Better signage and improved lane markings could go a long way to alleviate driver confusion and road rage at a northeast Minneapolis intersection the city remade last summer.
Crews reconfigured the northbound lanes of Johnson Street at NE. 18th Avenue by converting a lane once used by through traffic into a dedicated left-turn lane. A right-turn lane with a concrete island separating it from through traffic was removed. Now motorists turning right onto 18th Avenue share a lane with drivers continuing north through the intersection.
In short, where there were once three lanes, there are now only two.
Several months after the change, drivers have not quite caught on, said longtime northeast Minneapolis resident David Wells, who drives on Johnson Street almost daily. On many occasions, he said, drivers exiting I-35W and unaware of the change at 18th get caught in the left lane as they zip past the Quarry shopping complex, a block to the south. At the last second, those drivers swerve out of the left-turn lane into the right lane to continue north, cutting off other motorists in the process.
"It's anxiety-producing," Wells said.
Minneapolis did the makeover so drivers making right turns would be subject to the traffic light and have a sharper turning radius, both of which force motorists to slow down, said spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie. The city's Vision Zero Action Plan found that 80% of crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians occur at intersections, and a majority of those involve a motorist making a turn. The plan would end traffic deaths and severe injuries on city streets by 2027.
Wells says the problem with the new layout is that signs don't adequately tell motorists which lane to be in. Before the redo, a green sign on the ramp leading from 35W to northbound Johnson showed an arrow angled to the left, directing through traffic into the left lane. That sign is still there.
Complicating matters is that a small black-and-white sign showing the new lane assignments is easily missed by drivers because it's on the right side of the road near a bus stop and only a few hundred feet from the intersection. The sign doesn't give drivers enough time to get into the proper lane.
The Drive heard plenty of horn honking and witnessed a few near misses on a recent Monday as drivers who wanted to go straight but were caught in the left-turn lane made unsafe maneuvers to go through the intersection or simply sat in the left lane and held up traffic until there was an opening to move over.
"Poor traffic management can sometimes lead to road rage or, at best, negative feelings, when some people choose to quickly cut in front of someone, instead of signaling and waiting," Wells said. "That sets off some people these days."
Wells said he'd like to see the arrow on the freeway sign moved to direct traffic coming off I-35W to enter the right lane. He'd also like to see a sign telling motorists the left lane is for turns only.
"Clear, correct signage is what we need here," he said. "It would help to maybe stripe the road as well come spring."
A stronger police presence might help, too, he said.
Public works staff recently installed an additional lane assignment sign and is monitoring traffic movement to see if more signs are needed, McKenzie said. The city also plans to re-stripe the road in the spring.
Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail email@example.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.