On Monday, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will close the Franklin Avenue bridge over Interstate 35W in south Minneapolis, and as a result two east-west thoroughfares — W. 26th and W. 28th streets — are about to get even more crowded.

MnDOT is directing the 15,000 motorists who use Franklin each day to the one-way streets, where there’s another traffic issue. The city recently put down markings on 26th and 28th streets between Hennepin Avenue and I-35W that have baffled motorists trying to figure out where they can and can’t drive. Both streets have markings to designate parking lanes, bike lanes, buffer zones of varying widths and dedicated driving lanes, but motorists say they can’t make head nor tails out of them.

“I don’t have a lot of familiarity with roads that are divided up like this,” Drive reader Kristen wrote in an e-mail. “I want to know what is expected of me so I don’t cause an accident.”

Well, Kristen, you are not alone. From I-35W to Lyndale, there are two 10-foot through lanes with a 3-foot buffer zone between motor traffic and a 10-foot wide bike lane. But from Lyndale to Hennepin, the layout changes to one 10-foot traffic lane, an 8-foot space that looks like a narrow traffic lane and a 7-foot bike lane.

“It’s awfully confusing to have one regular lane on the north side of the one-way street and one incredibly skinny lane in the middle — one that seems to be a car width, but is skinny enough to make one feel uncomfortable driving in it,” another reader said.

That’s because the “skinny lane in the middle” is not for driving, said city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. That is the buffer area to provide space between vehicles and bicyclists. Motorists should only cross into it when making a right turn — and AFTER yielding to bicyclists in the lane. Yet, many drivers are using the buffer zone as a traffic lane. “You can’t drive in the buffer area,” McKenzie said.

The confusion east of Lyndale should be eliminated soon when the city’s Public Works Department installs bollards, those white poles that have defined the buffer area west of Lyndale, she said.

Test on Maryland Ave. extended

Road markings won’t change anytime soon in the test section along St. Paul’s Maryland Avenue between Payne Avenue and Johnson Parkway. This summer Ramsey County converted the four-lane road with two traffic lanes in each direction to a three-lane road featuring one travel lane in each direction with a center left-turn lane.

The county wanted to see how the new configuration affected traffic flow — both speed and volume — along with bus delays and pedestrian safety. The segment sees from 15,700 vehicles on the east end to 18,300 vehicles on the west end each day.

Early returns show reduced speeds, fewer serious crashes and safer crossings for pedestrians. But it also has led to bottlenecks at Arcade and Maryland.

The test was to end this fall ahead of a resurfacing project, but it has been extended through the winter, said county spokeswoman Deborah Carter McCoy. Officials were concerned they were not getting accurate data since the closing of Wheelock Parkway might be steering more cars to Maryland than usual. Engineers will compare traffic counts on Maryland from when Wheelock was closed and after it reopens.

“It will be decided in 2018,” she said. “The road needs repair but can hold up one more winter.”

 

Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.