Time for a change on Park and Portland

This morning I witnessed a very near miss between a cyclist and a school bus on Park Avenue South (also known as County Road 33).  This “bad interaction” would be classified as a “left-hook” where the bus was slowing to turn left, and failed to yield to the cyclist in the bike lane (approaching from the left and behind). Had this crash occurred, it would most likely have been severe, if not fatal for the cyclist.  This is the same kind of crash that killed a cyclist on Park Avenue in 2009.

It’s always seemed a little crazy to me that some of Minneapolis’ most heavily-used bike facilities are located on streets that are functionally freeway relievers (see Blaisdell/1st Avenue on the west side of 35W).  Drivers expect (and marked speed limits permit) travel at 35, 40 or 45 miles per hour on these routes, feet away from cyclists traveling 5, 10 or 15 miles per hour.

Don’t get me wrong, Park and Portland (likewise Blaisdell and 1st) are pretty great bike routes.  Given their heavy traffic, they have priority over most cross-streets at intersections, meaning a speedy trip.  They’re also huge, so there is space for adequate bike lanes.

I don’t know what the ideal configuration is for bikes and cars on these two one-way pairs, but as Hennepin County prepares to repair and re-stripe Park and Portland this summer, I think it’s a good time to think about how both of these pairs could be made safer and more inviting for cyclists.  In fact, Hennepin County’s Complete Streets policy actually requires them to assess all road projects for inclusion of Complete Streets features and “integrate innovative and non-traditional design options”.

So, in order to get the discussion started, here are some questions and ideas:

  1. Do these streets need to be one-ways? Park/Portland and Blaisdell/1st became the one-ways pairs we know today to address traffic capacity prior to the construction of the freeway system.  Well, we have a freeway now (and a newly widened one at that), so I think it’s time to reassess this configuration. Blaisdell at 40th sees 2,800 AADT, hardly two-lane one-way street territory. Access Minneapolis, the adopted citywide transportation plan, specifically identifies the Park/Portland and Blaisdell/1st Ave one-way-pairs for evaluation and eventual reversion to two-way streets. Two-way traffic would mean slower traffic, and better streets for bikes. Two-way streets also might allow more space for a “multi-street” solution (see #5).

  2. Do these streets need to be three lanes wide?  At any time other than rush hour, three lanes are way too many.  This encourages speeding (see #1) and wastes space that could be used for other modes.  Hiawatha handles similar and greater traffic volumes, and is only two lanes in each direction for most of its length.
  3. Do we need on-street parking on both sides of the street? Park and Portland have parking on both sides.  Losing parking on one side would free up a lot of space to better incorporate bike and ped facilities.
  4. Is there space for an “innovative” solution?  Hennepin County is already apparently considering moving the bike lanes on Park/Portland to the right side of the street, which is a good start.  But what about “buffered” bike lanes (paint, bollards, etc)?  What about putting the row of parked cars between moving traffic and the bike lane?  How about a full-on cycletrack?  New York and Chicago have some great examples of protected facilities on very busy streets that use just paint and parked cars.  With one less row of parking, I’m sure Park and Portland could each fit a wide bike lane and a 6-foot buffer between the curb and a rowed of parked cars.
  5. How about a multi-street solution?  I’ve outlined a multi-street solution to providing a segregated two-way bike facility on the Blaisdell/1st Avenue pair at Net Density.  If Park and Portland were both two-way (or one two-way and one one-way) perhaps both a segregated two-way bike facility could be used on one half of the pair while the other reverted to all-car.  Maybe we could develop one really excellent two-way facility on 1st Avenue south (an at-grade Greenway perhaps)?

  6. What solution is potentially the most safe AND inviting?  We shouldn’t be planning bike facilities for 30-year-old males.  We should be planning facilities for mothers with kids in tow and retirees riding trikes at 5 miles per hour.  Any new facility should increase safety AND be a marketing tool for hesitant cyclists.  People should drive by on their car and think to themselves, “I’d be willing to ride on that.  And I’d be willing to bring my child along with me”.  (Note: there appears to be some controversy over the safety benefits of “segregated” bike facilities.  I won’t weigh in here, except to say that recent evidence seems to show additional bikes on the road means more safety. If better facilities attract more riders and make drivers more aware of cyclists, that is a good thing.  Traffic engineers, please debate in the comments)

What do you think?  Do you ride or drive on Park and Portland?  Are you one of those traffic engineer people who can tell me more about lane widths and design speed and why we’ll eventually be told we can’t have nice things?  Let me hear it (here’s something from twitter to get you started).

At present, according to the Minneapolis Bike Coalition, Hennepin County doesn’t seem interested in anything beyond moving the bike lanes to the right side of the street.  If you’d like to see something different on Park and Portland, contact your County Commissionercontact the MBC and contact your City Council member.

Cross-posted at streets.mn

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