The stretch of Franklin Avenue in south Minneapolis where a drunken driver is suspected of running over and killing a bicyclist ranks as one of the most dangerous in the city for bicycle riders.
It’s the second-worst corridor for bike-car crashes in the city, behind Lake Street, with 205 between 2000 and 2010. It’s also the busiest bike street in the city without a bike lane, with a 2011 count finding 709 bicyclists on a September day. And while statistics show Twin Cities bike routes have become safer over the past 15 years, the opposite is true on Franklin Avenue.
“The overall takeaway is that Franklin is a dangerous street,” said Joan Pasiuk, program director of Bike Walk Twin Cities. The group published a detailed study in November that made safety recommendations using combinations of narrower travel lanes and turn lanes for cars along with new bicycle lanes.
“That would be something that could be implemented quickly, cheaply, easily, because we’re just talking about paint and signs,” said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
Marcus Nalls, 26, was riding on Franklin on Monday night when he was struck by a van and killed. Police said his bike had lights on the front and back and he was wearing a helmet.
Authorities on Wednesday declined to immediately file charges against a 49-year-old man suspected of driving the van that struck Nalls.
Police want to wait for blood alcohol content test results, police spokesman John Elder said. That could take anywhere from a week to a month, Elder said.
A desire to do right
The decision meant the driver was released from jail Wednesday afternoon. By waiting, Elder explained, authorities can seek the maximum charge possible, criminal vehicular homicide. Without the test results, Elder added, a lesser charge of reckless driving would have been more likely.
“We just want to make sure we are doing this right,” Elder said. “We believe the decedent deserves this as well as his friends and loved ones.”
Authorities are comfortable with the decision, even though it means the driver is not incarcerated, Elder said.
“We know where he lives, and he’s not a long-term, repeat offender,” he added.
State records show that the suspect, who lives four blocks east of the crash scene, has one minor traffic violation on his record along with convictions for disorderly conduct and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.
Nalls, a professionally trained sous chef, recently joined the staff at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis. He had been working at the Hyatt in downtown Atlanta for the past few years and commuted to work there on a bicycle without incident, said his mother, Nicole Sweigart.
Nalls looked at three apartments in Minneapolis before moving on Jan. 4 with his fiancée to a place about 2 miles away that he felt worked best for his bike ride to his new job, Sweigart added.
Question of resources
If Franklin Avenue gets any kind of bicycling lane, it would join a host of other major thoroughfares in the city that have seen changes in recent years, from Park and Portland Avenues to E. 42nd Street between Cedar Avenue and Hiawatha. A portion of Franklin Avenue east of Minnehaha Avenue has a bike lane now.
Given Franklin’s heavy vehicle traffic, Pasiuk said, it will “take some leadership” to change the four-lane road with no bike path into something more accommodating for bicycles. Still, she said, miles traveled by bicycles has been growing and miles traveled by cars decreasing.
New City Council Member Lisa Bender, who represents the area where the collision took place, said city and county planners have looked at Franklin in the past, but due to the high traffic volumes and entrances to Interstate 35W there was no consensus on how best to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.
“It’s a resource question,” said Bender, who co-founded the Minneapolis Bicycle Alliance before running for City Council. “How much space do we want to devote to cars?”
Bicyclists who use the street frequently say they hear an earful from car drivers and pedestrians both.
“I often have people in this little area yell at me from their cars to get on the sidewalk,” said bicyclist Amy Van Blaricum, who lives near where Nalls died. “If I go on the sidewalk, people on the sidewalk yell at me to get off the sidewalk.” For now, she uses the sidewalk only when traffic volumes make the street too dangerous.