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Alexandria, MN, Broadway Bicycle Design

An article in the Alexandria (MN) Echo Press mentioned what might be one of the most unique bicycle facility designs being considered in Minnesota right now.

Imagine a five-block section of Alexandria’s Broadway completely reconstructed and redesigned to include: A bicycle lane; shorter and safer pedestrian crosswalks; kiosks and signs to show visitors where downtown businesses and attractions are located; and streetscape touches like trees, prairie grasses, benches, bike racks, a clock tower, planters and walkway patterns.

The article mis-uses the term “bicycle lane.” The proposal would more correctly be described as an off-street path, which are far from unique. But what’s unique about this project is the context. Alexandria’s Broadway is the town’s traditional Main Street. Old buildings front directly onto sidewalks, intersections are frequent, historic (looking) lighting lines the roadway, and parking lots have (mostly) been constructed behind the buildings rather than in front of them. In this context, is an off-street path appropriate?

broadway_aerial

Aerial View of Broadway, Alexandria, MN

The proposal calls for a two-way path located along the west side of the roadway. European-style cycletracks have existed in an urban downtown context for many years, and American cities like New York and Portland have constructed two-way cycletracks as well. But this proposal is quite a bit different than two-way cycletracks in how it treats intersections, which makes it better described as a traditional multi-use trail. In this proposal, the path would be located on a curb at the same elevation as the sidewalk, and uses conventional pedestrian ramps and crosswalks to allow cyclists to cross the intersections. The proposal does not include any bicycle-specific signals or other design elements (other than colored crosswalks) at intersections to give cyclists preference over turning vehicles. Here is a rendering of the proposed design:

broadwday_typical

Typical Plan proposed for Broadway (click to enlarge)

Click here for additional information about the overall project.

  • On one hand, if constructed, this will probably the closest thing to a two-way cycletrack in Minnesota, perhaps a necessary experimental and evolutionary step towards constructing more advanced cycletrack designs. In addition, the most likely users are children and recreational cyclists accessing the nearby Central Lakes Trail (i.e. the intended users are not experienced bike-commuters).
  • On the other hand, engineers have been reluctant to construct two-way off-street paths in urban contexts like this because of safety concerns at intersections – concerns this design doesn’t directly address (i.e. the design requires cyclists to behave like pedestrians at intersections).

So what do you think? Despite the drawbacks, is this design a net-positive for the recreational cyclists most likely to use the trail? What do you think? What would you have done differently?

Disclaimer: While I personally was not involved or consulted in any stage of this project, my employer played a minor role as an engineering sub-consultant to the consultant that produced this design. However, my colleagues and I have thick skin, and welcome constructive criticism. If the design has drawbacks, they need to be identified.

7 comments to Alexandria, MN, Broadway Bicycle Design

  • You mention cycletracks in European city centers – note that Hamburg is removing their cycle tracks and replacing them with lanes. As documented on Hamburgize blog, which frequently has criticism, not necessarily constructive, of cycletracks:

    http://hamburgize.blogspot.com/2010/09/yesterday-new-cycle-lanes-opened.html

    Note that the commenter is complaining of unticketed illegal parking in newly installed on-street lanes.

    Personally I think there’s a place for both – the proposed lanes on Broadway are wider and better separated than the ones complained about in Hamburgize, although with only six feet left for pedestrians, they are going to spill over.

    Any discussion of lanes on a parallel street? Fillmore and Hawthorne both look wide enough.

  • @Alex B. – I believe Alexandria is considering lanes on parallel routes.

    I agree that there’s an important place for both bike lanes and cycletrack-style designs in the toolbox. Specifically, in places where on-street parking isn’t allowed, often the only difference is the separating curb, which disappears at intersections anyway.

    Thanks for the heads up on Hamburgize. In their case, it looks like many of their cycletracks were extremely narrow and unattractive anyway, so lanes certainly seem like an improvement.

    But I noticed you didn’t answer the question in the post ;) What do you think? Is the proposed design a net improvement for cyclists? Is there a better design that could be considered (given the constraint that 5 traffic lanes remain in place)?

  • Joe

    Keeping in mind that these are mostly leisurely riders on this corridor, my comments are maybe not all that applicable. The design is a nice improvement for a business district looking to improve access in the corridor. That being said, I have one concern, two questions:

    Concern – Right turning vehicles will not necessarily see cyclists on the sidewalk at intersections. This has been the situation in at least a couple of cycling deaths in Minneapolis the last few years.

    Question 1 – what is the ADT of the street? Are 5 lanes really necessary? Okay, that’s two questions.

    Question 2 (3?) – Does the geometry of the curb need to be that shallow? If there are 5 moving lanes, it seems the curbs could be designed closer to right angles, which might help with bike/ped/vehicle sightlines and safety.

    Looks like a fun project to work on!

  • @Joe – Yes, that’s exactly the concern I alluded to in the post and it’s exactly why this design requires cyclists to behave as pedestrians.

    1. According to Mn/DOT 2008 counts, somewhere between 14,200 and 18,300 vehicles per day. “Necessary” is a loaded word that depends heavily on personal values, but in this case, it is safe to say that Mn/DOT has determined all 5 lanes to be “necessary.” It’s worth nothing that this portion of Broadway is also known as Trunk Highways 27 and 29.

    2. There you go using the word “need” again. Are you talking about the curb radius? I agree that a smaller corner radius would provide additional traffic calming and shorten pedestrian crossing distances. I don’t know if Mn/DOT considered using a smaller radius or not…

  • Personally I think cycletracks are great, and they appear to have done a good job marking crosswalks, so it should be pretty safe, assuming cars travel at reasonable speeds here.

    That said, I can picture some people patting themselves on the back and saying, “now Alexandria has a bike network” when this facility appears to be more useful for access rather than through-travel. Hopefully they’ll get those parallel lanes striped and at least one crosstown route as well.

    One question – did they consider one five foot track in on each side of the street? That 6′ pedestrian space really is too small for a Main Street.

  • @Alex B. – I don’t know if separate 5′ tracks were considered or not. I definitely would have preferred that configuration, although if that were the case I would also expect a substantial amount of wrong-way cyclists and very little enforcement from local police.

  • Two-directional-bike-track in urban environment? Dangerous and difficult!! What if you as a cyclist want to stop at a house on the right side of the street??
    And car-drivers normally do not watch out for cyclists from the “wrong” side at intersections. In Germany those cycle tracks should not be built, as a general planning guide line says.
    The risk to get hit by cars is much higher on the wrong side of the street than on the right side.

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