Every street is special

If you want to ride a bike in Downtown, there’s a map for that.  If you want to catch a bus in Downtown, there’s a map for that too.  But what if you’re not sure yet if you want to bus or bike?  Wouldn’t it be useful to compare the streets where specialized facilities are dedicated to these modes (or pretendicated, in the case of Hennepin’s Green Lanes)?

Actually, if that was your goal, you might as well use Hedberg‘s amazingly comprehensive yet readable official Minneapolis Bike Map, which shows transit (although it doesn’t differentiate between Hiawatha, which is mostly separated from traffic, and a bus that runs in mixed traffic).  My goal was more theoretical – I just wanted to see at a glance which streets had been specialized for which modes.  I used Visio to alter a base map created by Public Works that was the most detailed map I could find in black & white.  Color was used to differentiate between the different modes in which the streets specialized, and line thickness was used to show degree of separation from other modes, which in Downtown conveniently corresponds to directionality (i.e. all of the separated facilities are also two-way; the old two-way bike lane on Hennepin would have been more complicated to symbolize).  I also included pedestrian specialization, which I considered to include bikes unless specifically banned (as on the typically deserted Fed plaza) or physically prevented from using the space (mostly because of stairs, like on Chicago’s connection to West River Pkwy).  Because Public Works’ attention is defaulted to car traffic, the base map included freeways in light green – luckily they are another form of specialization, but they don’t conform to my symbology.

Now that I’ve made this map of street specialization in Downtown Minneapolis, here’s some thoughts on the transportation network:

  • Downtown’s defining feature is a grid of around 20 blocks long by 10-15 blocks deep wedged into a triangular area.  Ok, that’s obvious, but you gotta start somewhere.  Also noteworthy is that the grid bends in the center-west and on the south, creating irregularities there, and is frequently interrupted along its periphery.
  • The heaviest activity is in the center of the grid, but there is intense activity throughout, with the only exceptions in an eastern area bounded by 5th & 11th Avenues and 3rd and 6th or 7th Sts, and a western area bounded by I-94, the 4th St viaduct, and I-394.
  • On average, there are ten blocks to a mile, but entry to Downtown is limited to about 12 gateways, mostly evenly distributed (about 3 to a cardinal direction) but not evenly spaced.  These gateways are created by the barrier function of the freeway ring  directly limiting access but also dividing the surrounding city into separate communities defined by freeway boundaries.  The river does something similar.
  • There is more real specialization for bikes than any other mode.  This makes sense, since people seem to like to get their bikes as close to their destination as possible rather than leave them at a central terminal and walk to their destination (people also don’t like to do that with cars, and maybe not with transit either).
  • Transit actually has more specialization than bikes if you count nominal specialization, in the form of bus stops and shelters.  There are a dizzying array of downtown streets with bus lines on them, but they aren’t really specialized because there is no advantage for transit to run there as opposed to anywhere else (a dedicated lane would be an example of an advantage).  The spread of nominally specialized transit streets is a weakness for the network, since transit benefits from clustering onto spines in order to compound frequency and increase system legibility.
  • Another caveat – looking at the map and assuming 6 lanes per freeway, there appears to be more specialized facilities for cars than for bikes.  The majority of the streets on this map also have specialized facilities for pedestrians lining them.
  • There is a huge network gap on the south end of downtown, basically from Hawthorne to Portland between 12th and 15th.  (Technically you could bike on the Loring Greenway but I rarely see that happen, maybe because you have to ride on the sidewalk to get to it.)  Do the conditions that require specialization further north not exist here, or have they just not gotten around to specializing?  The south end of Nicollet is not congested, but the high levels of transit service and use here would likely benefit from a modified transit mall, for example one that would prohibit cars from going through but allow access for parking and drop-off.  The south end of Hennepin, on the other hand, is similar to the Green Lanes segment, and the only rationale for not extending them is to allow unfettered gratification of suburbanites’ desire to drive Downtown.  In other words, Hennepin Ave south of 12th St is duplicated by 394 so there’s no good reason to continue its present prioritization of cars.  Extend the Green Lanes and enforce them.
  • Another gap basically cuts off the North Loop.  Local transit operates well there, with wide stop spacing and few stoplights, but the heavily-used transit service to the northern suburbs would benefit from exclusive lanes – I’ve mentioned before converting one of the viaducts to a two-way transitway and making the other a reversible two-lane highway.  As for bikes, the gap in the 2nd St bike lane can only be attributed to disinterest on the part of Public Works – the two blocks lacking lanes shares the same width as its neighbors with lanes.  The North Loop has actually lost bike lanes lately, as the lanes on one side of 5th Ave were converted to parking.  This neighborhood has obvious problems with street connectivity in this direction, so this lane should be restored and connected to 7th St N, maybe as part of the Interchange project.
  • The third gap is in Elliot Park, where the city is reluctant as usual to remove parking to add bike lanes.  It seems reasonable, though, to add a lane each to 7th and 8th on the stretch east of Portland where demand for turning is low.  I have also called for a transit mall on 8th St – 9th or 10th might work too.

I’d like to pin a tangential coda onto this already long-winded post.  From the above it can be gathered that there is already a great deal of specialization on Downtown streets but I’d like to add even more.  To understand why, I offer the chart below, showing that the population of Downtown as measured by the 2010 census is greater than all but 25 of the Metro’s 90-some municipalities:

Ok, so # 26 wouldn’t seem to be a big deal, except for the fact that at 2.6 sq mi Downtown is a third the size of the next smallest city on the list, Richfield.  In addition, only 5 cities on the list had a similar or higher growth rate to Downtown, which is poised to overtake Brooklyn Center, Andover, Roseville, and Richfield assuming the same growth rate in this decade.  Of course, that won’t happen, but if the first two years of this decade are any indication, it’s certain that Downtown’s growth rate will outpace all but a few of the Metro’s large municipalities.

High population in a small area means density, something that isn’t very common in the Twin Cities.  That means we should expect the transportation system to look different Downtown as well, and a reasonable response is to specialize street space so the different modes can perform their best.  Unsurprisingly I have an idea of what the ideal specialization would look like, and I’ll get around to posting that map sooner or later.

Why I don’t ride on East River Parkway

Yesterday I decided to take advantage of the apocalyptic weather by mounting an attack on the old beer gut.  I carefully shined and polished my old 80s steel frame racer that I got for free and that’s at least one size too small for me, threw on a backpack stuffed with water, snacks, beer for restocking the gut, and a book to read in the sunlight of some Beautiful Spot.  The only problem for a man without a destination was where to ride.  Glancing at the map I noticed a line that roughly followed West River Pkwy, but on the east side of the Mississippi – oh yeah, I thought, why don’t I ever ride on East River Pkwy?

Shortly after I crossed into St Paul and the road gained five superfluous syllables, I remembered why I don’t ride on East River Pkwy:  It is shitty.  Literally.  I’d just been forced off the shared-use path by a roving gang of pimple-faced skaters – which is fine, there’s a bike lane there – when I encountered a pile of shit.

Pile #3

There was a total of three piles of shit spaced about a mile apart, and each was only in the bike lane, not in the through lane.  To me this means either that whoever left the shit there aimed for the bike lane or that the shit was later cleaned off the through lane by pushing it into the bike lane.

So now St Paul has two strikes.  A shitty bike lane isn’t nearly as bad as pretending a road with a couple signs on it is a bikeway, but counts as a strike when you add in that awful spot right after the West 7th overpass where the trail turns into a six foot sidewalk with no warning.  Let’s hope St Paul doesn’t get strike three on Wednesday, when it votes on the Jefferson bike boulevard.

Listening to: My Descent into Madness by Eels

Penn-ed in

How many bikes will Penn collect?

About 65% of Minneapolis residents have lived in their current dwelling for less than 10 years, according to the Census Bureau.  After 30 years, 89% of the city’s dwellings will have exchanged occupants.  Why then, is the design for a facility that will last for at some 60 years determined by the whims of the immediate neighbors?

This is exemplified by the Penn Ave S reconstruction planning process, which may be about to jettison meaningful bike facilities to placate neighbors’ insatiable demand for parking.  Penn is a test for the freshly-pressed Bike Master Plan, which identifies Penn as a collector bikeway south of 54th St (the reconstruction project extends north to 50th).  The plan does not specify the type of facility needed for collectors, but the implication is that it should be something more than a sharrow or signed route, which many cyclists decry as ineffective.

Bike lanes were squeezed onto even the narrow northern segment of Penn in the initial proposals

The first proposals for Penn included options for bike lanes for the entire length of the project.  Apparently due to concerns about parking at business nodes, bike lane options were nixed, and have now been replaced with an option that would build a two-way cycle track along the westerly sidewalk for the entire project length.  When I saw the cross-section, my mind went to the closest thing we have to this cycle track concept – the hated Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck side path.  Reuben has compared it to a side path of the type commonly found in suburban areas and suggested that a better alternative might be a combined bike/ped fully separated facility similar to what exists on St Anthony Pkwy east of Ulysses St NE.  In a comment Shaun Murphy seemed to stick to his guns about the appropriateness of the proposed cycle track, but conceded that “proper treatment at intersections” – i.e. “bike stoplights, colored conflict zones, and raised trail crossings” – “are key”.  In the same breath, however, he says that those details won’t be sketched out unless the cycle track option is chosen, and indeed the published layout of the cycle track option does not include any intersection treatments.

The two-way cycle track option

The City is basically telling cycling advocates to trust them on a potentially substandard design or get nothing.  The alternate option includes bike lanes for two blocks between 60th and 62nd, but otherwise would include no more substantial bike facilities than sharrows.  Notably, both exceed Public Works’ typical design disdain for transit – exemplified by their refusal to include bump-outs at bus stops – by actually including one or two bus bays!  (the anti-bike layout includes one that conflicts with the two-block bike lane; the cycle track layout includes two bays)  This from a city that is supposedly trying to encourage transit use.

Detail of Hennepin County's Bike Plan showing facility on Xerxes/York

There is ample reason to include a high-quality bike facility on Penn.  Little ole Penn may seem like a sleepy little street, but it carries a lot of cars – around 8k/day on the north end and up to 15k/day near Hwy 62.  If they ever hope to collect cyclists on this street, they’re going to need to provide some separation.  As you can see from the excerpted Bike Master Plan map above, Penn is also the only real bikeway going north-south in the area until Bryant almost a mile to the east.  To the west lies Edina, which has designated France as a primary cycling route, which means that lanes are recommended.  But France is a county road, and Hennepin County doesn’t include France as a bikeway on its bike plan, instead designating Xerxes.  Unfortunately, even when jurisdictions agree on something it can be hard to get them to do anything about it, so when they disagree there is even less hope.  Minneapolis has no one to argue with on Penn so it should take advantage of that rare situation to get something done.  Moreover, while Richfield has not yet finished its bike plan, it includes Penn as a candidate route and identified Penn as a “Future Bike Trail” on its comprehensive plan (on the other hand, Penn is also a county road in Richfield, and also not on the county’s bike plan).  Depending on the direction their plan takes, Penn seems likely to be recommended for bike lanes, since its four lane configuration is overkill for the level of traffic it actually sees, north of 77th anyway.  Regardless of what type of facility Richfield chooses for Penn, its usefulness will be diminished if Minneapolis doesn’t include anything on its side of the border.

Last Bridge over the Minnehaha - how's that going to work?

Personally I like cycle tracks, although I prefer one-way cycle tracks along the roadway in each direction.  This segment of Penn is a good candidate for a two-way track, though, because of a number of long blocks on the west side.  However, it makes most sense to coordinate with Richfield, and it seems like it would be difficult or at least expensive for them to continue the facility past the intersection with 66th St, at the northwest corner of which is a parking lot that is a decent height over the roadway, held back by a retaining wall (or was, anyway; I haven’t seen it since they built a CVS in that strip mall).  In addition, the bridges over Hwy 62 and Minnehaha Creek could be considered fatal flaws for a cycle track option; since they won’t be reconstructed bike traffic would have to share the sidewalk with pedestrians at that point.

For these reasons, I think that bike lanes are the best option for Penn Ave S.  It stretches credulity to suggest that there is a parking problem along Penn Ave S; even at the business nodes there is tons of space for parking along the intersecting streets.  None of the nodes stretch more than a few buildings in from the intersection, so there is no room for complaining that customers would have to walk any further than they do in a Wal Mart parking lot.  Perhaps somewhere north of the Minnehaha Creek bridge it could transition to a two-way cycle track, although I can’t imagine how that would work.  Regardless, bike lanes are ideal for the majority of the segment because it’s unlikely a comparable facility will be built in this area for quite some time and because it’s unlikely that a two-way cycle track could be extended very far into Richfield.

But it doesn’t matter what I think – Betsy Hodges’ opinion is what really matters here.  Understandably, she will likely base her opinion largely on the attitude of her constituents (see Linden Corner), but bringing it back to paragraph 1, Penn Ave S will still be here after 89% of those constituents have moved away.  That’s why cities create policy documents – it’s an attempt to steer the conversation a little further out than being uncomfortable parking across the street from your house.  Councilmembers are also policymakers, but in Minneapolis they are allowed to cavalierly ignore the policy they just made, which in this case could easily refer to ignoring the Bike Master Plan by rebuilding Penn without bike facilities.

Don’t let Penn become another Nicollet.  Reach out to your councilmember, copy CM Hodges, remind them of the city that exists outside of a narrow parochial strip of Southwest, the city that wrote the Bike Master Plan, the city that bikes, walks, and doesn’t mind parking across the street from their destination, and the city – not to be too grandiose here – remind them of the city of the future.

Nicollet: second helping

The city is still shaking down Nicollet peds

A dismal turn has been taken in the design process for Nicollet Ave between Lake and 40th Sts, so I’m going to have to break my habit of never following up on anything to discuss it.  When last I posted, the street was set to be rebuilt at 42′ with bump-outs at about every other corner (i.e. every corner without a bus stop).

I can’t say I was impressed by the original design, which did the minimum to protect pedestrians, ignored the danger spots such as the disjointed intersections at 32nd and 33rd, did nothing to address the speeding problem between 38th and 40th caused by unused parking, and failed to even consider the heavily-used 18 bus.

But things have gotten even worse as it appears that the city has both widened the proposed street and removed the bump-outs.  If these changes are approved, it would be a step back for Minneapolis, which has made important progress in street design with Riverside Ave.  It would also be confirmation of the failure of Complete Streets, which label the city would certainly apply to the new Nicollet despite its utter lack of all but the most basic facilities for non-drivers.

  • STOP!  Look, I write too much.  If you already know why bump-outs are needed here, just write your councilmember and let them know.  If you’re want to read more, maybe bone up on some arguments to convince your neighbor, keep reading or check out Friends for a Better Nicollet.

Bump-outs are a bicycle’s buddy

This bump's for you

What scared me most about the changes is that one reason given by CM Glidden for the removal of bump-outs is “[b]umpouts may discourage bicycle traffic.”  Bump-outs may be unpopular among cyclists, but I really doubt that very many of them are opposed to their installation.  In fact, of 44 comments received about bump-outs, only 3 mentioned bikes.  In comparison, 8 comments opposed bump-outs due to the perception that they would reduce parking, which they absolutely would not do since the bump-outs would be built where parking is currently prohibited.

Bump-outs are only a problem for cyclists when the traffic on a street is too fast and discourteous, so cyclists feel more comfortable riding in the parking lane.  In this case, doing what feels more comfortable is actually more dangerous, because when you ride in the parking lane you have to dodge parked cars, making your movements less predictable (and making you more likely to run into a parked car, which is not as stupid as it sounds).  And the really ironic thing is that if you remove the traffic-calming properties of bump-outs, you get a street with traffic that is too fast and discourteous, making a bad situation for cyclists anyway.

Rules climate change

Don't they know it's impossible?

As I said in my last post, this comment period on the design could have been started last summer.  If it had, the bump-outs would likely have been approved.  I don’t know if you remember last winter, but people who submitted comments on this project did, and 6 of them specifically mentioned that bumpouts make snow removal difficult (of 44 bump-out related comments, 29 were negative and only 8 were positive, the rest interrogative, neutral or nonsensical).  We seem to be seeing the first pushback on the one municipal policy issue that the middle class cares about: parking.

CM Glidden seems to agree with them and insists that “[t]here is an impact on snow plowing with the bumpouts.”  Of course there is an impact on snow plowing with any street design feature, but that impact can easily be mitigated.  But regardless, how wise is it to base the design of infrastructure that will last at least 60 years on an extremely rare eventMinnesota is getting wetter, yes, but it’s also getting warmer, making winters like this even less likely.

Streetcars a certainty?

Intriguingly, CM Glidden mentions on TC Streets for People a third reason for removing bumpouts:

My reference to the hoped for streetcar implementation on Nicollet states that bumpouts would be required as part of the implementation — these would be NEW bumpouts in the locations where buses stop now.  The original proposed bumpouts would have been on opposite corners. The point is that bumpouts are coming anyway with the streetcars.

I’m glad the councilmember is so certain that streetcars are coming to this segment of Nicollet.  Excuse my disbelief that they will be there any time soon.  The long term plan is certainly to extend streetcars to 46th St, but barring a major reversal in state and federal funding priorities, it’s hard to imagine the shovels in the dirt any time soon.  An 18 month Alternatives Analysis is set to kick off in 2012, but on top of that the initial operating segment of a Nicollet streetcar was projected to cost $75m to run from 5th St to Franklin – coincidentally the amount recently granted for the Portland Streetcar’s Eastside Extension and the most the Feds have granted for a streetcar to date.  Even if the earth tilts on its axis, the city gets Fed money for a streetcar and is somehow able to match it, that would only pay for a streetcar to Lake St.  So how long will we have to wait for a streetcar south of Lake and the bump-outs that supposedly will come with it?  Anyway, if bump-outs will be included in a streetcar project, wouldn’t it save money to install them now?  That way the drainage wouldn’t have to be re-engineered and specific curb lines could be moved if necessary at lower cost.

The argument that bump-outs aren’t needed now because they will be installed with a streetcar may be the strangest one yet.  If bump-outs help a streetcar, wouldn’t they help buses too?  Indeed, a study found that bus bays that were converted into bus bulbs in San Francisco not only increased average speeds for buses (because it takes more time to pull out of traffic for pickup or dropoff and then merge back in) but reduced delays for other vehicles on the street – by 7 to 46 percent!  This is in addition to the safety and increased sidewalk space provided by bump-outs at transit stops.  CM Glidden mentions several times that 1/4 of users on this stretch of Nicollet are in a bus – why then doesn’t this design include a singe feature for transit riders?  Why wait for a streetcar to bring the bump-out benefit to Nicollet?

Why I whine about width

Yeah this road is really narrow

For now, the road is still planned to be 44′ wide in most places, which the city seems to be counting on to provide the traffic-calming effect they need to pretend it’s a complete street.  Unfortunately, a street with parking lanes will have vehicles driving at high speeds unless there are high parking rates – which generally doesn’t happen in Minneapolis south of Lake Street.  In fact, only 4 blocks on the segment of Nicollet in question are regularly even half full of parked cars, according to KMA’s parking study.  These are contiguous blocks between 33rd and 37th Sts, meaning from Lake to 33rd and from 37th to 40th, lanes will effectively be 22′ wide most of the time.  Bump-outs would help break up the wideness and make drivers feel like they need to watch where they’re driving at least once a block.

Popular opinion in conservative Southwest Minneapolis seems to be whipped up against a safer Nicollet Ave, probably by the local cabal of business owners, which has released a manifesto against traffic-calming features.  Luckily, some neighbors are fighting for a safer Nicollet Ave – one group, Friends for a Better Nicollet, has set up a website.

Based on her comments, it seems that Councilmember Glidden is opposed to bump-outs, which means it will take sustained pressure from her electorate to effect changes, if changes are even possible at this point.  If you care about streets that are safe for all users, I recommend you contact your councilmember.  If you worked to get Complete Streets legislation passed at the state level last year and don’t want to see the term reduced to meaninglessness, I recommend you contact your councilmember.  If you are tired of the safety of pedestrians and cyclists being compromised for the convenience of motorists, I recommend you contact your councilmember.

Here are the documents mentioned and a couple more interesting ones:

Nicollet Avenue Reconstruction Project_Comments 2011-07-14

NEHBA — Nicollet Ave Road Basic Design Phase 8-01-11


New Nicollet-Ave_Roadway-Examples_2011-07-30

Biggest suburb or baby brother?


I often joke about how St Paul is a suburb of Minneapolis, but it’s always been in jest, a gentle sibling ribbing.

That was until I took a bike ride on Wheelock Pkwy last weekend.  This road, marked as an on-street bikeway on St Paul’s official Bike Map, doesn’t have a single bike facility.  Not a lane, not a sharrow, no little bike symbols painted on the pavement, just a few faded signs every mile or so proclaiming it a “Bike Route.”

Wheelock Parkway seems to have been built around 1920 (it appeared on a Hudson map from 1922, but not on a Blue Book map from 1920) as one of the inter-war period’s recreational driving parkways.  If there were park facilities along the road at one point, they’re gone now, although a long segment of the road follows a wooded bluff, making it feel sorta park-y.  Wheelock is built for driving, and although maybe drivers were able to keep their speed down in the 20s, when they were still afraid of driving so fast their faces would peel off, no such fear lightens the feet of today’s motorists, who speed down Wheelock with only rare stop signs to slow them.  If you’d prefer to traverse this parkway at a leisurely pedestrian pace, then tough crackers, Mrs. Grundy, because the so-called parkway is even missing sidewalks for most of its length.

Wheelock proves the old joke about parking on a driveway and driving on a parkway – there is no parking allowed anywhere on it, and although the roadway is narrow – 30-35′ at various points – my guess is there would be room for 5′ lanes along the entire route.  But why settle for on-street facilities?  Apparently to justify calling a parkway, Wheelock has exceptionally wide setbacks for most of its route – the ROW varies between 120′ and 130′, which means there’s a 40′-50′ strip of public land on both sides of the street that could be used for a two-way path or a pair of one-way cycle tracks on either side.

Drag your bike up here

But a few bad eggs don’t make the St Paul omelet, and there’s some really nice biking in our neighbor to the east.  In fact, two trails cross Wheelock Parkway, and by “cross” I mean it’s difficult or impossible to get to them from Wheelock.  At the Gateway Trail, which may be the premier non-river East Metro trail, someone was kind enough to build a wooden staircase from Wheelock to the above-grade trail.  A nice gesture, maybe, although a strange choice considering this segment of Wheelock doesn’t have a sidewalk.  Kitty corner to the staircase for no one is a strange stub extending down from the trail towards Wheelock but terminating mysteriously before reaching the Parkway pavement in a kind of overlook, as though anyone would want to sit there and enjoy the view of nothing.  But at least there is an indication that the North End‘s only east-west “bike route” is intersecting with the Gateway Trail.  The Trout Brook Trail passes under Wheelock with nary a whiff of spray paint pointing to it.  Granted, it’s at the bottom of an impressive gorge that Wheelock overpasses, and the Trout Brook Trail is just a short segment so far.  But as St Paul grows up into an adult biking city, it’ll have to figure out how to make the connections between bike facilities intuitive.

Can't you think of a better place to nap?

Luckily, St Paul is growing up, and it’s working on a Bike Master Plan that vaguely promises some kind of real improvements, and we’ll find out what exactly sometime around New Year’s.  Presumably there will be recommended connections of their existing randomly-strewn network, maybe an instruction to city employees to avoid parking in bike lanes, and – dare we hope – proposals for actual bike facilities on existing designated bike routes like Wheelock.

The cool thing about St Paul is it’s actually not bad biking most places in the town already.  The car traffic is light compared to Minneapolis, and most roads are 3 lanes, tops.  I was cruising around downtown on Sunday with no problems.  One downside – they have these things called hills that are kind of annoying, but they can be fun, too.

So I guess I have to hesitate to apply the epithet of suburb to St Paul.  And maybe St Paul is less of a baby brother, and more of a weird, reclusive older brother that you have drag into the latest fashions.

“Nice Ride Bro!”

Nice Ride and anthropomorphic fruit

…the guy on the Nice Ride bike yelled at me as he rode past me walking down the sidewalk near my apartment.  I only had a split second to wonder if the guy was bragging or just proud that his city had the organizing power and progressive spirit to pull together a system that’s simultaneously environmentally friendly, egalitarian and fun before the guy emitted a follow-up yell, “Your shirt!”  Oh yeah – there was a nice girl who works for Nice Ride on the sidewalk with a prize wheel a few weeks before, and I’d spun a shirt – which, being comfortable and stylish, quickly became a favorite of mine.

Funny thing is, this was the second time that day someone had yelled “Nice Ride!” at me – the first was from the lips of a shirtless young cyclist behind me as I prepared to curse the old fat man who was driving through in Hennepin’s green lane, until he came across a bus at a stop and decided to hold up the cyclists who were legally riding in the lane so he could pass the bus.  In fact – and I’ve heard this from other regular Nice Riders – it’s not uncommon for people to yell “Nice Ride” as you cruise by on those green flashing cushiony bikes.  People really seem psyched about the Nice Ride.

I gotta admit, though, that I’m getting a little less psyched.  Yesterday was also the second time I’ve arrived at a station to discover an empty corral, which in this sprawling city means a 5-10 minute walk to the next station, and further on the Northside or in St Paul.  Last summer I also rode Nice Ride regularly, and never had a problem.  Maybe it was just bad luck, or maybe the Nice Ride is surging in popularity or maybe – and I think this is most likely – they’re just expanding a bit beyond their capacity lately.

It looks like more bikes are on the way, but it would have been wise to wait until they were here before adding all these new stations.  Based on the numbers from Nice Ride, the original 65 stations were stocked with 700 bikes.  With the stations added this week, there are 95 stations stocked by 800 bikes (apparently only one bike was lost last year, so I’m assuming few were lost this year), 30% fewer bikes per station.  When the 500 new bikes come in and the 2011 expansion is finished, the ratio will be much closer to the opening, with 116 stations stocked by 1200 bikes.  At that point I’ll be more likely to shout “Nice Ride” back to the bros.

Coming soon to a sidewalk near you



Not that easy

A funny way to turn right

Hennepin Avenue’s Green Lane got a fresh coat of pea soup a week or two ago, and my unscientific count shows a slight decrease in SOVs illegally driving through on it – from “everyone and their mother” to “everyone and their dog.”

I’m a fan of the controversial Hennepin and 1st conversion – the 1st Ave bike lane is nice (as long as you don’t have to turn left)  and I’m comfortable with the idea of a bus-bike-right turn lane.  I’m less comfortable with the reality of a bus-bike-right turn-through lane, which is less a bike facility and more a Kermit-looking regular lane.  Actually more the width of Miss Piggy, there is plenty of room to go around cars that are waiting to turn right, but the problem is that half the cars are illegally going through, and of the cars that really are turning right, half of those aren’t signaling.

The wheel

Why did Minneapolis have to reinvent the wheel on this one?  St Paul has bus lanes downtown that are marked with a solid white dividing line, diamonds striped intermittently, and skip-dashing to indicate right turns are allowed.  I’m not sure how well that works, but I can’t imagine anything working worse than Hennepin Ave’s lanes.  I appreciate the splash of color on the pavement, but it seems like people respond better to the more widely-known diamond symbol – the very thing Minneapolis uses on the explanatory signs!  (although according to the MN MUTCD the diamond is supposed to refer to HOV in general).

I’m a bit late commenting on this issue, but I wanted to give the lanes a chance.  The striping clearly doesn’t work – SOVs treat the Green Lane like it’s just another lane.  The green striping was actually as a Phase 2, and maybe there hasn’t been further evaluation.

How do I map thee?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about the outstanding new online Minneapolis Bike Map, which I adore but, due to an emotional defect, could only find unpleasant things to write about.  The father of this map, Nat Case, map scientist of Castle Hedberg, wrote in to encourage me to check out the paper version.  Considering the fact that they designed the map for paper, it is only fair to check it out, but I’ll put my habit of being unfair aside and actually follow his suggestion.

Right off the bat, I need to clear the air.  In the last post, I failed to credit good Sir Case for the innovation of mapping bike lanes on the actual side of the street they are striped on – which a) is an indication of the unsafe practice of left-side striping, b) allows the portrayal of contraflow lanes and c) gives a quick indication of whether a street is a one-way, which tends to be unpleasant to ride on.  So kudos to you, Nat Case, for creating a technique that will soon be as ubiquitous as velcro, but for bike maps.

The paper map is really big – and really great.  The white streets are much less overwhelming at this size (maybe I just need a bigger computer monitor).  The differentiation between “local streets” (darker) and “busier streets” (lighter) is a lot more apparent on paper than online, and it sure is a useful distinction.  I like that the streets where “bicycles [are] prohibited or strongly discouraged” are so dark that they blend into the background – they are, after all, contrary to the spirit of multimodalism that infuses this map.

My main criticism of the online map – that symbolizing on-street lanes with dotted lines made them seem impermanent, especially since many of them are in fact not yet in existence – is still present in this map.  Actually, the large format of the paper map seems to make off-street paths more obvious, reinforcing my belief that they both could have been symbolized with solid lines, leaving dotted lines to symbolize planned bike lanes and paths.  If it still would have been too hard to tell the difference, how about making them different shades of red?

But overall, the new map is really good.  A beautiful, suitably Minnesotan subdued color palette, chock full of bikey info, and maybe best of all: loaded with lanes, paths and other bike facilities.  We really are lucky to live in what is (or will be) one of the nation’s best biking cities.

Is it a sidewalk or a bike path?  It’s Twins Way!

One more piece of unfinished business from that post a few weeks ago – Twins Way, the sidewalk that Hedberg was compelled to mark as an off-street path.  If only someone was similarly compelled to mark the actual Twins Way.  Instead the cyclist who hangs a left upon exiting the Cedar Lake Trail will find no indication that they are on a bicycle facility.

But what a sidewalk!  I’d guess it is 15-20 feet wide, since it appears about as wide as the asphalt next to it.  But a bike path?  Who knows?  It seems more logical to conclude that the sidewalk is wider than usual because there isn’t a sidewalk on the other side.  The path isn’t particularly suited for bikes – there are beg buttons at the intersections, and at least one is very difficult for cyclists to reach.

I don’t get hung up on strict mode separation, but this design seems ill-suited to a city where the only police interaction with cyclists is to ticket them.  It’s unclear whether this stretch is in a business district, but riding on the sidewalk isn’t a good idea anywhere.  It seems like a waste to tear up brand new concrete, but some kind of marking should be added.  I’d suggest the following sign:

Twins Way would have been a good candidate for a woonerf.  It has low auto traffic, except for around gametime, when the traffic-calming qualities of a woonerf would have been ideal.  The intersection around the could have been asphalt, and the rest of the road a wide expanse of brick pavers.  I’ll be sure to suggest that next time they build a stadium.

Near North or Nearly Gone?

Where in the suburban world?

Can you guess where the aerial above was taken?  The form of the streets, curvy and cul-de-sac-ridden, suggests a post-war suburb.  The buildings, single-family homes with attached garages, make me think of Bloomington.  But this actually a picture of Lyndale and 14th Aves N, just a mile north of downtown Minneapolis.

It is also where a cyclist was struck Wednesday night by a hit-and-run driver, inflicting life-threatening injuries.

A vehicle doesn’t have to be going fast to inflict lethal damage on a pedestrian or cyclist – but the faster they go, the more likely death will be.  On this stretch of Lyndale, most drivers vastly exceed the 30 mph limit – partly due to the suburban form mentioned earlier.  There are no buildings along Lyndale, and berms separate the road from the neighborhood in places, lending a freeway-like atmosphere.

The other half of the deadly equation on Lyndale Ave N is street type – the City of Minneapolis classifies this stretch as a Commuter Street.  According to the Design Guidelines for Streets & Sidewalks, that makes it “a high capacity roadway that carries primarily through traffic, serves longer trips and provides limited access to land uses.”  The only designated Commuter Street in the city that runs through a residential neighborhood is Lyndale Ave N, and this stretch makes up about a third of the approximately 1.5 miles of designated Commuter Street that doesn’t directly line a freeway or highway.

Look familiar?

It isn’t an accident – this area of the Near-North was torn up by the Minneapolis HRA in 1968.  The image to the left, taken two years before the clearance project began, shows the familiar post-automobile Minneapolis cityscape: a healthy mix of apartments and detached houses, a few too many parking lots, a park here or there, and commercial buildings lining the major streets.  Minnesotans of the 60s saw no future in that sort of city, and took advantage of the low prices on land to try to import the suburban neighborhoods then in fashion.

A typical pre-renewal block* had 18 houses, implying that at its peak of development, the 25 blocks between Bryant and 4th and Plymouth and 18th had about 450 residential structures.  Today there are about 130 houses in the neighborhood, and a smattering of townhomes (Lyndale Manor’s 290 public housing units, though north of 18th, probably supply most of the neighborhood’s streetlife).

The park running through the neighborhood is actually very pleasant, if unnervingly empty.  It’s hard to see how it could be anything but, considering the forced depopulation of the area.  At one end of the green space stands the ghost footing of a bridge over I-94 that never came to be – despite a billion dollars a year of capital spending on roads at the state level, no one has yet been able to find the money for this Northside pedestrian bridge.  (Certainly it would be an expensive bridge – the freeway here manages to be wider than a long block.)

I hope that this type of redevelopment is now unanimously considered a failure.  It isn’t clear that a negative opinion is widely held, though – an example being Public Works’ designation of Lyndale as a Commuter Street, when it could easily be called a Community Connector – a distinction that has real differences in design characteristics.  Another example is the continued construction of single-family homes in Minneapolis, often replacing multi-unit buildings.

To build a safer, more inclusive community, the last vestiges of auto-oriented street design should be removed from the city and single-family home construction should be banned.  Minneapolis is never going to out-suburb the suburbs – instead it needs to focus on being the best city it can be.






*I’m looking at the block between Lyndale and Aldrich and 15th and 16th using the 1912 Sanborn.

2 items about bikes

Like most people, I love to ride bikes.  But there are lots of great local cycle blogs, and frankly it’s a mode that I’m less interested in intellectually, so I don’t do a lot of posts on bikes.  A couple things came to my attention recently, though, that I’m going to spend some finger energy on (that sounds kinda gross).

Zombie cyclists from hell spreading love

I used to go to the Whittier Alliance’s Community Issues Committee every month, and just about every month I was entertained by the nonsensical, self-serving, antifactual opinions of some yokel.  To be sure, there were a lot of clever and astute opinions shared as well, but they were less entertaining than the crazy ones.  I remember one occasion when the Midtown Greenway Coalition presented on their search for potential park sites along the greenway, where access points to the path would be combined with community gathering spaces – the idea was to improve greenway safety by getting more eyes down there while getting neighborhood buy-in through the green space.  The Whittierites hated it.  The general opinion was that a neighborhood approached from below was repugnant to decent sensibilities, and sure to result in situations similar to zombies rising from graves in search of brains.

Now there’s evidence that their argument was not only inane, it was thoroughly backwards.  Human Transit today expands on research finding that people traveling upwards tend to be more giving, and speculates that people prefer going up to going down.  I’ll see his speculation and raise him one conjecture:  I’ve noticed that many of the cycletrons zooming around town also seem to be fairly patriotic about Minneapolis (or maybe just a part of town called Mpls).  Is this because the first thing they see after emerging from their subterranean speedway is through benevolent eyes, thanks to the “up escalator” effect?

How to get a Hedberg in cycling

One of my favorite things about Minneapolis is Hedberg Maps – surely the Consumer Mapping Champion of the World, if there were some island where the world’s consumer mapping companies were stranded and forced to fight using randomly-strewn rusty auto parts.  Hedberg is the master of cramming tons of info into a map using a clever palette that leaves it clean and appealing but informative.  They are also noteworthy for producing thematic maps on topics so obscure they could only be of interest to a handful of fanatics, for example interstate highway numbering, Santa Claus and the Wisconsin Dells.  Hedberg is located in the labyrinthine, art-riddled Northrup King building, and are very friendly – I recommend stopping by after you finish your dog at Uncle Franky’s.

Anyway, fresh off the completion of their Twin Cities Dog Lovers map, Hedberg banged out Minneapolis’ new bike map, which has a helpful zoom-able online iteration.  Despite not having seen a paper copy, I have a few comments on the map.

  • This one seems less up to Hedberg’s aesthetic snuff – giving width to every street in the city (as opposed to depicting them as lines) makes for a pretty overwhelming map.  They maybe should have minimized the many streets that don’t have features.
  • The advantage to giving streets width on a bike map is that you can show which side of the street the lane(s) are on.  So why do they bother to symbolize on-street lanes differently from off-street shoulders?  Wouldn’t most readers figure out that the off-street facilities are the ones without streets attached to them?
  • Compounding this last problem, many facilities depicted on the map do not yet exist.  They are distinguished by adding the year 2011 in red on some part of the segment-to-be.  There are two problems with this approach:
    • The reader is not sure which part of the segment has not been striped, especially because dotted lines are often used to show planned features.
    • Minneapolis is not known for its punctuality in striping bike lanes (I have an email from Shaun Murphy claiming the 1st-Blaisdell lanes would be striped in 2010).

      Twins Way or just a highway?

  • There is really an awesome amount of detail here.  I especially like the inclusion of Hi-Frequency Bus Routes. Not sure about the inclusion of the Nice Ride stations though – these tend to move around a bit, and supposedly there will be a bunch added this year, making the map obsolete.
  • I found one error:  They striped an off-street trail on the west side of Twins Way.  If there is meant to be such a facility there, I’m pretty sure it’s not indicated with signs or pavement changes.  There is an extra wide sidewalk of stamped concrete but nothing separating modes or even indicating that you can bike there (is a parking ramp a business district?).

Considering Minneapolis Bike Program’s Government 2.0 attitude, I’d guess they gave us a chance to comment on the map and I missed it.  And even though I just found 5 things wrong with it, I actually like the map, particularly the detail and the zoomability.  I’ll keep dreaming of the perfect map, but in the mean time I’ll actually be using this one.