This past weekend, I had the opportunity to ride the still-under-construction bicycle boulevard along 40th Street in Minneapolis to take some photos and get some first-impressions. The bicycle boulevard portion of the greenway stretches on 40th Street between I-35W and Nokomis Avenue.
40th Street is a relatively low-volume roadway, lined with small homes and a few churches. Despite having some significant hills along the way, the low traffic volumes make it an attractive choice for a bicycle boulevard. It is already an unattractive route for vehicles because it doesn’t cross I-35W to the west or Hiawatha Avenue to the east.
Identification & Wayfinding Signage
The identification and wayfinding signage is attractive and visible.
While many of the stop signs along the route were removed to allow cyclists to maintain momentum at intersections, there is still a surprising number remaining along the route. As I rode the route, I routinely rolled through all the stop signs without stopping after making sure there was no cross traffic – I anticipate most cyclists will do the same, and that it won’t cause any problems. Still, I would have liked to have seen a few more of the stop signs removed and replaced by other traffic calming techniques.
The curb extensions (bump-outs) along the corridor are all very attractive and well designed. They are a welcome addition to the corridor. As far as I’m concerned, the city is welcome to build more of these anywhere they want.
Chicago Avenue Median
At Chicago Avenue, a small median was installed that is just long enough to prevent several turning movements at the intersection. The median includes two channels (sort of) to allow pedestrians and cyclists to continue straight along the 40th Street corridor. The channels are aligned with the sidewalks along 40th Street, however, which means that cyclists will have to deviate significantly from their path to get to the channel. It would have been more logical to design a median that allowed cyclists to pass through (rather than over) the median at street level, and perhaps wider to allow cyclists to pass each direction of traffic individually. I asked Don Pflaum (the city’s design engineer for this project) about this at one of the public open houses, and he said that the design is a result of trying to minimize the footprint of the median to reduce parking impacts in front of nearby homes, and to minimize snow removal responsibilities for the city. A possible benefit of requiring cyclists to swerve to get through the intersection is that it will likely slow cyclists down significantly as they try to cross the busy Chicago Avenue.
This design also does not make it immediately clear to cyclists that they are permitted to pass through the median instead of turning right (like motorists are required to do). I had to backtrack and search a little before I noticed the sign that said “except bikes.” Certainly anyone familiar with the concept of bicycle boulevards will know that cyclists are permitted to pass through, but I could see a few less experienced cyclists being confused at this intersection. It might be a good idea to place another “right turn only, except bikes” sign in the center of the median.
11th Avenue Diverter
The only clear “miss” along the corridor is the diverter installed at the intersection of 40th Street and 11th Avenue, an aspect of the design that I understand has been fairly controversial. The diverter was designed with gaps on either end to allow emergency vehicles and cyclists to continue through the intersection. As a cyclist, it is easy enough to swerve around the end of the diverter to continue on 40th Street. Unfortunately, it is easy for vehicles to do the same. In fact, as I rode my bicycle through the intersection, I saw a vehicle drive around the diverter as well. This type of behavior will likely drop off as people that live in the neighborhood adjust to the new traffic patterns, but a diverter was still a strange choice along this corridor. It is hard to imagine traffic volumes on 40th Street being high enough to justify the diversion of traffic at this location. I suspect that this diverter is simply intended to calm traffic, rather than to divert any movement in particular, which I consider misuse of the diverter. In this location, I believe a small neighborhood traffic circle or chicanes would have been a better choice.
Cedar Avenue Traffic Signal
At Cedar Avenue, the existing traffic signal will be modified so that Cedar Avenue always has a green signal unless a cyclist or pedestrian actuates a signal change by pushing a button. Buttons have been placed on a small median in a location that will be accessible to cyclists. This will be extremely helpful for cyclists.
I’m excited to see how well this project is received. This project will likely determine whether bicycle boulevards will be implemented elsewhere in Minnesota.