Wooddale Avenue's pioneering bike lanes in Edina look doomed

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 26, 2013 - 5:38 PM

But a spring re-striping of Edina’s Wooddale Avenue would include shared bike-car lanes.

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Besieged by confused drivers, Edina wants to re-stripe Wooddale Avenue to reinstate a centerline and get rid of dotted advisory bike lanes.

Photo: JOEL KOYAMA • jkoyama@startribune.com ,

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The street that has baffled Edinans since it was re-striped last fall may get an easier-to-understand painting fix this spring.

Wooddale Avenue, a primary north-south bike route, was striped with “advisory” bike lanes in September. The lanes, marked by a dashed white line and bike symbol, were installed from the intersection of W. 50th Street to Valley View Road.

Drivers were supposed to drive in the “advisory” lanes unless a bicyclist was present. Then they were to yield to the cyclist and wait for oncoming traffic to pass before passing the bicyclist.

Unceasing criticism and a barrage of e-mail complaints followed.

Drivers complained that with no centerline on the road, they did not know where to drive. Some avoided the advisory lanes, creating possible head-on collisions with oncoming drivers. It did not help that one side of the road has a parking lane that some drivers expected traffic to move into; traffic is supposed to stay out of the parking lane.

The City Council’s solution: Remove the advisory lanes, paint a centerline on the road, place a dedicated southbound bike lane on Wooddale from 50th to 56th Streets, and place “sharrows” — marked bike lanes that are intended to be shared by drivers and cyclists — on the rest of the road to Valley View.

While the council vote to pursue the striping change was unanimous, the city will talk to the Federal Highway Administration and Minnesota Department of Transportation before making any changes.

Edina was just the second city in North America after Minneapolis to experiment with the advisory lanes. It was awarded a $250,000 federal grant with the understanding that the city would commit to a two-year evaluation of the new bike lanes, which are popular in Europe.

The city has received about half of its grant money, city engineer Wayne Houle said. Now it needs to explain to the feds why it cut the experiment short and see if it can keep that money. If the feds give the okay, the city will seek a variance from MnDOT to re-stripe with bike lanes that are narrower than state standards call for.

“I think I could make a pretty good argument that we are still maintaining a bike facility on the roadway,” Houle said. “The intent was to encourage people to move to a different mode of transportation, which is biking. So keeping the ‘sharrows’ on the road is a huge plus.”

If the state gives a variance, the city could spend state aid moneys on the restriping. But council members indicated at the meeting that if necessary, they are willing spend $29,600 in city funds to restripe the road.

“It was not our intention to be bold or experimental but to solve a set of problems,” said member Joni Bennett.

Said Josh Sprague, “When drivers fail to adapt, we lack public support and that hurts our bigger goal in transportation. … We’ve gained what we can out of it, and it’s time to close the door on it and … move forward.”

While complaints about Wooddale continued this winter even when markings were obscured by snow and few bikers were using the road, evidence presented to the council indicates the accident rate did not increase after the new markings were installed.

Though many of the people who complained said the road had become dangerous, there were 11 accidents on Wooddale before the re-striping and five after. Three of the five accidents that happened after the bike lanes were installed were due to inattentiveness or a foot slipping off a brake. One driver said he was looking in his rearview mirror because of concern about the lanes when he rear-ended a vehicle at a stop sign. Another was confused by the lanes, tried to avoid oncoming traffic and drove into a parked car.

Houle said that, as an engineer, he thought the time frame was too short to say much about the advisory lanes’ effect on drivers. Accident rates jump around from year to year, he said, and the pattern on Wooddale was not clear.

 

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

 

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