Washington Avenue SE Revisited

As test trains already run, an in-service Green Line will be puffing honking, whistling, zooming, gliding, buzzing down Washington Avenue through the University of Minnesota campus shortly. Already there are issues.

Green Line on Washington Avenue SE - The Crane is becoming the state bird

Green Line on Washington Avenue SE – The Crane is becoming the state bird

  1. Signs, signs, everywhere signs. The more signs and signals there are, the less each sign means.
  2. Violators – as seen in the second figure, Metro Transit Police should be able to make up the line’s operating deficit by ticketing violators.
  3. Bus bunching abounds on the road, though one hopes it reduces once the LRT starts operating and the 16 and 50 (and maybe the Campus Connector) stop running.
  4. Signal timing – which leads to pedestrians ignoring the signals. (see also Signal Priorities should Signal Priorities)
  5. Noise, bells and whistles and honking and pedestrian warnings, and so on have significantly altered the ambient sound quality of the route.
  6. The road has hardly even been open to traffic and already the paint is disappearing. Paint is of course cheap, but either we need to invest in it more frequently or do something somewhat more substantial.
  7. The crosswalks are particularly slippery in winter. I am told this is being remedied.
Violations abound of cars in the bike lane on Washington Ave. SE

Violations abound of cars in the bike lane on Washington Ave. SE


I argued two years ago, when streets.mn was much smaller, that the car-free Transit Mall should be extended all the way from Walnut to University Avenue. It’s almost all six story walk-ups now, with nary a driveway needing to be accessed from Washington (and one assumes those will disappear shortly).

I suspect the violators problem will be reduced (though not eliminated) were Washington Avenue more clearly designated a transit/ped/bike mall for its entirety. Additional design features (but please no more signs) may help the road become more self-explaining to its users.


Modern Streetcar in Istanbul

Modern Streetcar in Istanbul

The signals are just absurd, and along the lines of advocating drivers and pedestrians wear helmets. The road should be open to pedestrians except when there is a train or bus, and even with buses, this should be doable as a shared space with a minimum number of signals (ideally zero, but perhaps something for trains, though lots of trains operate in perfectly civilized and safe areas of the world with many fewer signals). The ideal solution in my mind is that the signals are default to pedestrian phase (Barnes Dance) except when there is an explicit call from cross-traffic, emergency, or transit vehicles, flipping the tradition beg button philosophy.

(Yes, I know, liability).

14 thoughts on “Washington Avenue SE Revisited

  1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

    As I understand it, the 16 will end its route at Oak St, and not continue down the Transit Mall or into downtown Minneapolis.

    1. Dave P

      This is correct. I think the original plan was to have a “night owl” route run all the way to DT Minneapolis when the Green line was done for the day, but now that the Green line will run 24 hours a day, I’d think it will stop on Oak St.

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I rode threw here both days this weekend. Neither time did it immediately register that the green cyclist light was for me. Both times I encountered, and ignored after looking carefully, a mid-block red light for a cross walk with no pedestrians trying to use it.

    So, yeah, way too many and insufficiently intuitive signs and signals.

  3. Cameron ConwayCameron Conway

    This is a really interesting, unprecedented circumstance for Minnesota, as far as LRT-pedestrian interactions go. I wonder to what degree the Green line’s current 67 minute transit time is due to these kinds of light timing snafu’s. I do feel like the bus bunching is a symptom of the terrible timing, so hopefully a savvy reconfiguration could solve a number of issues on that list.

    At the same time, I’m nervous about the U citing liability as a reason to change nothing. Hopefully the pedestrian non-compliance issue is enough of a reason to act.

    As far as the Oak street bus stations, is the main reason for that left turn to access the stadium from its front door? It seems like that left turn is prone to light rail conflict in an intersection that’s also relatively heavy on auto traffic. I’d much rather see all routes in question head all the way down Washington to University, if only because of the growth potential of that east end. Very excited to see the end result of the WaHu student housing development, as well as redevelopment of adjacent sites. http://finance-commerce.com/2013/09/wahu-student-housing-project-clears-final-hurdle/

    1. Dave P

      I would speculate the Oak St bus stations are due to a lack of space on Washington Ave. The buses would have to stop in traffic to let passengers offer, while Oak has a second lane and a bus only area. I’d imagine this is the same reason they eliminated the bus stop on Washington/Union which was quite popular.

      I’m not sure moving the station would reduce bunching, the congestion point would just be moved from the left turn on Oak Street to further down on Washington.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Yeah what’s with the turn on Oak Street? Is it because they didn’t want to put bus stops on that part of Washington because it might mess with the 94 onramps?

  4. Pingback: A Green Line report card | NewsCut | Minnesota Public Radio News

  5. Dave P

    Funny timing. I was at Brugers around 9am this morning and experienced the near worst case scenario for pedestrians. While I was sitting inside, I saw some poor guy walk into the middle of the intersection and get a jaywalking ticket from an MPD officer who happened to be waiting. Later, I was trying to cross Oak Street, hit the beg button a few times. Waited through 4 light cycles and the light never cycled to green/walk and was forced to jaywalk…

    You could say there is room for improvement.

        1. Dave P

          Worst part was, he was probably 10 seconds early. The light cycled to walk right as the cop cut him off.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      It’s like the bike enforcement fiasco all over again (http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2011/09/goldys-frequently-asked-questions-about.html).

      Biking on the East Bank should be a good recipe for how to get it right. They tried heavy-handed and nonsensical enforcement and education campaigns for years, and only succeeded in pissing people off and taking money from poor students already saddled with student debt. Then this year, they actually design a sensible bike route through campus and voila, the problem has largely gone away.

      You have to design for actual behavior, not try to enforce some mythical standard that runs counter to common sense.

  6. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    This is such a missed opportunity to do something elegant and functional. Instead, it seems to epitomize the Kafka-technocratic qualities of the U that frustrate me to no end. (Not that it’s necessarily the U’s fault, just that it serves as a symbol to me.)

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