For the past few months, motorists traveling west in the left lane on 5th Street in downtown Minneapolis have been allowed to make right turns across the light-rail racks onto northbound 5th Avenue.
But don't get used to it. Once construction on the Downtown Commons is complete, the intersection will go back to its previous configuration in which turns across the light-rail tracks were prohibited, said Minneapolis traffic engineer Allan Klugman.
A temporary signal with a right-turn arrow was put up this spring when the right lane of 5th Street was blocked off when work on the park across from US Bank Stadium began. All traffic was forced to use the left lane, or the one immediately adjacent to the Minneapolis Armory. To facilitate traffic flow and reduce inconvenience to motorists, the city added the right-turn arrow and re-timed the lights "to get traffic across safely," Klugman said.
In the past, only motorists in the far right lane were allowed to turn right at 5th Street and 5th Avenue. Motorists in the left lane were not allowed to make any turns and were required to continue westbound, then make a left at 4th Avenue by the Hennepin County Government Center.
Yet it was a common practice, as drivers caught on the wrong side of the tracks turned anyway, crossing train tracks and another lane of traffic to head north on 5th Avenue. And many times, the prohibited maneuver ended with a vehicle-train mishap.
Between 2004 and 2013, there had been 74 incidents on the Blue Line and 12 percent of those occurred at 5th and 5th, making it the more dangerous intersection along the line. And that was before the Green Line began service.
So before you get used to making right turns from the left lane at 5th and 5th, hear this loud and clear. "It's a temporary condition," Klugman said. "When construction on the west side of the park finishes, then it will revert back to its previous use."
And that means no right turns from the left lane.
While we are on the topic of stoplights, you may have seen many downtown stoplights are being replaced. The city has rebuilt many intersections and is putting up new signals mounted on mast arms.
"They cut down on right-angle crashes," Klugman said. That's a nice way of saying T-bone wrecks, which are the most dangerous type of crash. The old signals on the side of the road were not the easiest to see and could easily be obscured by large trucks or missed by drivers not paying attention.
The new lights "address visibility and safety," Klugman said. "We've put in about 100 or more of them across the city and they have cut right-angle crashes by 60 to 80 percent."