Minnehaha in Seward

In the interest of starting this blog off on a positive note, I’d like to take a moment to write about the newly striped bike lanes on Minnehaha Ave in Seward.

Ever the cynic, I’ll start by pointing out how close these new lanes are to the Light Rail Trail:

I’m in favor of any sort of on-street bike facility, but at 700 feet from an off-street bike facility, it’s hard to see what the urgency is for the Minnehaha bike lanes.  I, like most, prefer to ride on a facility that is separated from motorized traffic.  The Light Rail Trail does that very well, since in Seward it’s about a hundred feet from the nearest street.  The problem with the Light Rail Trail, of course, is that it doesn’t exist between the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street.  Still, I’d rather have seen 26th Ave S striped before Minnehaha – more on that later.

The Minnehaha bike lanes were striped as part of the Non-motorized Transportation Program, which is a federal project intended to test the effectiveness of bike/ped projects for inducing bike and foot travel and which is administered in the Twin Cities by Transit for Livable Communities.  As such, it was applied for and approved several years ago, at which time the Light Rail “Trail” was likely thought of more as the transit maintenance vehicle access road it was built to be and it made more sense to prioritize Minnehaha as a bicycle route.  This is all speculation of course.

But back to the lanes.  They seem to start out of nowhere at that tangly intersection of Minnehaha, Franklin, Cedar, 20th Ave S, and what seems to be another street every few feet, all with giant angry SUVs bearing down on you.

The photo above shows the northern terminus of the new lanes, just north of Franklin and, um, just west of… 20th?… and… um… is that Cedar?  I thought the Cabooze was on Cedar.  Where are we again?  You’d think the giant address sign on that building would be more helpful.  But the concrete gutter pan is perfect for a bike lane, or at least it will be when it is reconstructed.  And this lane flows nicely to the north into the lanes on 20th Ave S.

Going south is kind of a different story– just south of Franklin Ave the curb snakes around and the lane snakes with it:

Why all the contortion?  The road appears to bend there, giving the curb that awkward angle, and then the lane has to dodge some on-street parking.  Some strange maneuvering to be sure, but this lane is so wide, you don’t even notice.  There is really room to stretch out on Minnehaha.

The snake curves are right across from an excellent high-rise owned and operated by Minneapolis Public Housing Authority.  This tower house has been looking like a combination battleship/step ladder since 1974.  It was likely built in one of the final stages of the Seward redevelopment, and the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which could pretty much do whatever it wanted, put in a double-wide bus pullout:

The lane here is really skip-dashed, and I don’t know if that means it isn’t done yet, or if it is intended to guide bikes just to the left of some sort of twenty-foot wide bus behemoth.  Regardless, the curb makes for some creative parking.

Just south of here is another interesting product of Post-war urban planning: a 150′ length of curb lane for which all uses are prohibited.  Presumably parking is banned here because it obstructs the view of Minnehaha Ave from 21st Ave S.  But instead of making an extra-wide boulevard, or, god forbid, an extra-wide sidewalk, they paved the street but prevented everyone from using it.  This is the kind of waste that makes you want to become a Republican:

But back to the lanes.  Moving south towards 24th St E the cyclist encounters a stripe extending a tiny triangle median, a tacit admission by the city the roadway here is just too wide:

looks like someone took a giant piece of chaulk to the pavement

Hopefully when this street is reconstructed, this corner will have a much-expanded triangle median.

And if you think it’s wide here, wait till you get south of 24th St.  This portion is where I saw lots of people riding in the parking lanes rather than the bike lanes.  I have to admit I did too, because that’s the only place there was shade.  But it also speaks to the popular desire to be as separated as possible from vehicular traffic.  I was on Minnehaha on Sunday, when no one was in the parking lanes.  Presumably on weekdays many employees of the various industrial uses are in those lanes, placing cyclists back in the bike lanes and in closer proximity to cars.

South of 26th St, Minnehaha’s bike lanes are relegated to the curbs, with two through lanes and a center turn lane, like in this picture at the midtown greenway:

The lanes are still really wide here (I measured 66″, 90″ including the gutter). Unfortunately, at the Greenway, the zebra striping isn’t in yet.  I still hold out hope that there will be zebra striping someday, as studies show marked crossings are much safer than unmarked.  Nonetheless, many cars stopped here (as is required by law) and let cyclists and pedestrians crossed.  However, the giant beg-button activated crosswalk lights seemed to have little effect – I observed about the same rate of cars yielding as when the lights were not flashing.  That is just as well, considering the beg-button isn’t really accessible for a cyclist traveling west:

Not only is this across the ped lane from the westbound bike lane, I measured it at a little more than 3 feet from the closest spot I could get to it without dismounting.  I’m not sure how long my arm is, but I don’t think it’s three feet long.  I’m sure, though, that this beg button is very useful for the many bike-riding basketball teams that pass through Minneapolis.

One more quirky thing about the Minnehaha bike lanes, although this is technically on 26th Ave S, and was striped by Hennepin County rather than Minneapolis:

This picture is looking north on 26th Ave S.  If that graffito is right, the mini lane in between the turn lane and the through lane is a bike lane.  If that graffito is right, this could be the Twin Cities’ first bike turn-lane!  Honestly, the shock is too much for me to bear, and someone else must have shared that feeling, because this lane is coned off.  We’ll see if this idea of a lane will ever grow up to be a real live lane.  Until then we’ll just keep dreaming.

Conclusion

The Minnehaha bike lanes are quirky, but wide – just what we want out of bike lanes.  Thank you, Jim Oberstar, for this unexpected but wonderful gift.