Are downtown two-way streets better?

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 28, 2010 - 12:17 AM

Minneapolis officials laud return of Hennepin, 1st Avenues as two-way streets. But not everyone is sold.

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The congested intersection of Hennepin Avenue and S. 7th Street on Tuesday afternoon. The city said there have been no accidents involving bikes in the area on Hennepin or 1st so far this year.

Photo: Brendan Sullivan, Star Tribune

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On Tuesday, the brass at Minneapolis City Hall declared last fall's conversion of Hennepin and 1st Avenues back to two-way traffic a success.

Crashes are down for both motor vehicles and bikes, despite a slight increase in volume, and the number of traffic-clogged intersections is down. But out on the avenues, opinion is decidedly more mixed.

"I think it's just horrible," opined Anne Henry, who works in the area, as she prepared to leave a 1st Avenue parking spot that's set out a bike lane's width from the curb. "It's so unconventional. I think it's dangerous."

"You're going to see someone make a mistake," she said, pointing ahead to where a car, blinker on, pulled into the bike lane and stopped.

Just around the corner at American Army and Navy Surplus Store, general manager Toby Brill keeps a detailed log of her efforts to persuade City Hall to modify its 1st Avenue design, which cost her block four parking spaces. The city is heeding her arguments to drop its rush-hour parking ban for northbound traffic.

But farther up the avenue, two bikers gave thumbs-up to an unconventional design that puts parked cars between them and the traffic lane.

"It's an improvement over just a striped lane," Molly Sullivan, a new city resident, said. Friend Sam Rockwell of Vermont said he's seen the same setup work well in New York City.

The difference, Sullivan added, is that police are enforcing keeping cars off the bike lane here. Bikers prefer riding on the passenger side of parked cars because a door is less likely to open in front of them.

Over on Hennepin, the changes seemed to have won greater acceptance. That street switched from one-way general traffic with a counter-flow bus lane to two lanes in each direction. But the right lane is reserved for bikes, buses and people making right turns.

Megan Boesen, manager of the National Camera Exchange store on that street, said people seem to be adjusting. But she'd like to see the city repaint the "sharrows" that denote the shared lane.

"I don't think some of the drivers know what it means," she said. "The poor bikers. Sometimes I feel sorry for them." Farther down Hennepin, Solera restaurant manager Laura Polifka said she's fine with the changes. "I haven't witnessed any accidents," she said. "I do miss the bike lane," the occasional bike commuter said of the two lanes that used to run down the middle of Hennepin. "I felt like I was visible."

Bike crashes curbed

Back on 1st, jewelry store owner Jane Lundeen said she thinks her customers have an easier time getting to her with two-way traffic. Yet she shares the worry that bikers are vulnerable in their new curb lane. But the city said it has no reports of bike crashes on Hennepin or 1st in the first six months of the new scheme, compared to an average of 12 annually when the streets were one-way.

Bike traffic on Hennepin has fallen by half, but it's up 43 percent on the combination of Hennepin, Nicollet and 1st. Nicollet dropped its daytime ban on bikes, but some of the overall increase could reflect the loss of bike lanes on Marquette and 2nd Avenues.

The city plans some further modifications. The lane-sharing test on Hennepin will be enlarged, and shared lanes will be marked in green. Buffer zones will be added between the bike and parking lanes on 1st to reduce "dooring" of bikers and to help vehicles with disability ramps.

At Loon Cafe, co-proprietor Tim Mahoney said he has reservations.

"My staff, half of them bike to work," he said. "None of them want to bike between the curb and parked cars."

He also worries that the parking-bike lane scheme may confuse out-of-town visitors.

He and Brill, manager of the military surplus store, expressed frustration that parkers get a ticket if they park on the white lines separating the bike and parking lanes, while those who don't heed the signs warning against parking during rush hour get towed. The city found that 6 percent of parkers on 1st are doing so incorrectly.

"I can tell you what our customer count is -- it's way off," Brill said. "It's suicide for us, not having parking. ... They're killing the traffic count down here."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

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