put it in the city's Vacant House Recycling Program. If no on bites, then I'm willing to say we had a good process and this house didn't make it. I still believe the house can be saved, but it has to be out of Curtis' hands first.

  5. Regarding the plastic bag ban, anon, ask and you shall receive.

  6. And regarding this post itself--I have been notified that the current status is not the final design once the bikeway is complete. I'm reviewing those proposals and will likely do a follow-up post in the near future.

    During this discussion, I did come to realize that slowing bikers down on their descent could be a good idea. And to do that, I think we ought to keep 4th and 26th as a four-way stop sign. Just never turn that traffic light on at all. More on that in my follow-up post.


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