A Cycletrack Solution for Excelsior Boulevard

This past Saturday afternoon, a cyclist was struck and critically injured on Excelsior Blvd west of Lake Calhoun, in a section where the roadway is surrounded by the Minikahda Club. This section of Excelsior Blvd is a 4-lane undivided roadway, what some colloquially label a Four Lane Death Road. There are no bicycle facilities and only a small, 5ft wide sidewalk on the westbound side.

Existing cross-section of Excelsior Blvd through Minikahda Club. Graphic created via Streetmix by the author.

Existing cross-section of Excelsior Blvd through Minikahda Club. Graphic created via Streetmix by the author.

Sadly, this is not the first time someone has been struck and injured or killed on this stretch of roadway. In 2008, Jimmy Nisser was struck and killed while on his bicycle near the Minikahda Club overpass. However, in an extensive study of bicyclist/motorist crashes in Minneapolis conducted by the city a few years ago, this segment of roadway didn’t even rank.

But that does not mean that improvements couldn’t be made to Excelsior Blvd. MnDOT traffic volumes show an average of 17,000 vehicles per day along Excelsior Blvd between France Ave and West Lake St. Given Whole Foods, other retail development, and a number of condo developments north of West 32nd St, it’s likely the traffic volumes are higher at the east end of the corridor. However, these volumes are still within range of a potential road diet. In particular, the lack of driveways and access points between France and West 32nd make it an ideal candidate.

The author's proposed cross-section for a full rebuild of Excelsior Blvd through the Minikahda Club.

The author’s proposed cross-section for a full rebuild of Excelsior Blvd through the Minikahda Club.

Above is my suggested cross-section for rebuilding Excelsior Blvd through Minikahda Club, the section where last Saturday’s crash and the 2008 fatality occurred. According to MnDOT records, significant road work hasn’t occurred on this segment in almost 20 years, and the pavement is in fairly poor condition. As such, the roadway will likely require significant rehabilitation if not outright reconstruction. This would be an excellent opportunity to implement a road diet on Excelsior and improve bicycle/pedestrian accommodations.

What I propose through Minikahda Club is to eliminate 1 lane at the endpoints (to accommodate left turn lanes) but 2 lanes through the middle. The eastbound right lane space is converted into a 2-way cycletrack, while the westbound right lane becomes open space between the sidewalk and the travel lanes. It would also have the benefit of slowing traffic on a stretch of roadway that is prone to speeding. This can all be done within the existing 66ft right-of-way through the club.

But a road diet doesn’t necessarily have to stop at West 32nd St. It could cover the whole stretch from France Ave to Lake Calhoun.

Lane diagram showing author's proposed road diet between France Ave and Lake Calhoun.

Lane diagram showing author’s proposed road diet between France Ave and Lake Calhoun.

This lane diagram map shows a larger proposal that would extend the road diet to West Lake St, with a reconstruction of the south side sidewalk into a multi-use path between there and West Calhoun Pkwy. This would enable the 2-way cycletrack to connect France Ave with the Minneapolis parkway system, providing much greater connectivity. A cycletrack along the south side of Excelsior is suggested instead of one-way protected bike lanes on each side because there are fewer overall conflicts along the south side of the street. More importantly, westbound bicyclists would not have to cross Lake Street where it splits from Excelsior Blvd, resulting in a much safer facility.

Excelsior Blvd is on the city’s Bicycle Master Plan (Figure 9, pg 19). It would be preferable to wait until a resurfacing or reconstruction is underway in order to implement this proposal (especially given the pavement condition for bikes), but it doesn’t necessarily have to wait until then. Temporary curbs, paint, and bollards could be used in the short term to carve out the cycletrack, providing immediate benefits.

But whether it’s a temporary fix or a more permanent solution, it would behoove city officials to work with Hennepin County (as Excelsior Blvd is a county state aid highway) to get this implemented in a timely manner.


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11 Responses to A Cycletrack Solution for Excelsior Boulevard

  1. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson March 31, 2016 at 9:41 am #

    Fantastic. I love that you looked all the way down to the West Lake St intersection as well and not just the Minikahda portion. The entire triangle from France/Lake, Lake/Excelsior, and France/Excelsior deserves improvements. I would cheer this change.

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller March 31, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    Speeds on that stretch of Excelsior are terrible. Unless there’s a backup (which happens north/east of Whole Foods), the lack of any resistance through the golf course and by the lake leads to people going way too fast (e.g., hopping in their Maserati after a few cocktails at their posh lakeview condo to meet the date they’ve kept waiting at the Calhoun Beach Club).

  3. Mike Sonn
    Mike Sonn March 31, 2016 at 9:45 am #

    The 2′ buffer confuses me. Especially on already very wide 12′ lanes.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell March 31, 2016 at 10:04 am #

      Agree. I’d think this would only allow for higher speeds. I’d think 11′ or 10′ lanes with no buffer would do a better job of keeping speeds down.

  4. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell March 31, 2016 at 10:02 am #

    Great idea. I’m just not so sure about a two-way here unless there is no better alternative. Two-way cycletracks can be exceptionally dangerous because drivers, even in The Netherlands, are quite poor at looking to their right for oncoming traffic.

    CROW standards for two-way require quite significant effort at EVERY crossing to make sure drivers stop such as the path having to be raised above the crossing with fairly steep ramps to force drivers to slow and unlike one-way a two-way often requires sharks teeth at every crossing, even low traffic private drives. For non-signalized junctions they often require the path to be at least one car length from the road so that drivers can stop to look for bike traffic in both directions and then pull forward of the bikeway and stop to look for a safe gap to enter traffic.

    Bike riders there dislike them as well since they often don’t feel like drivers see them (and they often don’t) and so they don’t feel safe and feel like they have to slow or stop much more often than on one-ways.

  5. Steve Nimchuk March 31, 2016 at 10:19 am #

    Note to whoever is in charge of maintenance of this section, the sidewalk is full of bike tire puncturing broken glass. Even though not supposed to, I’d rather ride the sidewalk than in a lane with the cars.

  6. Mase March 31, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

    Great idea but agree with some of the others that 12′ lanes are still too wide and the 2′ buffer between the traffic lanes appears unnecessary. Instead, perhaps make the traffic lanes 10′ lanes (and add the extra to expand the buffer between the traffic lane and bike lane).

    http://www.citylab.com/design/2014/10/why-12-foot-traffic-lanes-are-disastrous-for-safety-and-must-be-replaced-now/381117/

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele March 31, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

      The 12′ lanes would be fine IF they included the 2′ gutter pan. But, in that scenario, we’d usually see a white shoulder stripe painted just in from the gutter pan. The effect is the same, narrowing down to slow cars.

  7. Robert Fried March 31, 2016 at 5:32 pm #

    Kudos Adam. Very well thought out. I’d also prefer Mase’s suggestion of 10′ lanes with extra buffer for the bike lane. Slower traffic here would be better and would help the noise situation at the Ellipse on Excelsior and France.

  8. Adam Froehlig
    Adam Froehlig March 31, 2016 at 6:17 pm #

    Matt’s correct. That 12ft width includes the gutter pan, so effective lane width is somewhat less. Can’t go too narrow here because Excelsior gets a fair bit of trucks in and out of Uptown as a designated truck route. I’m not as worried about speeding as the single lane combined with the volume of traffic will work as a speed deterrent.

    I understand Walker’s concern about 2-way cycletracks, but I still think it’s a better option than a single lane on each side, especially given the heavy westbound traffic split where Lake and Excelsior split. Providing bicyclists a way to avoid that location alone makes a 2-way cycletrack worthwhile. There are also fewer conflicts on the south side of Excelsior than on the north side.

  9. Julia March 31, 2016 at 10:42 pm #

    I’m an avid walker, both for fun and transit, and I’d posit the reason this stretch doesn’t have more crashes with people on foot is because it’s a nightmare to walk:
    1) there’s no buffer between those on foot and those speeding by in car;.
    2) it’s a full half-mile of some of the most monotonous “scenery” imaginable; “bonus” is that the length, width, and sheer monotony encourage drivers to speed dangerously;
    3) it’s deserted; while the West Lake Street area has increasing density and SLP is trying out some urbanism stuff, it’s really unpleasant to walk as well, and this part of the city lacks the kind of poverty or other forced use that gives areas like this any walkability (which in turn allows the excuse to not build for walkability or access for those outside cars);
    4) there are traffic lights on either end regulating the pacing and “platooning” of the traffic; it’s timed juuuuust right so that as you’re walking the half mile over a hill, you are totally isolated and alone for a predictable and substantial period;
    5) there’s a sidewalk only on one side (apparently because it’s a historical site that didn’t have a sidewalk on both sides! so people now get to suffer!), which means that if your starting point and destination are on the other side, you’re forced to cross the quasi-highway Excelsior unnecessarily twice*; even if you’re on the right side, you have no option to switch if you’re feeling unsafe or think you’re being followed (staring at nothing more human than overgrown bushes for ten minutes is basically a recipe for asking the mind to play tricks), if it’s icy, if it’s the less physically comfortable side for whatever reason.

    It’d be one thing if there were another way to move here, but the thing about golf courses is they’re basically functional dead spaces when they’re in the city. They physically kill the grid. But unlike lakes, they don’t offer periphery activities. They’re basically all the fun of deserted stadia minus the density and diversity of people that surrounds those; designing the streets around them for active and comfortable use is both necessary and almost impossible.

    I’d so welcome your solution to this, though! It protects people as they walk with trees and boulevard space. It tightens (and therefore slows and evens out) the traffic and allows for the lovely pacing of those who are biking (who go at various speeds), decreasing the deserted times for those walking. And it’s adjacent to the increasingly dense, increasingly walkable West Lake, where the proposed Green Line Extension will have a station. It’d be good to be proactive about this area, particularly in light of what we know about how unpleasant and dangerous and uncomfortable it is for people as they walk and bike here.

    * the mess of the traffic islands and highway-style lanes of Excelsior and Lake make it so that it’s really easy to end up repeatedly crossing those 6 lane freeways trying to get on the right side of the street for the sidewalks, few of which offer adequate width or any protection (trees, boulevards, etc.) from people driving 40MPH.