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Riverlake Greenway Bicycle Boulevard

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.

Bicycle Wayfinding Signage

Bicycle Blvd

Bicycle Wayfinding Signage

Stop Signs
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.

Curb Extensions
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.

Corner Curb Extension

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.

Right Turn Only Except Bikes

Bicycle pass-through Island

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.

12th Avenue Diagonal Diverter

Diagonal Diverter Gap

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.

Bicycle Actuated Signal

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.

23 comments to Riverlake Greenway Bicycle Boulevard

  • Melanie

    Great review. I’m excited to give it a try myself. Also- I never knew what a chicane was- thanks!

  • Excellent recap of the new RLGBB. I live just off of 42nd St in Longfellow, and they have been busy adding those curb extensions.

    I really wish they would add more of those diverter (or small neighborhood traffic circle or chicanes) in the area. It would break up the grid system and make neighborhoods feel smaller.

  • @emoeby – I wasn’t able to make it east of Hiawatha Avenue on this outing. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it out that direction within the next week or two. Do you think you’ll be riding much along 42nd street after construction is finished?

    I would welcome additional traffic calming throughout south Minneapolis as well. My preferences are skewed heavily towards traffic circles rather than diverters.

  • Give 42nd a few more weeks because it doesn’t look like they will be done anytime real soon.

    I work from home and so I don’t have to commute, so when I do get out for a ride, it’s more for enjoyment so I’ll get on the River Rd to the Parkway or Greenway.

    My only complaint is why another east-west route? Wouldn’t north-south be a lot more beneficial? Either improve the bike lanes along Portland/Park or create a similar bike path between the two on Oakland?

  • @emoeby – why another east/west route? That’s a good question, & I don’t know the answer. I know that the completion of the RiverLake Greenway has been a long time coming, meaning that this round of construction is officially “Phase III” of the RiverLake Greenway, the first two phases of which pre-date my relocation to Minneapolis 5 years ago. Presumably, the bike lanes on 40th Street west of I-35W were part of an earlier phase. So all that is just to say that the RiverLake Greenway had some institutional and neighborhood momentum behind it, which can be critical in getting projects on the ground.

    As for north/south routes, keep your ear open for info about the Southern Bike Connection, a (meandering) north/south bicycle boulevard currently in the planning stages.

  • Joe

    Good review, I agree with all of your sentiments.

    Two comments that are really just a general complaint of mine about this project.

    1) It should have happened on 42nd Street on the portion west of Hiawatha (less hilly, more things you would actually bike to). I don’t see myself ever using this facility and I live 1.5 blocks away from it, 42nd will continue to be my route of choice.

    2) It seems to be a generally uncoordinated grab-bag of “best practices” that have little consideration for their relationship to one another. As a bicyclist you shouldn’t have to learn how to go through a new intersection design every other block.

    Okay, I’m done ranting. Overall, nice to have bicycle facilities to complain about in the first place!

  • @Joe – you’ve hit all of the most common criticisms of bicycle boulevards. I will also probably choose 42nd (or 38th) over 40th as well. I have to remind myself that I’m not the target audience for bicycle boulevards, however. These facilities offer very little to cyclists that are already comfortable riding on 42nd or 38th. This facility is supposed appeal to cyclists who want more separation from traffic than 38th or 42nd can offer.

  • Moe

    What’s the point of spending all that time and money on a project if bike commuters won’t use it? I don’t understand that at all.

  • @Moe – well, we hope that bicycle boulevards will do two things:
    1) provide experienced and fearless riders an easier route option for the times when they’d rather just mosey along without worrying about traffic
    2) encourage new riders who currently don’t ride because none of the existing options are attractive.

    In other words, bicycle boulevards are an acknowledgement that commuters aren’t the only market out there. Certainly, though, it’s worth questioning whether this is the best use of cycling funds.

  • Alex B.

    Re: mini-roundabouts – they’d be better except that Mpls would install them with stop signs on the secondary street, eliminating any traffic calming effect. See the Southern Bike Connector layout

  • @Alex B. – I don’t know that stops signs on the secondary streets necessarily eliminates the traffic calming effects. If the design required vehicles to swerve around the circle, I think we might still see some traffic calming impacts.

  • DonkeyKick

    Aside from allowing cars to cheat, the 12th Ave diverter appears to have been accidentally constructed at 11th Ave instead!

  • @DonkeyKick – HA. Good catch. My error. I think the original plan set showed the diverter at 12th Avenue, but the plans must have changed since then. Thanks for setting me straight.

  • Erin

    I live at 40th & 11th, and the above commenter is right – the diverter is on that corner. It was originally planned for 12th but there were complaints from people who lived at that intersection, so they changed it to 11th (with the permission of all who live near the intersection). And, like you said, it doesn’t appear to divert traffic at all – people go around it fairly regularly. I liked the idea of it when they presented it to us, but I don’t know that it was executed in a very effective way. It’ll be interesting to see how it works out.

    Do you know if they’re planning to paint bike lanes down 40th?

    Also, it looks like they’re removing a lot of the stop signs on 40th – they may have taken a few more out since you wrote this (from what I’ve seen between Chicago and Bloomington, anyway).

  • @Erin – Thanks for the info. There are bike lanes on 40th west of I-35W, but they are not planning to paint bike lanes on 40th east of 35W. One of the guiding principles of creating a bicycle boulevard is that you’re really intending to designate the entire roadway for bikes, rather than just designating just a portion of the roadway for bikes. Bicycle boulevards are intended to be corridors where drivers understand (and expect) that cyclists will be riding (possibly slowly) down the middle of the roadway (as opposed to in lanes, in the gutter pan, or on sidewalks).

    The plan does include sharrows along 42nd Street east of Hiawatha Avenue, though.

  • DonkeyKick

    @Erin — Thanks for the info!

  • JGo

    Just wanted to let you know of problems with the system that I’ve observed repeatedly at the Cedar Avenue intersection. Traffic is prevented from turning from Cedar onto 40th at all and can only make a right turn from 40th onto Cedar. The problem is that everyday I see cars illegally turning into the wrong lane on 40th to drive around the cement curbing that is in place. I also see cars regularly making left turns onto Cedar Illegally. I am a pedestrian at this intersection several times a day and live very close to it. If the new traffic flow rules aren’t enforced, I see this becoming increasingly dangerous to pedestrians, bikers and drivers. (I am all those.) I wish the city would station a traffic cop there several times to first warn and then ticket those making illegal turns. Without some enforcement, many people won’t pay any attention to the signage. By the way, while they were in the neighborhood working on the Bike Boulevard the city workers were some of the worst at making the illegal turns! Thanks for the great coverage of the new Boulevard. I was very excited to have it happen so close to me and really hope drivers will soon ‘get with the program’.

  • @JGo – Thanks for the report. Hopefully this type of behavior will trail off as people become more aware of how it’s supposed to work. If not, we may want to consider a different design that forces drivers to comply, or a design that permits right turns off Cedar onto 40th.

  • DonkeyKick

    Another note on the 11th Ave traffic diverter. It seems that snow removal is able to accommodate motorized traffic but not bicycle traffic. I wonder if the city has a plan for removing snow from the narrower (bike) passage?

  • Holly

    Ditto to DonkeyKick on the 11th Ave diverter–once the plows came through, it became a solid wall of snow, and now diverts bikes as well as cars. But at least it diverts the cars more effectively that way!

  • @Holly – I haven’t been through there lately. Thanks for the update.

    This is one of my primary complaints about diverters placed along bike routes – they end up diverting bicyclists as well (including psychologically, if not physically). It’s really not clear to me that any diversion of traffic was necessary at this location in the first place. As I said in the original post, using a diverter as a traffic calming device (as opposed to a diversion device) is misuse.

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