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Park Avenue Buffered Bike Lane

I happened to ride past the newly repaved and restriped Park Avenue this past weekend and noticed the new bike lanes have been placed. It’s still a work in progress, but here’s what it looked like as of 10:00 AM this past Sunday.

Park Avenue near 42nd Street.

The first thing that struck me about this new design is just how wide the new bikeway is. I didn’t get out a tape measure, but I’m guessing that this is a Hennepin County standard 6′ bike lane between an additional 4-5′ of buffer space on either side of the lane. This results in what looks like about 15’+ of pavement dedicated to a single bike lane!

Agencies are typically trying to find ways to sandwich narrow bike lanes within constricted rights-of-way. In this case, however, since the County removed one of the travel lanes on Park Avenue, they’re now faced with the opposite problem. What to do with all of this extra space?

Is wider always better? Are larger buffer spaces always better than smaller buffer spaces? Maybe. Maybe not. Bike lanes any wider than about 7′ or 8′ are generally not encouraged because motorists begin to confuse the bike lane with general purpose lanes.

This will be an interesting experiment to see how well motorists respect the bike lanes. Since the bike lane (including the buffer space) is plenty wide enough to function as a lane for motorists, and since there are no physical barriers keeping motorists out of the lanes, I wonder if we will experience problems with motorists encroaching into the bike lane too often.

I’m not sure. This will be an interesting case study to keep an eye on.

What do you think of the new lanes? Have you had a chance to ride them yet?

15 comments to Park Avenue Buffered Bike Lane

  • Moe

    I haven’t been on, and probably rarely will, but I do like them. I just wish lanes like this were either painted or somehow marked other than just the lines.

    It would be interesting to walk along Park and watch how the cars act this week.

  • According to this article in the STRIB, school buses are using the bike lane as a convenient loading and unloading zone.

  • mike hale

    October 3
    The Park Avenue ride was always stunning. Motorists have been respectful of bicycles.
    It’s October…when will all this beautiful bike riding weather end…? Tomorrow…
    So, I need more equipment to experiment the new Park Av in winter conditions.
    I will be lost without my bike-fix. M.

  • I rode this for the first time last week, and really enjoyed it. I agree that some additional delineation of the buffer area would be helpful (like the chevrons used on S 1st Ave).

    I am not too concerned about cars driving in it. I am more concerned about how well they will turn across it. After biking it a couple times, I had occasion to drive on it. I’ve always understood optimal (and legal) turning behavior for cars next to bike lanes would be to:

    1. Check and make sure there are no cyclists.
    2. Merge straight across the lane near the intersection (in Minneapolis or St. Paul, the dashed portion).
    3. Make the turn from as close to the curb as practicable, making a “right hook” crash impossible.

    However, using the dashed lines as a guide, there’s simply too much width here to make it to the curb in the space given. I worry that this will train cars to just turn abruptly, without merging into the bike lane first. I would have preferred more channelized turn lanes, like what was done at E 38th St.

    But other than this qualm, I really do like this facility. I am also very relieved to no longer have to merge from far left to far right at 46th St on Portland.

    • Hōkan

      Sean, I haven’t yet been on the new lanes, but in other places having a wide bike lane seems to make motorists more likely to properly merge into or across the bike lanes for a right turn so I’m hopeful that will happen here as well.

      • I think you’re both on to something here. I am optimistic, like Hokan, that the wider space will actually encourage drivers to correctly merge into the bike lane before turning. However, I do also agree with Sean that if drivers follow the dashed lines as they have been painted here, we are asking them to make a pretty sharp merge movement into the bike lane. I expect some drivers that merge will do so sooner than the dashed lines direct them to.

        Also, I hope it’s clear from my post that I do really like these bike lanes. I did not intend for this post to sound critical of the County.

  • The buffers need additional paint to show they are not also a lane. Also, I think in the long run, after winter plowing, we’ll realize these lanes should have been parking-buffered. This would have solved some of the extra space issue and driver confusion.

    • I wanted to include a joke about how Hennepin County had taken a good idea too far and painted three bike lanes rather than just one…

      I am really conflicted about parking-buffered lanes where there isn’t some sort of permanent delineator between the parked cars and the bike lane. We learned some important lessons from the First Avenue project downtown. But it’s those permanent delineators that will really make plowing tough….

    • Yeah I originally liked the parking-buffered lane proposal for Park, but in this case, when you have so much room to work with, I’m not sure its benefits outweigh its costs. As long as parking/driving in the lanes is not a problem as it is, I think this design is equally as appealing to beginning cyclists, without the awkwardness for drivers or the snow-clearing issues. In a tighter space like N 1st Ave, I like parking-buffered (especially the two blocks with the bollards).

  • Matt

    What will happen when snow reduces the usable width of the road and the paint is covered with snow?

    • I don’t know, probably the same thing that will happen to all bike lanes in the winter – they become a bit narrower, usually iced over, and generally less usable.

      However, we would expect that the extra width and buffer zones here would greatly aid in snow removal and mitigate any narrowing that occurs.

    • Since Park and Portland are both Snow Emergency Routes, and you’ve got a 9 or 10′ parking lane to the right of the bike lane, I wouldn’t expect that the snow itself would encroach on the bike lane. However, whatever’s left over in the parking lane may push cars farther into the bike lane/buffer. In any case, this will be my winter route of choice (as opposed to S 1st Ave and Blaisdell, which have narrower curb-side lanes).

  • I notice that the buffers on Park south of Lake St are now dashed (though not in the same style as 1st Ave S) to mark them as buffers. The striping is also done in Portland from downtown to 46th (end of one-way).

    Reuben: What are your thoughts on the right-turn-handing at Lake and 31st? (and 28th, for Park) My impression was that engineering’s preferred way of handling right turns with bike lanes was to set the right-turn lane to the right of the bike lane, and allow car and bike to merge before the actual turning point (which is done at 42nd, 24th, and a few other intersections). But for the area around Lake St, they’ve striped this auxiliary lane instead, and there’s not even the Minnneapolis-standard bike lane dashing at the actual intersection.

    It seems to leave a lot of confusion: should drivers not enter the bike lane before turning right (as they’re ordinarily instructed to do by law)? How should bikers safely get around cars queued in the aux lane to turn right? If a driver wants to make a right turn on red, is it safe/lawful when a biker is right there?

    I feel like there must be some engineering wisdom to the auxiliary lane that I just don’t understand.

    • Good eye. Are you sure you’re not secretly a MnDOT striping engineer?

      This is a timely comment, as I have a post going up later today about this very topic. The short version is that there is not consensus among practitioners regarding how to handle right turns. As you’ve said, the design manuals recommend dashed lines, and state statute requires merging, but some practitioners are questioning this approach.

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