By Andy Mannix
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By CP Staff
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By Jacob Wheeler
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Hennepin Avenue. All of it.
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Throughout the city, if there's one man who can be considered a local cycling sage, it's Gene Oberpriller, co-owner of One on One bike shop downtown and a former bike messenger.
When approached with the question of the worst intersections in the city, he didn't hesitate to answer.
"Every intersection in the city is dangerous," he said, "but the Hennepin bike lane is especially bad. And by the library is the worst. I've had almost a dozen near-death experiences there."
The Hennepin bike lane is something unique and dangerous for the entire downtown. It's a doublewide bike lane in the middle of the street, used as a main drag for cyclists looking to get through the north side of downtown. Between Sixth and Seventh Streets, 1,500 cyclists ride the Hennepin bike lane every day.
Then, at Washington Avenue, the lane simply ends. Cyclists suddenly find themselves in the middle of a giant intersection complete with buses turning in on them, oncoming traffic approaching from all directions, and three additional lanes of traffic to cross just to get back over to the right side of the street.
From 2003 to 2005, there were 16 accidents on this stretch—approximately two crashes for every block. The major problem is cars making left turns—most drivers on Hennepin are concentrating on buses coming at them rather than cyclists coming up behind them on the left.
"I think the reality is that if there was no bus traffic there wouldn't be as many accidents," says Tom Becker, the former assistant system director of transportation.
The city has plans to make Hennepin a two-way street, but one idea on the board would place the bike lane in the center of the avenue, asking cyclists to make their way through two or three lanes of traffic every time they want to turn.
"If we don't voice our concerns," says Doug Shidell, "we'll be stuck with it for the next 20 years or more."
Last spring, Chris Duerkop coasted down the hill on Franklin and came to a stop at a red light. A technical writer at Quality Bike Parts, one of the top bicycling distributors in the nation, Duerkop waited for the light to change, then proceeded into the intersection. But as he entered it, a car turned left, crossing into his lane.
"It forced me into the median," he recalls. "And the car just kept on cruising."
Between 2003 and 2005, there were six bike-car collisions at this intersection, tying it with three others for the highest number in Minneapolis. A major reason is that it serves as a link between Uptown and Downtown. But it's also a place where cars look to enter the I-94 eastbound ramp.
To mitigate the danger, the city built a bike bridge a block to the south that links Lyndale to Bryant Avenue. The goal was to get cyclists to avoid the dangerous intersection entirely.
But while it's a beautiful bridge, it's also a major inconvenience. In a study conducted last September, the city found that an overwhelming majority of cyclists preferred to take the short route rather than wind around on a bridge with a tight switchback and semi-steep incline.
In the early 1990s, city planners made the decision to place bike lanes on the left side of the road. Their thinking was that it would dramatically lower the chance that a cyclist would get "doored," the term for when a driver opens a car door in front of a biker.
But that decision had an unintended consequence: It placed cyclists closer to faster-moving traffic unaccustomed to looking for bikes on the left.
Six collisions occurred at 28th and Portland between 2003 and 2005; at least two of them were the result of a car making a left turn, side-swiping the cyclist making his way south. These accidents are causing the city to rethink its position on left-hand bicycle lanes, and whether dooring is really that big of an issue.
"Dooring really just makes up a fraction of all bicycle collisions," says David Hiller, advocacy director of Cascade Bicycle Club, a nonprofit in Seattle, Washington. "Cities should really focus on people turning into intersections."
Hiller's group launched a plan to solve the problem in Seattle. They installed movable signposts next to areas where cars park for short periods of time, usually in front of coffee shops. The signs read, "Look for Bikes."
And that's it. Instead of relying on infrastructure to solve the problem, they educated Seattle residents, and it worked.
When the two main drags in northeast Minneapolis converge, they create some serious pain for cyclists. City data points to Central and Lowry as the worst intersection in the city. Buses whiz through, while cars treat the streets like mini-freeways. Absent is any sort of bike lane. And even though only 180 cyclists use this deathtrap on any given day, it has the highest collision rate in Minneapolis.
This intersection is the one, above all others, to avoid at all costs. For cyclists who do ride it, don't make the mistake of pedaling on the sidewalk. This makes riders invisible to cars. "What we know from traffic reports," says Steve Clark from Transit for Livable Communities, "is that riding on the sidewalks doubles your risk to get hit."
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