Hennepin Avenue bike lanes: unsafe?

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November 29, 2004 // UPDATED 4:47 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

One of Downtown's major bicycle arteries is a two-way bike lane in the middle of Downtown's Hennepin Avenue.

While the nine-block link is a straight shot through the theater and entertainment districts, the Hennepin route poses serious challenges for even the most astute biking commuters. For one, bicyclists are sandwiched between northbound cars and southbound buses and taxis -- a unique arrangement in the city.

Also, the bike lane ends abruptly and without warning at 11th Street (its southern boundary) and Washington Avenue (its northern boundary).

The Minneapolis Issues e-mail discussion list (www.e-democracy.org/mpls) had some chatter recently about the Hennepin lanes' increasing problems.

Jeremy Brezovan, a bike commuter who lives in Northeast Minneapolis, posted his safety concerns.

"I used to feel pretty safe in the bike lanes on Hennepin, despite the traffic and despite the occasional taxi driver who likes to use them as a left-turn lane," Brezovan wrote. "In the past month or two though, I've encountered increasing numbers of drivers who seem to have missed the No Left Turn/Right Turn signs -- the signs indicating which lanes are for what, and the obviously not-car-size markings of the bike lanes themselves."

Brezovan called for city action.

"I'd really like to see the police out -- even just one during rush hour -- to make sure the bike and transit lanes are kept open for vehicles that belong in them," he wrote.

DFL State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, who lives on Nicollet Island, posted a comment Nov. 14 criticizing the city's removal of signs warning cars making left turns northbound on Hennepin to be alert to bikers.

"As I expected it has made riding a bike there more difficult and more dangerous," Kahn wrote. "Bicyclists should complain to their council member (those that have council members), but don't hold your breath for action. We should also get a report on bicycle accidents for each street so we can monitor actions."

Donald Pflaum, a transportation engineer for the city's Public Works Department, said the city permanently removed the bollards (small poles attached to the road) that urged left-turning drivers to exercise caution.

"The signs kept getting hit and damaged," Pflaum said.

The city is looking at posting new signs along Hennepin, he said.

Pflaum said there is no data to suggest that removing the signs has made biking on Hennepin less safe. On an average day, 300 bikers ride on the Downtown street, he said.

"While there have been some left-turn crashes, when you look overall, there are no real anomalies," he said.

Pflaum said the city is eager to listen to suggestions on how to improve bike safety. Those with tips are urged to call the Public Works at 673-2411.