Tag Archives: Hennepin

Open Letter re: Hennepin Avenue Redesign

I attended the second public meeting regarding the reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue last night (April 25th) and was quite happy with the way the planning is coming along. I’m excited that Hennepin Avenue has a chance at a makeover, as it’s one of the most important streets in our downtown core.

Personally, I’d like to see some traffic-calming features on Hennepin, such as narrower lanes and bump-outs at the intersections (to make a shorter crossing distance when walking on Hennepin). I also think we should look closely at lowering the speed limit on Hennepin so make this street more appealing to pedestrians, cyclists, and businesses like cafes and bars that want a more pleasant street for outdoor seating.

I’d also like to see physical protection for cyclists in the protected bike lanes, perhaps in the form of rectangular planters on either side, which would help prevent pedestrians from wandering into the bike lane and provide better protection for cyclists from motor vehicles. I like the idea of gradual curbs, but am worried cars or delivery vehicles will climb up on them for short-term parking and block the bike lane. I’d rather not have the ugly “plastic sticks” that seem to be synonymous with protected bike lanes in our city, especially on an important street like Hennepin.

Come to think of it, the protected bike lane design for the 3-lane proposal on 3rd Avenue South (which did not pass city council) would be something that I would support. That design called for planters to protect the bike lanes.

I’d also like some assurance that what happened with the 3rd Avenue design process will not happen to Hennepin Avenue. Plans were developed for a 3-lane design on 3rd Avenue, presented to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees, then it seems that city staff was directed to push forward a 4-lane design plan at the last moment by CM Lisa Goodman. Is that going to happen here as well?

I’m cc’ing CM Goodman on this email to remind her that this has been the second public meeting regarding Hennepin Avenue that has taken place, and that local business owners are welcome to provide feedback. The feedback I have heard at both meetings indicates that the community is supportive of cycling, pedestrian, and transit improvements in this corridor. I want to make sure businesses are part of this process too, as past experience tells me that they haven’t always been “engaged” early enough in the process.

If the plan is to create a “feel-good” design experience for the community only to have the plans altered at the last second by the unknown demands of local businesses, please let me know so I don’t waste my time with this process. Thank you,

Anton Schieffer

On the seriousness of car-bike accidents

This morning, I got hit by a car while biking northbound down Hennepin toward Loring Park.  Residents in my neighborhood will surely recognize this craptastic intersection:

Hennepin and Oak Grove

It was lightly raining, so I was going slower than usual and had my lights on.  I was actually feeling good because unlike most mornings, there weren’t any cars inching forward into the crosswalk (the green stripe in the above photo, which of course is now faded), which means it’s easy to get onto the ramp and into Loring Park.  There was no traffic in either of the two lanes on my left as I approached the intersection, so everything seemed fine.

Then, out of my peripheral vision, I see a car on my left speeding ahead, and I can see that it’s signaling for a right turn – right into where I’m about to be.  I didn’t have even close to enough time to brake (even if it weren’t raining, but especially because it was), and considering how fast they were going, this person was clearly intending to take that corner as fast as they could before I made it into the intersection.

They weren’t fast enough, and so as I’m yelling at the top of my lungs, my bike clips their rear quarter panel and I’m sent sprawling into the street.  She drives off, pretending not to have heard either me or the loud thump when my bike hit her car.

So I’m not hurt too bad (of course I’m wearing a helmet and decided to put on gloves before I left too), but I decide to call the cops to at least report the accident, seeing as it’s a hit-and-run.  I give dispatch my location and a description of the car and which way it was headed.

While I’m waiting for the cops to show up, apparently some City of Minneapolis van which was behind her manages to track her down and “inform” her of what happened.  So this young woman walks over to the intersection a few seconds before the cops show up and tells me that she was the one who hit me and that she’s really sorry.

So an officer shows up, and I explain what happened and he basically tells me that I need to be more careful because it’s raining.  Thanks!  Meanwhile, the girl who drove off after the accident but who returned to the scene after being “busted” by a city employee – the officer doesn’t even ask her name, and her car is parked way up the road, so he sure isn’t getting her license plate info either.  The cop asks her what happened first, and she says “I didn’t see him!”  After I explain my version of events, this changes a bit to “I was trying to speed up to get around him!”

But the officer doesn’t really care either way.  Which is fine for her because she needs to get going because she’s “late for an appointment.”  So the twenty-something blonde (EDIT: I used those words to inform the reader of potential bias, not to myself be sexist/blonde-ist/etc.) just leaves, while the driver of the van tries to explain to the officer that indeed *I* was somehow at fault.  He thinks that cyclists are supposed to follow the crosswalk signs, and because it was flashing orange (according to him, anyway – I distinctly remember it being white for “walk”), I shouldn’t have been in the intersection, and this whole thing is my fault.  The officer nods his head in approval and I decide to leave rather than argue.  Hopefully that city employee is not a transportation engineer.

So anyway, the moral of the story is apparently this: if you are involved in a hit-and-run with a cyclist and someone catches you, just return to the scene of the crime.  This time around, no police report was written with anyone’s name in it, she got no ticket and can continue to drive recklessly.   And if she hits another cyclist and speeds off, no one will be the wiser.

UPDATE (10/2): I went down to City Hall to find a copy of the police report that was filed for this.  There was none filed – apparently cars running over cyclists is not a serious enough incident to warrant a report.  So I filed a complaint against the officer.  Here’s the text of my complaint:

On the morning of October 1, 2014, I was travelling via bicycle in the bike lane northbound on Hennepin Avenue approaching Oak Grove Street. As I approached the intersection, a car behind me sped up to overtake me and to take a right-hand turn onto Oak Grove. The car entered the intersection at the same time that I did. I struck the rear quarter panel of the car and was thrown off my bike, sustaining minor injuries.

The car did not stop. I called 911 to report a hit-and-run. Another driver (driving a city of Minneapolis van) who was travelling northbound on Hennepin witnessed the event and pursued the driver involved in the accident. The driver who was involved in the accident walked back to the scene (after presumably being “informed” of the accident by the van driver), where she said that she was the one who hit me, and if she could do anything to help.

Moments later, Officer Collier arrived on the scene. He asked what happened and the woman who hit me said that she did not see me as she was turning. I also gave my version of events, which were largely the same, after which the woman claimed that she did see me but was speeding up to get around me. After this brief interaction, the woman was allowed to leave without offering her name, license, or license plate information, let alone be given a ticket for reckless driving or leaving the scene of an accident.

I was disappointed in this response by Officer Collier, who also informed me that I was actually the one who needed to be more careful. I know exactly how careful I need to be, as I bike through this intersection almost every day. It is because of reckless drivers like the one who hit me that I exercise extreme caution. That no ticket was given for endangering my life indicates that MPD approves of the status quo: drivers are free to do what they want, and that cyclists need to figure out how to stay out of the way. My views on this were reinforced by the officer’s unwillingess to question why the driver was fled the scene – I find it difficult to understand how someone could just continue driving after hearing an object strike their car.

It has also come to my attention that no police report has been filed in this matter. I think a police report should be filed when cars strike cyclists or pedestrians. I also do not think it’s wise policy to allow hit-and-run drivers to go free without consequences, even if they later return to the scene of the crime. If it weren’t for the motorist who tracked her down, she would have gotten away without consequences. (Though in this case, even after returning to the accident scene, she was able to avoid any consequences.)

I live less than one block away from where a cyclist was struck and killed earlier this year. The ghost bike memorial there is a daily reminder of the fragile nature of riding a bike alongside cars and trucks. I would like the Minneapolis Police Department to show better judgment and impose serious penalties for reckless drivers when responding to car-bike and car-pedestrian accidents.

Hennepin-Lyndale repaving project

After reviewing some of the preliminary plans for the upcoming Hennepin-Lyndale Reconstruction Project, it seems like this is going to be primarily a road paving project.  I was hoping that more improvements would be made for those of us who walk, bike, and use mass transit in this corridor.  I’m honestly a bit skeptical about what can be done to lessen the bellyaches of everyone who travels through this area, regardless of vehicle choice.  (Personally, I’m in favor of something inspired by the Walker – maybe something avant-garde like removing all the stripes on the road and replacing road signage with Kandinsky paintings)

However, a few rather simple changes could make some intersections much more safe and friendly for cyclists and pedestrians.  I live in the Whittier neighborhood, but I have stayed away from biking north or south along Hennepin due to safety concerns, and it’s one of the only stretches of “protected” cycletracks that I tell novice cyclists to avoid.  Let’s look at some problems and (more importantly) some solutions…

Hennepin & Oak Grove:

LyndaleOakGrove-300x230

As a cyclist, there are a few dangerous circumstances here that can be mitigated through smarter street design.  The first is west-facing traffic on Oak Grove attempting to turn north.  While there is both a “No Turn on Red” sign as well as a bright swath of day-glo paint, cars still meander into the bike lane, even if they don’t intend to break the law by turning on red.  This can cause accidents as well as prevent cyclists from entering or exiting Loring Park safely due to the placement and necessity of a curb ramp.

This problem is easier to solve than you’d think, and we can use how drivers interact with the road to our advantage.  One way to do this is to supplement the signal marked at (1) with an additional signal marked at (2).  Cars tend not to move past where they can see all traffic signals which apply to them, so by moving a light closer to where traffic should actually stop (and maybe complementing it with a “Stop Here On Red” sign), it gives an indication that they should not proceed past that point.   One example of this behavior occurs further south, at this intersection where traffic from 94 can get to Lyndale or Hennepin:

94LyndaleSouth

While this intersection isn’t perfect either, cars tend to not stray into sidewalks or bike lanes largely due to signal placement and signage.  (Of course, these cars are exiting off a freeway and into an urban setting, which may lead to more malleable behavior, but I digress)

Looking back at the picture of Hennepin and Oak Grove, another major problem is the combined cyclist/pedestrian lane.  It’s inconvenient and dangerous for a number of reasons, partially due to the fact that it’s on a hill.  As northbound cyclists gain speed on the hill, they must pass groups of pedestrians (whose behavior can be erratic) while monitoring any southbound cyclists who may be also avoiding pedestrians or overtaking one another as they climb the hill.  In addition, before you get to Oak Grove, try to figure out which northbound right-turning cars will yield to you and which ones will cut right in front of you; something that can only be ascertained by observing whether a driver is looking at their mirrors.  (plus there are always the drivers who turn without signaling, which is always a fun surprise) That’s a lot of things to pay attention to!

But we can improve safety by limiting the things a cyclist needs to be aware of.  Removing the area where pedestrians and cyclists share a single lane and extending the sidewalk between Groveland to Oak Grove would accomplish this.  Yes, it means asking St. Marks to give up some space, and that might be an unpleasant conversation, but it’s one that needs to be had if this city is serious about improving alternative transportation infrastructure.   The problem of northbound traffic turning onto Oak Grove is a challenge that I don’t have a better solution for (though I’m open to suggestions).

Hennepin & Groveland:

HennepinGroveland

For cyclists, this intersection sometimes feels more safe than Hennepin & Oak Grove, due to fewer moving parts.  But the near-misses I witnessed here were the ones that caused me to rethink using this stretch altogether.  Each instance played out exactly the same – a southbound cyclist in front of me would approach the intersection and a driver would pull into the intersection completely oblivious of all activity on their right side.  The driver was so intent on figuring out how to turn right into those 4 lanes of oncoming traffic that they completely ignored the green paint and the cyclists they nearly ran over.

The best fix for this is to forbid right turns on red and to implement the same types of traffic signals that I mentioned earlier which discourage turning.  Add a signal prior to the bike path and make a clear “Stop Here on Red” sign to keep the prospect of turning out of the driver’s mind.  As long as I’m making demands, why not push westbound-facing drivers back 5-10 feet, both here and on Oak Grove?

Even if moving the west-facing drivers back isn’t an option, can we at least move the median at Groveland back or make it more friendly to pedestrians?  Pedestrians don’t want to climb over that thing, and instead they walk in the green painted area, and when the light changes it’s hard to find enough room for pedestrians and cyclists going both ways.  Again, this is also a problem that could be solved by extending that sidewalk down the hill to Loring Park.

Franklin & Lyndale:

And while it’s outside the scope of this project, it would be really nice to address that stretch from where the bike lane ends at the 94 ramp to Franklin Avenue.  I know in an ideal world we’d all ride on that cool bridge to our single-family homes in LHENA, but some bike-loving folks live in Whittier too.  To stay law-abiding, these cyclists are encouraged to go out of their way by taking the bridge and then biking down a giant hill on Franklin Ave, through the intersection with Lyndale (an intersection of two county roads – what could possibly go wrong?), then back up a giant hill.

As someone who has lived near this intersection for years, this is encouraging unsafe behavior.  The safe alternative is to illegally ride on the sidewalk past Rudolph’s – so why not come up with a way to make safe cycling legal?  One possibility would be to remove the street-level parking between 94 and Franklin and add a short protected cycle track.

Anyway, those are a few thoughts on how to improve bike and pedestrian experiences with a minimal investment in infrastructure. Once this repaving project is completed, it may be the last time we have an opportunity to address these issues for awhile.