Dear Hennepin County

Thank you for your response. I’m sure citizens and voters will take these in to consideration and get back to you with additional questions regarding the reconstruction of Minnehaha Avenue. And I see we have our first questions now.

You cite five pedestrian crashes from 2010 to 2012 and two pedestrian fatalities in 2009 (Question 26, Page 4 of the response). How many vehicle crashes have occurred in that time and how many fatalities? What is the primary culprit of these accidents (speed, inattentiveness, etc.)?

With regard to trees, why do you continue to provide a false choice between cycletracks and street trees? We’re asked to choose between a 10% reduction with no cycletrack versus a 20% reduction in trees from the cycletrack. Where is the “no tree loss” option? If anything, Minnehaha needs more trees, not less.

Why does your explanation about cycletrack safety issues at intersections (Question 81, Page 12) seem to infer that bicycles are second-class or somehow in the way of moving/turning cars? What about safety improvements like signal priority for bikes, public education for drivers to be more aware of cyclists or stiffer penalties for hitting a cyclist/pedestrian?

Why do you say you will “include provisions to manage speed through the corridor” (Question 11, Page 2) when left turn lanes will be added at several intersections that will likely increase speeds? (With regard to speed, a “forgiving road” becomes a “permissive road,” making it less safe as a result.) What will you specifically do to “manage speed” throughout the corridor? Some answers are given (Question 32, Page 5), but can you verify whether you will actually use these or are simply “considering” them, and explain which of these are most likely to slow traffic?

Why are these questions left unanswered? VMT forecasts in particular are a “chicken and egg” situation and need to be based on much more than traffic growth from 2008 to 2012. Build a road to accommodate 15,000 vehicles per day and it will do so; I’m not sure increased traffic is an outcome anyone really wants.

Why do you cite one statistic from a cycletrack study from Denmark (Question 44, Page 7), which indicates a 28% increase in injuries to pedestrians due to the construction of cycletracks, without any context? Why do you omit that the same study indicates cycletracks also increased cycle traffic 18% to 20% and reduced car traffic by 9% to 10%? Why do you omit that cycletracks resulted in three important gains in road safety: fewer accidents where cars hit cyclists from the rear, fewer accidents with cyclists turning left, and fewer accidents where cyclists rode in to a parked car? Lastly, why do you ignore the conclusion of that study, which states “construction of cycletracks will undoubtedly result in gains in health from increased physical activity. These gains are much, much greater than the losses in health resulting from a slight decline in road safety”?

(Incidentally, the cycletrack study in question also recommends raised safety tables at non-signalized intersections, painted cycle crossings at signalized intersections and recommends NOT reducing on-street car parking (because people then park on side streets and add more vehicle movements across the cycletrack, increasing risk of accident).)

The last question (Question 123, Page 18) states “this meeting has been high jacked by cyclists.” I understand how people can come to that conclusion but I don’t see this as a cyclist-versus-the-rest-of-us situation. This is a long-term investment in a public right of way that needs to take in to account many modes of traffic but also attempt to achieve important goals such as public health and reduced VMT over time. This isn’t about today’s cyclists, but rather tomorrow’s cyclists and all users of the street. Why does Hennepin County continue to place traffic speed and volume ahead of these goals?

Thank you.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is

20 thoughts on “Dear Hennepin County

  1. Presley

    Thanks I enjoyed reading this. It’s interesting that they say the meeting was “high jacked” by cyclists instead of recognizing that a lot of citizens of the Minnehaha Av area are cyclists and drivers and want what is best for both forms of transportation. It also seems like their minds are set and they’re just going through the motions of holding public meetings without really taking into account the voice of citizens.

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Sam, great post! Something else to keep in mind is that Copenhagen is not a paragon of great cycleway design, particularly at intersections. My guess is that their cycletracks could be made considerably safer. One example is a very good cycle track that suddenly dumps you in an intersection where you have to execute a ‘Copenhagen left’. Some people are enamored with this kind of left, I personally much prefer the Dutch option where you don’t mix with traffic but cross one street and then cross the other (often with coordinated signals to speed things up).

    Drivers in Copenhagen are also considerably more respectful of bicyclists than drivers in MN which I think would also change the comparison. They cite a fairly low increase in safety by installing tabled crossings at driveway and minor road entrances. Riding through Copenhagen though (and any northern European city except Brussels), this is a fairly rare danger as most drivers stop for cycle tracks. Riding through Shoreview’s segregated paths, one of the more dangerous situations I face every day is from drivers blowing across the path from driveways, parking lots, and minor roads.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I disagree with you about left-turn lanes, Sam. Although right-turn lanes exist solely to increase speed, left-turn lanes make motorists’ behavior far more predictable.

    As you probably know, it is legal to pass to the right of a left-turning vehicle if the lane widths are extremely wide (say, on Chicago Ave between Lake and 46th). But if there’s a solid white line (such as a bike lane or designated parking lane), it is illegal for motorists to pass to the right of the right-turning vehicle — because they would be entering the shoulder to do so. But that certainly doesn’t stop them, as dozens of motorists enter the bike lane/shoulder now to pass left-turning motorists right now. Even worse, one or two motorists will not pass on the right (obeying the law), and then somebody far back in the line will start speeding up the shoulder at 30 mph to get around the whole thing. This is a problem all over Minneapolis, but motorist behavior on Cedar Ave is even worse at intersections with no left-turn lanes. Installing left-turn lanes significantly reduce this risky behavior, which is especially important on a bicycling route.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      I understand your perspective, Sean, but left turn lanes do require right of way and that takes up valuable space. I’m not sure the perceived increase in predictable behavior is worth the tradeoff, but I think the discussion needs to be had.

      Also, I don’t like cars racing around left-turning vehicles, either. That said, if left turn lanes are considered, then we should also consider no left turn lane AND not providing enough space to swerve around to the right to race past a left-turning car. Legal or not, if the space is there to do so, cars will. If we don’t physically provide that space, we will successfully eliminate that possibility. Whether or not that is palatable, again, I think it needs to be discussed.

      1. Froggie

        Regarding the argument that left turn lanes “take up valuable space”, it should be noted that you don’t need a continuous left turn lane along the entire block. Mid-block it can be turned into a landscaped median. Nor is there an outright requirement for the city/county to provide a full intersection at every block, though determining this would require more in-depth traffic study and neighborhood consultation.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Right. Or in this case, you can lose parking at just the area where the left-turn lane is, and have the travel lanes re-center themselves after the turn lane. In this case, Hennepin County is not proposing a continuous left and not even proposing it at every intersection. Just at select, high-volume intersections.

          I’m with the others that continuous lefts are highly unaesthetic and a waste of space, and should be avoided whenever possible. That doesn’t mean all left-turn lanes are bad.

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      @Sam: Yes, I think it is good that everything is on the table, and that we’re willing to question whatever. But I do think judicious use of left-turn lanes is a good thing. While keeping traffic slow is beneficial, keeping it stopped and clogged up is not. I look at Minnehaha Pkwy at Portland (which is not physically wide enough to overtake on the right), and you see cars waiting through several cycles to get through, because a single left-turning car snares the whole thing up. I realize the “reducing congestion” excuse can be used to justify a lot of street overbuilding, but I really think left-turn lanes are an appropriate element to include in this context, at least at major intersections.

      @Bill Bumpouts could, but not in the way they’re installed in Minneapolis (at least on bus routes). They’re almost always installed only on the far side of the intersection, not likely to stop a car overtaking a left-turning car. This is done to preserve space for the bus to pull out of the travel lane (related to comments elsewhere in this thread). However, even if they agreed to put full bumpouts in cars might still use the bike lane — if there is to be one — to overtake left-turning cars. 11′ travel lane + 1′ buffer + 6′ bike leaves plenty of room for two cars of typical size to pass each other.

  4. Lance

    The county’s response to Question 48 suggests a priority to increase the public’a health by promoting physical activities and active modes of transport, yet the majority of resources are focused on automotive accommodations (& parking). One example of their contradicting priorities is the county’s response to Question 35 in regards to snow removal for automobiles before pedestrians and cyclists.

    The fact that Minnehaha Ave is currently dominated by automobiles should not imply the dominance of automobiles for the next 50 years, especially if the county has stated a prioity to increase public health and physical activity.

  5. Alex

    The problems with the proposed cycle track design stem from two main issues. First, the county clings to an outdated and unsafe “pull-out” design at bus stops, which forces them to pave substantial square footage around intersections, leading to the substantial tree loss in both alternatives but especially the cycle track. If instead they designed bus stops so the bus stopped in the the general traffic lane, the pavement required by the ADA for passenger waiting space could be on the place they were going to pave earlier, and the trees would be saved (and you wouldn’t have to risk getting killed by a car turning right around the bus you just got off of). I admire the fact that County engineers at least took the time to learn about cycle tracks before rejecting them; they don’t seem to bother learning about transit facility design.

    The other problem is that most of the side streets to the west of Minnehaha are MSA routes, for archaic reasons. Clearly these are not the sort of street that they had in mind when coming up with MSA design requirements, yet the prohibition on raised crossings will make any Minnehaha cycle track dangerous at intersections. Still, I’d think MnDot would be flexible on this and the construction date allows for plenty of time for the variance process.

    Side note: I love the AASHTO diagram where they visualize the complete lack of respect that most American motorists have for pedestrians. Why should any driver pay any attention to the crosswalk they’re about to enter? It’s not like they have to yield right-of-way or anything. Thank you AASHTO for nearly a century of enabling the Mad Max conditions that are predominate on the streets of the USA.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      Compounding the bus stop design issue is Metro Transit’s insistence on stops being placed every block (every 1/8 mile). You can see multiple instances (at least 3 in this project) where both far-side and near-side bus stops exist on the very same block!!

      Personally, I’d like to see municipalities (and/or Hennepin County in this case) push back against this ridiculous stop spacing and say enough is enough.

      This is a topic for another day (or Streets.MN post) but I believe the benefits of going to 1/4 mile spacing (or every other “long block” in Minneapolis) system wide would greatly outweigh the impacts on the very small minority that would be inconvenienced.

      1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

        Yes, Matt and Alex raise good points. I do believe, at least for bus routes with 15 minute headways or less frequent service, that Metro Transit should consider allowing buses to stop in the driving lane. Doing so could free up considerable space that might be better used for car or on-street bicycle parking.

        We need a test plot for this, and perhaps a commercial corner used by infrequent bus routes like the 46 (the corner of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue), for example, make sense to try this.

        And yes, space bus stops farther apart.

    2. Walker

      Is people having to pay as they board a significant issue on Minnehaha routes? Would pay-ahead ticketing reduce stop time enough that stopping in the traffic lane is no longer a significant issue?

  6. Jessica SchonerJessica Schoner

    Hijacked by cyclists? Really? And Hennepin County couldn’t even comment? All they’d have to do is copy and paste their answer from Question 10 to below Question 123. Stakeholders attending a meeting can hardly be called hijacking.

  7. Jason

    Here’s an idea. Put the cyclists on the sidewalk and out of the street. They don’t belong in the street. Those talking about disrespectful motorists should also be talking about disrespectful bikers, who right hand pass a right turning vehicle to go strait when the light turns green. If bikers are supposed to have the same rules as cars then if they are going strait they should be staying behind the right turning vehicle as it turns then going strait.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Isn’t a cyclist passing you on the right on the sidewalk just as bad, if not worse, than doing so on the street? (Since you’re last apt to notice them.)

      For what it’s worth, it’s not illegal for a bike to pass a motorist on the right, although under most circumstances, it is considered inadvisable. Motorists can actually prevent this dangerous situation on Minnehaha by observing 169.19, subd. 1(g):

      (g) Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane adjacent to the driver’s lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn, and shall make the turn, yielding the right-of-way to any vehicles approaching so close thereto as to constitute an immediate hazard.

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