This Intersection Needs Work

Having recently moved away from downtown, I’m spending more time in other parts of the city, which means I find new things to critique/complain about. Case in point, a problematic intersection that stands between my new home and the closest grocery store: Cedar Ave & East Minnehaha Parkway.

Cedar Ave. & East Minnehaha Parkway

Cedar Ave. & East Minnehaha Parkway

Let’s set aside for the moment how this intersection works for cars. Not that there aren’t issues there, especially with left turns off the parkway, but they aren’t really what I want to talk about, as cars get to move through here pretty readily. So much so that they often seem to be moving too fast.

Instead, I want to focus on more basic issues, about which there really shouldn’t be much disagreement. For example, this is obviously unacceptable:

Narrow sidewalk alert

Narrow sidewalk alert

Clearly, there’s not enough sidewalk space to navigate around that signal pole, on the east side of Cedar just north of the parkway, especially for those on two or four wheels. Despite the little added triangle of cement sidewalk, you can see the wheel tracks in the dirt where the desire line has worn away the grass. The triangle itself suggests that someone realized this and tried to put in a temporary fix. How long ago was that? It does not look like particularly new cement.

Continuing maybe 100 feet north on the same sidewalk, the issue repeats itself (apologies for the slightly blurry night photo):

Mind the pole

Mind the pole

And again, the grass is the victim of feet and wheels forced off the walk.

Moving across Cedar, this is kind of an issue too:

On button island

On beg button island

There are no automatic walk signals at this intersection. If a user of the sidewalk wants to get a walk signal, she has to push the beg button. But the sidewalk does not connect to the button. So far, I’ve only been through here when there was no snow, so yeah, it’s not hard for me to step off the sidewalk and reach the button. But will that be the case when there are big mounds of snow? And how does that work for someone in a wheelchair? And then there is the issue of standing on a manhole cover while you wait. The thing seems to be solidly in place, but you never know.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Parkwayis one of the area’s well-used bike and pedestrian trails, which also does not get an automatic walk cycle to cross Cedar. I’m not sure what the guidelines are for when non-car users should be automatically included in signal cycles, but the amount of non-motorized traffic here sure seems like a strong candidate for inclusion.

The good news is that my Twitter complaint about beg button island found its way to a Park Board Commissioner, who told me that this and other crossings are under discussion. I’m looking forward to the outcome.


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24 Responses to This Intersection Needs Work

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke December 18, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

    That one’s going into the crosswalk hall of fame.

  2. Matt Steele December 18, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    I live 2 blocks from this intersection and frequently use it. It is awful and needs significant work. I frequently take this crosswalk to get to Bergans, with a baby in a stroller.

    The problem is that intersections like this are in jurisdictional netherworld. Cedar Ave is a Hennepin County facility, yet the Cedar sidewalks are managed by the city (as is the signal). MPRB has jurisdiction over Minnehaha Parkway, even though it serves as an east-west arterial in this neighborhood. The intersection is in two council wards, two neighborhood organizations, etc.

    • Matt Steele December 18, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

      Personally, I’d like to see this intersection turned into a roundabout similar to Minnehaha Pkwy / Minnehaha Ave over by the falls.

      • Justin December 18, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

        I live a couple miles west but I frequently make it down that far…it could be such a nice little area if it weren’t for that damn intersection. People come flying up Cedar. A roundabout would be great

      • Adam Froehlig
        Adam Froehlig December 20, 2015 at 6:58 am #

        Not insurmountable, but a roundabout would require additional “width” along a parkway axis. Which means Section 104(f) impacts. Again, not insurmountable, but not easy either.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary December 20, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

          Can you expound on this?

          I guess the only recent example I can of a roadway expansion in parkway ROW is E River Rd and Franklin.

          • Adam Froehlig
            Adam Froehlig December 21, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

            Given Cedar’s status as a city truck route (or, alternatively, factoring in the school buses along Cedar), you would need a roundabout with a radius wide enough so that those larger vehicles don’t get wedged in the roundabout. A truck apron helps, but mostly with the rear wheels of the vehicle as it turns, not the front. The problem with the Cedar/Minnehaha intersection is that, to fit a roundabout, you would need some right of way along Minnehaha on either side of Cedar…there isn’t enough “width” along Cedar to fit a roundabout in otherwise. And given the parkland in question, this would include documenting Section 104(f) impacts when doing the environmental study.

            Doable, yes…but it does add a level of complexity to the planning and execution of such a roundabout.

    • Nathanael January 16, 2016 at 6:14 pm #

      Y’know, ADA lawsuits don’t really care about the jurisdictional problems. Joint & several liability. If Hennepin County owns Cedar Avenue, the county is responsible for maintaining the sidewalks to ADA standards on Cedar Avenue, even if it doesn’t own the sidewalks. The city is required to cooperate. The city is independently responsible as well.

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary December 18, 2015 at 4:40 pm #

    For reasons I don’t fully understand, all of the parkway lights are on a beg button to cross with the parkway. To compare to other lights, it just doesn’t make sense. At 36th Street, where perhaps 1 or 2 pedestrians cross per hour, pedestrians need not press a button. Yet at Minnehaha Parkway, where hundreds of bikes and pedestrians cross in an hour on a good summer day, a beg button is in place.

    My biggest easily fixable beef with this intersection is poor lighting. There is no lighting attached to the signals, just dim parkway lighting and a street light shrouded in trees half a block down.

    These parkway intersections also work poorly for motor vehicles, with left-turning cars causing a significant backup. Like Matt, I agree a roundabout would be a vast improvement

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman December 18, 2015 at 8:03 pm #

      36th is on a fixed timer, and the Parkway uses sensors and Cedar is a lot wider at the Parkway, so just having an automatic walk if a vehicle gets the green would be pretty impact for traffic on Cedar. Of course with the volume on the path there needs to be a pedestrian cycle pretty much every time anyway.

      But I admit those buttons are pretty irritating to try to push when on a bicycle… Going around the Chain of Lakes there’s just a single one at the south side of Lake Calhoun but there’s a bunch on Minnehaha Parkway.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary December 18, 2015 at 8:19 pm #

        The north leg is fairly wide, but the south leg (much busier from the bike/ped perspective, because of the trail) is only about 38′-40′ curb to curb. That’s the same width as it is by 36th.

        And I realize theoretically, you could offer a really short cycle for vehicular traffic by foregoing the ped cycle, but I don’t think they generally work that way. The southern Lake Nokomis light really exemplifies this. Even in the dead of night, it does this full, tedious cycle with a protected left for WB to SB traffic. Even though there is more than enough time for a walk cycle every time, it does not include it. (I’m also reasonably sure that light is on a fixed timing, but maybe it just has an extremely overactive sensor.)

        I would time some lights and go see some off-peak cycles to verify the assumptions.

        • Monte Castleman
          Monte Castleman December 18, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

          That seems strange to do it that way- have fixed time lights with push-buttons, but then again I say that a lot about the way Minneapolis does traffic signals. It’s possible that they may have been actuated at one time too, and then converted to fixed time but they didn’t remove the buttons.

  4. John Holton December 18, 2015 at 10:14 pm #

    I’ve got to strongly disagree on the roundabout. The Minnehaha Falls area roundabout crossing on bike or ped is treacherous – even for a strong and fearless. Maybe 1 out of 2 cars will slow down for you on the South side crossing, but even if it were 9 in 10 I wouldn’t take the chance, much less let my 8-year old navigate that on his own.

    Given the natural geography of the Cedar crossing area, there’s just always going to be a lot of cars. Needs a bridge. Perhaps a close second option would be an elevated, color-treated, at-grade crossing for bikes and peds which would act as speed calming berm for cars as well. Of course that might reduce throughput and cause more congestion. Yup, a bridge.

    • John Holton December 18, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

      I’ll grant you a Cedar crossing, and raise you a 50th and Minnehaha! I have pictures of 20 bicyclists lined up this summer waiting to cross. I would guess this intersection may be even busier than Cedar. It is crazy people have to beg to cross given its frequency of use. Weekday between 6:30-9:30 and 3:00-6:30 (rush hour + school transitions) + daytime weekends should not require a beg.

      My son attends school at Burroughs and he almost got hit twice. Once a motorist yelled at me for going intentionally slow only to discover it was to act as a human shield to protect my slower, smaller half-pint. Ironically, the other time it was a Kindergarten teacher. No yelling there, they just didn’t notice him and were profusely apologetic later. That said, it is the intersection design, not the people driving cars that is the problem.

      Before learning about streets.mn, I wrote an equivalent of a blog post 2 years ago with visuals, maps, and analysis as an e-mail to the city and got no response.

      It’s a design and jurisdictional nightmare. Minneapolis parks, city road, County Road, MPS Schools, over the Harriet-Minnehaha creek causeway/watershed, a gas/oil pipeline, a bus stop.

      It would interesting to see a Civil Engineering student re-design that intersection with the needs of the pedestrian/bicyclist at least given some level of consideration

      Some problems
      – Path curb cutouts ridiculously narrow (12 inches?) and ill placed putting you right next to cars
      – Very short green light cycle for Parkway drivers, and long green light cycle for 50th commuters (people become anxious to make it through)
      – Bicyclists coming up fast from behind people as they are waiting to turn (particularly from the North where the path comes quickly out of the woods where cars can’t see them on the approach)
      – The elevation drop of the intersection (bikes cross at a lower elevation and often out-of-sight of the intersection
      – The beg button itself is very dangerously placed on both sides. It is literally right on the curb at a downward angle into the street. You can see the look of subconscious fear in drivers eyes as you reach for the button straddling your bike as a misplaced foot placement or misapplication of brakes would naturally land you in the middle 50th street.

      They recently added a walk-only signal to give the peds a few second head start. Helped a LOT.

      This is the only intersection where I adjust my bike lights and point them a little higher to ensure drivers notice my presence. Another one with high counts of cars and bikes definite need for a bridge.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary December 18, 2015 at 11:12 pm #

      That’s an interesting reaction, because elsewhere, I think people really look to that roundabout as a model. Personally, I have found driver compliance very high, even for bicyclists moving at a moderate pace (rather than stopping prior to entering the crosswalk). I took a quick glance over this 2009-2013 crash map, and there’s no crashes at the roundabout (although one at Nawadaha Blvd might actually be the roundabout). But then again, there are very few crashes recorded at all on the Minnehaha Pkwy corridor.

      Of course, not getting hit is only the base level of safety. If it’s extremely intimidating, and the lack of crashes is only do to submissive or evasive behavior on the part of bikes/peds, that’s not much of a victory. But I’ve just never heard of that here. I’d be curious to know what driver compliance levels are like. According to city staff, the Portland/66th roundabout (much larger and busier, with fewer bikes and peds) has a compliance rate of 23%. I would be surprised if the Minnehaha one was lower than 70%.

  5. Evan Roberts
    Evan December 19, 2015 at 9:06 am #

    As a frequent user of the Minnehaha roundabout as a pedestrian and driver I have to say that the compliance level has improved over time.

    Roundabouts may feel unsafe because they’re unfamiliar, but the fact is they’re much safer for all modes, pedestrians and bikes especially.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman December 19, 2015 at 10:51 am #

      On a bicycle I really hate that thing; I’d prefer a stoplight even if it meant I had to wait a while. But then again in school and at home we were taught to wait until traffic clears before using a crosswalk so I still fall into that mindset, and people still think that way. Just a few months ago I started in a marked crosswalk and my sister yelled “Get out of the street! Don’t you see that car coming?”

  6. Rosa December 19, 2015 at 10:03 am #

    basically every part of Cedar south of the river is a pedestrian nightmare, from the weird S curve area south of Cedar/Riverside, through the valley of death underpass, to the incredibly long waits at every cross street, to cars using the parking lane to veer around other cars waiting to turn left. The stupid intersection just north of the underpass is where I first started noticing how the city “solves” dangerous pedestrian crossings by just putting up “no walking” signs.

    The parkway one is at least narrow and slow enough that all it is, is a long wait and bad sidewalks.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller December 19, 2015 at 10:52 am #

      I may have ore complaining about Cedar to do.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke December 19, 2015 at 11:37 am #

      This would make a good short story… “the seven layers of Cedar Avenue.”

  7. Kyle W December 21, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    Page 11 and pages 17 and 18 of the Nokomis-Hiawatha Master Plan adapted in March 2015 starts the conversation surrounding this intersection and how the Master Plan can impact these concerns. Page 49 shows how far up the improvements to this intersection aligned on the Master Plan improvements timeline. You can read the “Connectivity” sections for more details.

    When the Community Action Committee was asked to prioritize actual fixes and dedicate limited dollars to problems within the Park areas, while the general idea of “Connectivity” was important, there was little traction from neither the CAC as a whole nor public input in general to specifically prioritize the re-imagination of Cedar and Minnehaha via only the Master Plan.

    The CAC was of the opinion that because this intersection had some many stakeholders (City, Park, County) that one or all of those entities would be able to come up with plans and funds to fix the intersection. The CAC group prioritized keeping dollars within the actual Park area itself as that money was available for the Park, and only for the Park.

    There is a small amount of funds ($200,000) dedicated to Short Term / Major Capital improvements to intersections along Cedar to include the intersection Minnehaha, but if I remember correctly that was mostly striping etc (?) as needed and the funds needed to be split from Fat Lorenzos to Caribou and all intersections in between.

    FWIW, I had this intersection way up my list of priorities. But other CAC votes count and it was not unrealistic to understand that there was not enough money, and with the concerns about intersection ownership, that the Master Plan may not be able to influence much more than a few dollars and encouraging words for improving the intersection of Cedar and Minnehaha.

    My guess is that this intersection will get attention sooner than later. We talked a lot about how Cedar is a front door to the City of Minneapolis for citizens and visitors alike so making sure this area and road are made impressive has traction.

    I always had a grand idea of taking that green space between Caribou and the Parkway and putting a nice seating area to encourage people to buy popcorn at Toms, coffee at Caribou, and ice cream at Grand Ole Creamery and take a break. Sort of like a rest stop on the highway. In order for this to happen that intersection needs work.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg December 21, 2015 at 3:54 pm #

      Kyle, as always, thanks for your commentary and work on behalf of the neighborhood on the master plan! At a minimum, there should be a leading pedestrian interval (LPI) for peds and cyclists crossing Cedar on the path – the Walk sign should always appear one to three seconds prior to the green light (following the delay for all the Cedar drivers who blow the red!).

      Minnehaha Parkway at 50th Street (the intersection just south of Lake Harriet at Lynnhurst Park) has an LPI, and it really seems to work well for peds and cyclists.

      That solution is inexpensive, doesn’t require monkeying with any master plan, and is implementable yesterday. It should happen.

  8. GlowBoy December 22, 2015 at 4:59 pm #

    Good discussion. I often use this intersection, with about equal frequency as a cyclist and as a driver.

    It’s definitely a mess, as is everything along Cedar. No surprise I guess, since Cedar turns into a freeway a mile and a half south of there. Speaking of bad crosswalks, anyone else notice the missed opportunity at Cedar and Nokomis Parkway (south side of the lake)? As of this summer, the lovely new Intercity trail from Richfield connects to the Nokomis pathway here … or, actually, it doesn’t quite connect.

    On the south side of Nokomis Parkway is a curb ramp connecting the new path to the zebra-striped crosswalk … but there’s no corresponding curb ramp for cyclists and wheelchairs on the north side. Oops. Maybe the project zone officially ended at the center of Nokomis Parkway, and didn’t extend 50 more feet to physically connecting the Intercity to the Nokomis trail?

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary December 22, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

      As of this summer, the lovely new Intercity trail from Richfield connects to the Nokomis pathway here … or, actually, it doesn’t quite connect. On the south side of Nokomis Parkway is a curb ramp connecting the new path to the zebra-striped crosswalk … but there’s no corresponding curb ramp for cyclists and wheelchairs on the north side. Oops.

      This was a concern raised in two different events this summer, a Richfield Bicycle Friendly Community Assessment and an airport-area bike tour. According to MPRB, there is more comprehensive work planned for the trail crossing in 2016 (something about better separating bike and ped, making better beg buttons, and adding modern ramps). Since they had this scheduled for just the next year, they didn’t bother with the connecting ramp in 2015.

      I would have preferred they at least grind down the curb and throw some asphalt in the gap for a temporary ramp, since I think it creates a dangerous situation today. But, at least there is a plan to address it.

      Turning Edgewater Blvd into right-in, right-out only would also improve safety of the trail in this area. (And vastly improve auto flow on NB Cedar.)