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By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
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By Jesse Marx
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An employee of Dero Bike Racks, a business that has a partnership with the Safe Routes to Schools program and sponsors the national bike summit, Mason had experienced an unintended consequence of the beautiful engineering solution that weaves together four unevenly sized streets.
While it allows cars to proceed without creating traffic and reduces the number of auto accidents, the same can't be said for bikes. When a cyclist enters the roundabout, it's as though they just entered Thunderdome.
In one quick moment, a rider must negotiate multiple intersections. While safe for a car, bicycles tend to disappear from view. And with the lack of roundabouts in the Twin Cities, cars aren't accustomed to driving them, either.
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Even though there has only been one reported accident between 2003 and 2005, close calls are a regular occurrence. On a recent day, three cyclists were nearly hit in the span of 11 minutes.
Bob Witter learned to navigate this roundabout the hard way. When he pedaled into it, a car decided to overtake him before cutting him off as it exited. "I slammed on my brakes and the car nearly clipped my wheel," Witter says. "Now, I move way out into the roundabout and take up the whole lane. While it feels dangerous, it's the only way to stay safe."
Linkage continues to be the city's Achilles' heel for cyclists, who find themselves stymied when trying to get from one neighborhood to another. The intersection at Cedar and Riverside reflects this problem. About 820 cyclists cross through it a day; most of them are traveling between the U of M and the Light Rail stop near the Bedlam Theatre.
There are also plenty of attractions that draw cyclists. Within a couple of blocks, the street has two bicycle shops and numerous concert venues including the 400 Bar, Acadia, and the Triple Rock.
Yet the intersection and most of the Seven Corners area lack something as simple as a bicycle lane.
Since 2003, there's been only one reported crash. But Transit for Livable Communities, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that allocates $21.5 million to improve infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians, highlighted this corridor as a top priority. Jeff Frane, a local rider who organizes one of the largest alley-cat messenger races in Minneapolis, also points to Cedar and Riverside as one of the worst places to ride.
The problem is the odd angles of the streets, which creates a labyrinth of blind spots for drivers and riders.
Benjamin Tsai, from the Hub bicycle co-op, works a block away. "It's just a confusing intersection," says Tsai. "It's not just a four-way stop. The other thing is there is a lot of traffic and the pavement is also rough in sections."
Joan Paisuk, program director for Transit for Livable Communities, says that the city plans to change Riverside from four lanes to three and color-coat the bike lanes. "And there'll be bike lanes on both sides of the street," she adds.
On a normal day, the bicycle lane on University Avenue fills with about 1,400 cyclists: everybody from hipsters on fixed-gears to freshman on mountain bikes and professors on cruisers.
But the commute gets sketchy as the cyclists approach the university and make their way across a nasty section: the I-35W northbound ramps.
According to city statistics, this intersection is the fifth-worst in the city for bike/car collisions. A big reason is that it asks drivers to instantly start looking for bikes after being on the highway for miles.
Yet Don Pflaum, city bike coordinator, feels this problem might soon be resolved. "With the completion of the bridge, planners took into consideration sight lines of drivers on the northbound ramp," he says. "This should improve the intersection. But only time will tell if this actually makes an improvement."
With the CC Club, the Bulldog, and Common Roots anchoring the corners, Lyndale and 26th is an ideal destination for cyclists who like to socialize. As if the allure of cheap beer and fried cheese curds weren't enough, there's ample bike parking.
Still, Lyndale Avenue and 26th Street are horrid to ride. Both lack bike lanes and traffic moves at around 35 mph. Buses blast by, inches away from cyclists—the wind whipping off is enough to startle riders. The intersection has seen six crashes between 2003 and 2005, placing it in the top four worst intersections according to the city.
There are currently no plans to fix this intersection. Ideas being tossed around the cycling community include changing the street from four lanes to three, providing room for a bike lane, and offering a turn lane for cars in the center.
Another goal is to get cyclists to use the slower yet safer Bryant Avenue, a future bike boulevard.
"Honestly, you have so many other options I don't see why you'd ride down 26th or Lyndale at all," says Phil Werst, general manager of Common Roots Cafe, who rides this section of town every day and purposefully avoids the intersection. "You got Bryant and Aldrich avenues right there as way better alternatives."