New First Avenue bike lanes poorly designed

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The new bike lanes on First Ave in downtown Minneapolis are a complete disappointment and drivers don’t seem to even notice they are there.  The bike lane is much too narrow and the “buffer” between parking and the bike lane may as well be non-existent.  As TC Streets For People points out, this design has been used successfully in other cities, but the buffer and bike lanes are much wider.  As the picture to the right shows, in Portland, there is a much clearer separation between parking and bike lane, maybe 3 or 4 feet, so even if drivers miss the mark, they are not in the bike lane.  This extra space also allows automobile passengers to open their doors without endangering a cyclist.

Portland's Cycle Track

Part of this “failure” is undoubtedly due to drivers confusion about the new design, and their desire not to park in what they think is a driving lane.  The city didn’t help matters in this regard by making the right lane no parking on weekdays and allowing parking during evenings and weekends.  Hopefully in the future, they will be much stricter about enforcement of parking in the bike lane, but its discouraging to have a facility open only to have it immediately fail.  Roads would never be designed in such a way.

So what could be better?  In an effort not to be totally negative, here are some ways the city could make the First Avenue bike lanes better:

  1. Get rid of the on-street parking.  If the parking doesn’t need to be there during the week, why does it need to be there during the weekend?  The ramps nearby are less full on the weekend anyway.  This would also make the design less confusing.  Without the parking, you could narrow the thru-lanes and maybe add a bike median.
  2. Bollards.  A simple solution that would require no reconfiguring or re-stripping would simply be to add some bollards along the double white line that is supposed to separate the parking from the bike lane.  Drivers would understand not to cross the line if there was a physical barrier.  These wouldn’t even have to be substantial, maybe just some plastic ones with reflectors.
  3. More paint.  Paint the entire bike lane yellow or green, or some solid color.  Drivers know that they aren’t supposed to drive or park on painted things.  This is a cheap way to make people pay more attention to the lane if the current design can’t be changed.

11 thoughts on “New First Avenue bike lanes poorly designed

  1. I think I remember seeing that the lanes are supposed to be painted a different color (red?). All the diagrams here show the lanes in a brick color: http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/hennepinfirst/Henn_1Bicyclists.asp

    I know that the bad weather on the weekend of the transition delayed painting… could it be that they knew a full-lane paint job would not stick well in the conditions and opted to wait and paint full color in the spring? I hope so.

  2. I agree that it’s a very poor design, & I like your suggestions.

    When the 11′ driving lanes are used for parking – they are actually really wide parking lanes. I wonder if there are any ways that the city could encourage the parked cars to hug the inside of the 11′ lanes (towards the roadway center) instead of the outside. If all the parked cars hugged the inside of the parking lane, the resulting space would effectively be an unpainted buffer….

  3. Great suggestion Ruben. The way the city could encourage parking towards the inside of the parking lane, however, is to go ahead and paint the 3 ft. buffer zone that should be there in the first place. The bollards are also something that is need, but is not present.

    I’ll have to go take another look, but I heard a rumor that there was some sort of pavement coloring that was added to the seal coat on the 1st Ave bike lanes. I haven’t perceived any difference from the rest of the road in person or on any of the photos I’ve taken. If this is true, it seems like the designers were not aware of more effective lane coloring treatments that are available.

  4. Horribly designed concept, any biker caught in the unfortunate circumstance of biking in these lanes friday or saturday night or any concert or timberwolves game night will undoubtedly feel as if they have been transported into a gautlet of open car doors, party buses, limos, pedestrians, and drunks. I think there could be a possible extreme biking tournament in the near future to see if a person could make it through there during one of the afromentioned times without hitting a car or a person. Go back to how it was on hennepin there was a nice buffer between public transit/taxis, bikers , and cars.

  5. Depending on how narrow the pavement width is, another possibility would be the shared lane. Here is an example from Cambridge, MA. Cambridge is one of the innovative bicycling communities, particularly as it relates to providing bicycle lanes on streets other communities shy away from. They also do some interesting research projects on bicycle markings. You might want to look around their website a bit.

    http://www.cambridgema.gov/~CDD/et/bike/bike_shared_lanes.htm

  6. I think the “sharrow” idea works (it is in place on Bryant, and this is the future design for Hennepin downtown), but I support the city keeping the innovative design on First. They just need to take a serious look at how this lane is going to function, how other cities have done it, and make some improvements. In principle, I think it can be a safer design for a busy street, since the parked cars protect the cyclist. However, the way it is currently designed, with no “open car door” buffer, little enforcement, too-narrow bike lanes, and little attempt to educate motorists (more paint!), it is a big fail.

  7. I drove the “wrong way” on 1st Ave today for the first time, and parked (to grab a Jimmy John’s on the way back to the office) in the NB parking lane.

    Overall, I found parking in an 11′ lane extremely disconcerting- the lane is too wide, and the width gives the feeling that adjacent traffic will be moving… fast!

    I think striping a larger buffer, and better indicating the bike lane on the pavement would help. A few hundred tickets would probably contribute to a solution as well.

  8. The parked cars also obstruct a drivers view of the bike lane. This means that any car making a right turn will not be able to see if there is a cyclist trying to go straight through the intersection, until that cyclist is on their hood.

    Also there’s the vehicles that park right in the bike lanes and put their 4-ways on during the no parking times. So far I’ve seen at least one every time I’ve ridden down 1st Avenue, and then you’ve got to get into the driving lane somehow.

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