The Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck was invented by Thomas Lowry to prevent people from walking between the densest and the second-densest neighborhoods in the city, forcing them to ride his streetcars between Downtown and Uptown.
Ok that’s not true. The Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck sorta just happened, either as a planning mistake, or a product of topography or geography, or maybe due to ideas of transportation efficiencies that were revised as newer, deadlier means of transport were popularized.
Our ancestors seemed to view the Bottleneck as something as a town square, lining it with elegant apartments, important churches, art museums and monuments. But nothing is so important to Americans as automobility, so the freeway builders didn’t spare the area (although the Lowry Hill Tunnel may be the only gesture they made to the cities they were cutting through, or maybe it was just cheaper than an aerial alignment), more than doubling the paved area and making it nearly nontraversable without a vehicle.
So today the Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck is a giant unwieldy mess, which of course means that I have a giant unwieldy plan to fix it. Unfortunately the giant- and unwieldiness of the plan means it is literally half-baked at this point, so I’m just going to comment on the City’s recent efforts to clean up the mess a bit.
Loring Park Gateway open
This corner wasn’t bad before, by Bottleneck standards anyway. But it was awkward, routing cyclists on a sharp turn around a bus bench, and apparently didn’t accommodate some movements, as indicated by the desire path from this corner over to where the sidewalk continues north up Hennepin.
The addition of bike lanes to 15th St (or whatever it’s called there) was an excuse to spruce up the corner and rationalize the placement of the various elements (it seems that the pesky bus bench has been rationalized out of existence, although there is still a shelter at the stop). That’s because the city wanted to use this intersection to test out what they call the European Left Turn, which sounds a bit like Wisconsin Yoga but is more like a New Jersey Jughandle for bikes. It’s good to see more separated bike facilities, but this seems to be another case of the City encouraging sidewalk riding. I like the connection to the Poem bridge, but that also reminds me of the Loring Bikeway bridge, where the City spends a bunch of money creating a circuitous bypass that everyone ignores in favor of the old, direct route. Why couldn’t they just have striped a bike lane in place of the left turn/through lane? Is it really important to retain that queuing space for four or five cars?
The other problem with the European Left Turn is that it presumably will add bikes to an already-crowded corner. The queue at the corner is often five-deep, and while the realignment of the various paths has better separated bikes from peds, the new curb cut placement has led to a new issue:
Luckily the city is well aware that the average American motorist is a creep; that is, she has a tendency to creep past the stop line and into the crosswalk. So the plan is to not only widen the crosswalk to incorporate the new curb cut position, but to install green colored pavement to delineate it. The project page implies that the colored pavement has been demoted to paint. Considering the snow will start to fly in a month or two, that means the demotion may have been extended to the crosswalk itself (like most crosswalks in town). As the photo above shows, something needs to happen here or the new curb cut will be unusable.
All this realigning, paving and striping did not manage to fix the biggest problem with this intersection: signal programming. Bikes and peds get the hand when the southbound traffic is stopped for the left turn phase for northbound traffic. So they have to waste time waiting for the man to let them cross again, even though they don’t conflict with left turning northbound traffic. This situation is all too common in Minneapolis (see almost every stoplight on Hennepin Ave) but because some lights do keep the man lit up when not conflicting with left turns (see the lights at 5th and 7th on Hennepin), I can only blame it on ineptitude or apathy (some would suggest disdain) for pedestrians on the part of traffic engineers. In the spirit of Organization before Electronics before Concrete, this change in signal programming should probably have been made before planting the pretty flowers, and should be made before installing the new green pavement or plastic or whatever.
The Wedge Gateway closed
Another change a bit further south down the Bottleneck has somehow made the area even less usable for cyclists. The sidepath abruptly ends at the ramp to I-94 from Lyndale Ave, and apparently the City was concerned that cyclists would continue on to where ever they are going despite the fact that the City had not made provisions for them to do so. The solution was to make it more obvious what cyclists are not supposed to do:
See for yourself how well it’s working:
So here’s an idea. If people want to bike here, maybe a facility should be built that allows them to do so. The sidepath could be continued down to Lyndale at the expense of no more than 10 often-unused parking spaces. As part of the same project, raised crossings could be built at all of the intersections, magically transforming the sidepath into a two-way cycle track.
Alternately, the City could continue building overpasses and restriping to prevent people from taking the paths they want. Bloomington took this route on Lindau Lane, where pedestrians ignored their pointless, capricious, impeding crossing bans. Bloomington responded by spending $50m to grade-separate the roadway (they blew Orwell right out of his syphilitic grave by calling the project the Lindau Lane Complete Streets and Safety Enhancement project), because everyone knows the best pedestrian environments are created by driving a wide, roaring freeway through the heart of a neighborhood. Here’s an idea of what the Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck may look like, if a Lindau Lane-style complete street strategy is pursued:
*I actually fudged this photo- the supposed creeps have the green light. But I’ve encountered the crosswalk blocked by creeps several times so far, I just haven’t gotten a picture.