Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hennepin and First Bike Lanes

There's been a lot of complaining both in the cycling community and from drivers in the local media about the changes to Hennepin and First Avenues. Those changes include allowing two-way traffic on both streets (which had been one-ways since the '80s), removing the middle-of-the-street bike lanes on Hennepin, installing new bus/bike/right turn lanes on Hennepin, and implementing an exciting, innovative new form of bikeway on First. This bikeway consists of a bike-only lane that hugs the curb. During peak hours, it's next to two lanes of moving traffic. During non-peak hours, parking is to the left of the bike lane.

I am basically supportive of this project, especially the lanes on First. I think some of the concerns we've heard have to do with the incomplete roll-out of the project (for instance, it was opened to traffic before the bike stencils were painted), and some of them are just folks reacting negatively to change. However, some of the concerns are more specific, and I'll go through them and respond.

The bike lanes on Hennepin don't work for most riders. I absolutely agree. Hennepin is now a good facility for experienced bicyclists who are comfortable traffic, and no one else. However, First is now much better than the old Hennepin lanes ever were. This is why my office pushed so hard, when this project was being designed, for good routes connecting Hennepin to First at the north and south ends. I'm proud to say those connections have been built, and they include some innovative best management practices (bike boxes at left turns, for instance).

The lanes on First are confusing. This is a fair point. Anything new and innovative is going to be somewhat confusing to all road users at first. This is the first time in history that drivers have had to park five feet away from the curb anywhere in Minneapolis. This is the first time that cyclists have had parked cars to the left of a bike lane. I believe that this confusion will subside as all road users get used to the new lanes, and we shouldn't be afraid to try new and innovative things.

Drivers are parking in the bike lane on First. This was especially true at first. However, as I noted above, as people get used to the new layout, drivers are getting better about parking in the proper place. Once the majority of people who regularly park on First figure out how it works, they will help establish a sort of 'peer pressure' on newcomers, by showing where cars should be parked. This is also an issue that the Police Department will need to watch carefully, especially over the next year or so; people who park in the bike lanes on First should be ticketed.

The bikeway on First is risky at intersections. This is a longstanding criticism of 'cycle track' type bikeways. The reasoning is that the most dangerous places for bikes are intersections, where they have to contend with left- and right-turning cars (creating accidents such as 'left hooks' and 'right hooks'). If parked cars are between them and moving traffic, they are less visible. And if they are less visible, the argument goes, drivers are more likely to turn into them. This is a valid argument. Cyclists using the First Ave bikeway during off-peak hours need to know that drivers may be less aware of them. However, there are some compelling reasons to believe this facility will be safer than most bike lanes in town. First, parking is prohibited within 30 feet of intersections, giving drivers a chance to see that cyclists are there before making a turn. Second, Public Works staff have followed national best practices by dashing the bike lane as it approaches intersections, indicating to drivers that they need to merge into the bike lane in order to turn right (rather than simply turning across it). Third, there are accidents that occur along streets, not at intersections. The most important of these is 'dooring,' an accident type that I believe will be much less common on the First bike lanes than most other bike lanes in the city, because most cars are still single-occupant vehicles and therefore the passenger doors are not as risky. Lastly, it's important to know that our staff tracks accidents - if it becomes clear that this facility is more dangerous than others, we will reevaluate it.

I commend Public Works staff for their courage in bringing forward this innovative project. Like any major change, it was always destined to be controversial, and to be criticised by basically everyone. I strongly believe that, as all road users get accustomed to it, it will become easier to use and more popular. I suspect that in a few years' time, the bikeway on First will be one of the most successful on-street facilities in town, and will be a model for how to safely and conveniently accomodate bicyclists on busy city streets.


At 3:09 PM, Blogger Reuben said...

Overall, I am also a big fan of the project & its intentions. I agree with everything you've written here.

However, we did NOT follow modern best practices on 1st Avenue by failing to stripe a few feet of buffer space between the parked cars and the bicycle lanes. To the best of my knowledge, there are no other protected bicycle lanes in the US that don't utilize some sort of buffer (painted, curbs, or otherwise) between the bike lane and the parked cars.

To improve the situation, I suggest the 11' general-purpose/parking lane be converted permanently to an 8' parking lane and 3' striped buffer.

At 7:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

we're over a month into the new set-up and it is, in my opinion, a disaster. cars ride in the right lane on hennepin (that are NOT turning right) and there is zero enforcement of this.

if there WAS enforcement and/or 100% compliance, then traffic would NOT MOVE at rush hour (an "hour" which is a quarter of the day now) in downtown minnenapolis.

people are STILL parking against the curb on first avenue. if one car parks along the curb, it makes the whole lane useless.

and betting on cars being "single occupancy" as a way to prevent "dooring" is irrational and hopeless. and betting on "daily drivers" parking in spots IN FRONT OF LARGE, ENTERTAINMENT VENUES is a poor bet, long term.

i ride my bicycle all over minneapolis. and every street, in its current form, is not conducive to having or creating a bicycle lane.

simple is usually better. make the streets involved here two lanes, each way, with left turn lanes at each intersection. make the lanes wide. and let bicyclists ride, legally, with/as traffic. that's the best, simplest, easiest solution outside of widening the streets (and taking parking and/or sidewalk space) for adequate bicycle lanes.

At 9:52 AM, Blogger Robin Garwood said...

Well, Anonymous, I'm afraid I disagree.

When the first "normal" bike lanes were installed in Minneapolis, there was probably some confusion, and a learning period during which cyclists and drivers didn't use them correctly. We fully expected this, because this is a new, innovative treatment that people haven't encountered here before.

You're absolutely right that the compliance with the parking rules has not been very good. It was getting significantly better throughout the late fall... and then it snowed, and everyone went right back to the curb. This is frustrating, but not all that surprising, and we absolutely need to do a better job enforcing the rules out there.

I also agree with you that "not every street is conducive to having a bike lane." If that's what this was about, you'd have a good point. But this isn't about "every street." This is about having ANY north/south bicycle facility through downtown to the west of Park and Portland. We once had two, but the Marquette and Second lanes were removed, and the Hennepin lanes were changed to a facility that, in my opinion, only experienced riders will ever use.

I'm glad you feel comfortable riding in traffic. So do I. But if we want to get people other than us, people who aren't comfortable in mixed traffic, to ride their bikes into downtown, we've got to accomodate them.

I continue to believe that the lanes on First can be that sort of accomodation - yes, with better enforcement and better plowing. And with time for all road users to figure out how they work. Giving up on them three months after they were installed would be, in my strongly held opinion, a terrible mistake.

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Kevin Saff said...

It's January, and drivers are still parking in the bike lane. Frankly, these are often city vehicles, which does not give me much hope for future compliance. Many cars do not park on the curb, but do park over the line, creating an uncomfortably tight squeeze. It only takes one car parked in a bike lane for a cyclist to stay out of that lane, and so we have a situation where many feet are wasted on both sides of the road.

These lanes are often covered in snow. While passenger doors may open less frequently than driver side doors, on the driver's side one can at least hope to swerve out of the way. I cannot use these bike lanes because I am hemmed in and cannot avoid any obstacles that enter my path. People loiter in the bike lanes, treating it as an extension of the sidewalk.

They are not safe. They will lead to increased injury since cyclists cannot avoid obstacles and are hidden from drivers.

Now that I know these lanes are not intended for "advanced" riders I suppose I will try Hennepin as you suggest. However, my experience is that poor bike routes are worse than no bike routes at all, since motorists express more rage when cyclists don't use the dedicated lanes.

My question for you Mr. Gordon, is whether you ride downtown; If so, do you use these bike lanes? It would behoove you to listen to people who have tried to use them rather than to theorize in the absence of experience. If it is inappropriate to give up on them now, how many months or years will it take before we can declare this project a disaster?

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Kevin Saff said...

"They are not safe. They will lead to increased injury since cyclists cannot avoid obstacles and are hidden from drivers."


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home