10 Most Dangerous Intersections in Minneapolis

Posted by Doug Shidell, October 14th, 2008

Bradly Campbell of City Pages Magazine has compiled a list of the 10 most dangerous intersections in Minneapolis for bicyclists. The list, determined by accident statistics and discussions with local cyclists, is pretty much dead on, if you will pardon the pun. The list doesn’t venture far from downtown and many of the intersections can easily be bypassed by moving over one block, but that’s quibbling. Bicyclists are riding through these intersections and they’re getting hurt.

The irony is that many of the worst intersections are there because of “improvements” done by the city for the sake of bicyclists. All of Hennepin Ave, for example, gets a thumbs down. Hennepin is the street with the two way bike lane down its middle, right between the fast moving and left turning northbound traffic lane and the counterflow bus lane. “There are almost two accidents each year for every block of the Hennepin Lane,” writes Campbell. City engineers plan to change Hennepin from a one way to a two way street. Rather than address the universally disliked bike lane, one of the proposals most favored by city engineers is to put a two-way bike path in the middle of the two-way road.

These are the same engineers who designed another of the 10 most dangerous intersections, the stretch of Lyndale Ave from Franklin to Loring Park. Ignoring all of the rules and suggestions of AASHTO, the engineers opted to put a two way bike path next to Lyndale Ave. The bike path crosses multiple intersections, including on and off ramps for I-94, then abruptly dumps southbound cyclists onto Lyndale Ave- going against traffic! The alternatives, for anyone foolish enough to ride this path, are to ride down a narrow sidewalk around lampposts and past doorways to commercial outlets, or climb a steep grade to cross a long bridge that dumps you several blocks from where you intended to go. The bridge is underused, meaning we spent a lot of money on a facility that is so inconvenient that cyclists prefer to risk traffic, lampposts and doorways over the inconvenience of the bridge.

It may be too much to ask our traffic engineers to actually ride on the bike facilities that they design, but is it too much to ask them to follow the guidelines of those who have studied bike route design?

Is it too much to ask them to understand a basic tenant of traffic flow? If you boil down everything about traffic engineering, traffic control, turn signals on cars, brake lights, crosswalks, etc., it comes down to one thing: making everyone act predictably. If I know what you are going to do next, and you know what I’m going to do, odds are pretty good that we won’t bump into each other. If one of us does something unpredictable; if I race down the freeway, then turn abruptly in front of you, for example, your blood pressure rises, you flip me the bird and scream obscenities. You will do that if we’re lucky. We could both be sprawled across the freeway.

So how does this apply to bikes? Take the Hennepin Ave bike lanes, for example. The United States is approximately 1500 miles north to south and 3000 miles east/west. Drive anywhere in that vast area and you can expect to make a left turn from the center aisle with only one concern: Is a vehicle coming from the other direction? That doesn’t hold for a few square miles of downtown Minneapolis. If you are driving down Hennepin Ave, or any of the one way streets around downtown, you have to look in the side mirror before making a left turn because there may be a cyclist coming up on you. You are being asked to make a left turn across the bicyclist’s through lane. You are doing something that the cyclist can’t predict and the cyclist is in a spot where you didn’t expect him to be. Try making a left turn across a through lane anywhere else in the United States and you’ll get a hefty ticket. Minneapolis traffic engineers call it a solution.

A little history is helpful here. When those downtown bike lanes were being designed, the committee working on the project was heavily weighted with transit officials. They didn’t want bikes and buses sharing the same lane because the two often travel at about the same average speed, but buses stop, then accelerate, while bikes keep a relatively steady speed. That means they hopscotch around each other about twice a block. The solution was to put bikes on the left side of the street, then rationalize that it protected them from being “doored.” So rather than being taken out by doors, we’re being offed by the left front bumper of a turning vehicle. We should all feel safer.

Buses and bikes still don’t work well in the same lane, so what do we do? We can follow the example of Madison, Wisconsin. On University Ave, which runs through campus, buses and right turning vehicles share the curb lane while bicyclists get the next lane in from the curb. The two don’t cross paths unless the bicyclist has to move into the right turn lane, or the bus has to move out into traffic. Furthermore, when the bicyclist moves up alongside the bus, he or she is visible in the bus driver’s side mirror. The system has worked well in Madison for over thirty years. We should try it here.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News