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Some Options for Penn Avenue

There has been a lot of discussion locally here in Minneapolis about the proposed bikeway planned for Penn Avenue. According to info about the project on the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition’s (MBC) blog (here and here), it looks like the most probable outcome for this corridor will be some sort of off-street facility, probably at the same elevation as the sidewalk (6″ above gutter pan elevation). Some folks aren’t on board with the idea of an off-street facility in this location, but this seems to be the only option the City has determined to be feasible.

Most Probable Outcome.

I wrote a post previously where I recommended combining the proposed 5′ sidewalk and 7′ bikeway into a single 12′ facility (although 10′ would be plenty wide if we chose to do that).  I was proposing a fairly standard shared-use path. I made this recommendation based on an assumption of what the intersections would look like – primarily, I assumed that they would look like every other intersection in the city, including standard curb ramps, truncated domes,  & crosswalks. I stand by this recommendation, so long as the assumption that the intersection designs are fairly typical.

However, the MBC has made it very clear that they are hoping for something a little bit different at the intersections than the standard designs. They wrote in a blog post:

In this option, the key would be designing intersections to a higher level of safety for bicyclists.  Bicycling on the sidewalk is actually the most dangerous position for bicyclists, because drivers don’t expect to see cyclists at intersections.  This stretch has some “super blocks” so there are fewer intersections to worry about.

There is really a lack of guidance from reliable sources about how to design a two-way cycletrack that isn’t just the typical sidepath we’re so familiar with. Any of the traditional design guides from agencies such as AASHTO or MnDOT don’t go anywhere near the subject. Even the most progressive of American design guides, NACTO’s Urban Bikeway Design Guide, is somewhat lacking on how to handle a two-way cycletrack at intersections (the section on intersections is primarily concerned with one-way cycletracks, the section on two-way cycletracks doesn’t focus on intersections). That being said, the UBDG certainly comes closer than any other guidance.

Here are some ideas that should be considered, if we want the Penn Avenue bikeway to offer some benefit above the standard sidepath:

1) Prioritized the bike & pedestrian space over minor side streets. Instead of interrupting the bike/ped paths to allow for minor intersections or driveways, carry the paths through using continuous pavement elements. Require motorists turning onto or off of the side streets to go up & over the bike/ped paths. This photo is a very typical design seen in Copenhagen where bike/ped paths along larger roadways cross minor intersecting roadways.

Typical Danish minor-street intersection.

This photo shows a similar treatment from Cambridge, MA, for a one-way cycletrack.

Image via NACTO.

Or, if it is determined that the cycle path must be lowered to street level,

2) Allow cyclists to drop to street level without crossing other pavement elements like curbs or gutters. This may seem like an inconsequential design detail, but I believe the psychological impact to cyclists is important – it lessens the implication that bikes aren’t supposed to be in the street.

Image via NACTO.

3) However, regardless of any other decisions made, the single most important recommendation I have is to make the intersecting roadways as narrow as possible using bumpouts. By narrowing the intersection conflict zone, motorists will have to drive more slowly.

The following couple of videos also have some good ideas. This video from Pedal Forward Consulting is a realistic suggestion of what this bikeway could look like:

There’s also a lot of great info in this video from Vancouver, although, they’re obviously discussing an on-street protected cycle track rather than a raised off-street cycle track.

What do you think? What intersection treatments would you most like to see included in the Penn Avenue bikeway (or for any two-way cycle track)?

11 comments to Some Options for Penn Avenue

  • Thatcher

    I expect there will be no bike accommodation north of 60th based on the last community meeting I attended. The trail was overwhelmedly disliked by those at the meeting. There may be some sort of bike infrastructure or striping over the creek though.

    I would expect bike lanes from 60th to Hwy 62 and a signed bike route on a parallel street nearby.

  • Great post Reuben.

    Thatcher is right though, that the most likely outcome at this point is some kind of bike boulevard on Oliver. That wouldn’t be nearly as good in my opinion since it would require bicyclists to go more than 3 blocks out of there way between Hwy 62 and Lake Harriet, including a jog over to Penn to cross Minnehaha Creek.

    It will come down to what Council Member Hodges wants–so make sure to let her know if you support a bike path on Penn (the only bike solution on Penn that is remotely feasible).

  • @Thatcher & Ethan – thanks for the comments. I haven’t been to any of the meetings (I really have no dog in this fight) so it sounds like I’m out of the loop on the current status of this project.

    You both have outlined exactly why I still primarily stand by my original recommendation to have a single facility for bike and peds, made out of concrete. The only impact to residents is that instead of the 6′ sidewalk that’s there now, it will be an 8′-10′ sidewalk. The plan set can even label it as “sidewalk”. The down side, of course, is that most cyclists won’t be able to distinguish it from a sidewalk either…

  • Thatcher

    The downside as presented, would be the elimination of on-street parking along the residential areas of Penn. that was controversial and led to one of the most tense, anti-biking public meetings I’ve been to.

    As for other routes, I think Newton will probably be it since Oliver is really curvy.

    I’m thinking of suggesting signing James, 60th and Upton as routes at the same time since they are existing thru-routes for bikers. Also to make James a snow emergency route since there is not a north south route between Penn and Lyndale, which is one of the biggest stretches in the city without one. Upton is one.

  • The upside to lanes south of 60th would be greater continuity with a potential Penn facility in Richfield. The downside is that it would basically be throwing away the Bike Master Plan. Greenwashers like R.T Rybak could probably construe a fragmented bike blvd on a parallel route as meeting the connector requirements of the plan, but a signed route would not and everyone would know it.

    To answer your question, if Minneapolis were truly interested in making a two-way cycle track a success, it would do the raised crossings. These are ubiquitous in Europe, not just on streets with bike facilities, and are really a common-sense measure for places that value non-motorized traffic. I doubt Minneapolis is there yet, unfortunately. My guess is that if the two-way cycle track does happen the best we can hope for is bump-outs, and maybe zebra striping.

  • Born and raised in a small town, I find longtime Minneapolitans’ extreme demands for on-street parking somewhat absurd. Yes, it’s great that we can accommodate cars without the big ugly parking lots and 3+-car garages of suburbia. But there seems to be a certain rigidity in that people expect to be able to park immediately in front of their house (or business), no matter what the demands of that street are. With a beautiful grid and many many quiet cross streets to park on, I’m just not sympathetic to needs to park on major streets — certainly not on both sides, above the needs of cyclists.

    Anyway, I don’t like the trend of diverting cyclists to parallel streets, especially if the opportunity exists to create a pleasant, safe cycling environment on the major street. And let’s just say it unambiguously: that opportunity always exists in a full reconstruction. Cyclists and pedestrians are good for the urban environment — and when given proper facilities, they can calm traffic speeds. Why squander that by dumping them off on a side street?

  • But Reuben: You’re completely right about the gutter/curb ramp crossing issues. I’ve known cyclists who have broken spokes this way. It’s unpleasant, limits speed, and suggests that the car exiting/entering the minor street is more important than the cyclist on the through street. It’s pretty disappointing that even along the bike-oriented parkway paths, parking lot accesses force bikes to negotiated these gutters.

    The best option along a major street with 2-way-stop-controlled cross streets seems to be to allow the street to cross the sidewalk/path at sidewalk level, rather than vice versa. It makes for smooth cycling (or wheelchair or stroller use) and forces turning cars to slow down before going over the de-facto speed table created by the sidewalk.

  • @Sean – I am also concerned about the resurgence in the “alternate parallel route” idea we’ve seen in the past few years. I think parallel routes can serve an important role in our bike network as there are many cyclists who have no interest in biking on larger streets regardless of bike facilities. However, I find it troubling that parallel routes and routes on larger streets are considered comparable – and that we only need to develop one or the other.

  • A layout without any bike facilities was forwarded to the city council for approval:

    RIP Bike Master Plan

  • @Alex – thanks for the update. As far as layouts without bikeways go, I like the proposed design, especially that the two-lane segment continues all the way to TH62 (it would have been easy to justify carrying four lanes a block further north before dropping to two lanes).

    But… it’s still a layout without a bikeway, which is disappointing.

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