Biking Northeast I: 5th Street

(One can consider this a series riffing on the theme introduced here at StreetsMN)

I live on the 5th St Bicycle Boulevard and take great joy in seeing the steady stream of riders go past my home. It’s a type of people watching. I recognize certain people often by their bike before their face. Ride up to the pubs, the grocery store, the coffee shops and one sees plenty of bikes parked outside. It’s definitely a cycling friendly neighborhood where available parking is more than maxed out. It is precisely because of this strong and growing cycling community that I would like to see Minneapolis continue to invest in pedestrian and cycle-friendly infrastructure. I wanted to set this up positively because sometimes our posts are so focused on weaknesses that we can overlook genuinely helpful things the city has done. Nevertheless there are still many changes that I would like to see in my neighborhood.

I use the 5th st BB every day. For commuting, shopping, going out, and so on. There are stretches that fulfill their purpose quite well and others where there are necessary improvements. North of Broadway 5th remains consistently densely parked on both sides and this creates a slow driving environment. It is quite rare to see a car take this street at the allowed 30mph. Cars do not often get tetchy about being behind cyclists and the roundabouts keep traffic flowing. Yet I would like to see the limit here be 15 or 20mph. It would not be entirely unreasonable to think about full cycle tracks here – the east/west streets have more than enough room to take up the parking burden – but I worry about traffic speeds. As it is I am comfortable riding here with my two daughters aged 5 and 7.

South of Broadway gets more complicated. The streets are significantly wider and this encourages a swifter pace for cars; especially after the confused intersection with Washington and Spring. There are painted bike lanes after this intersection but with no stops or bumps and under-capacity parking on only one side of the street, cars buzz by so that I tend to ride on the street side of the bike lane to form a ‘buffer’ between my daughters and me. The north going bike lane is nothing of the sort, with over half of it being sloped curbing. This section to 1st could use full cycle tracks in my opinion. Parking could be eliminated without inconvenience if the space was needed.

Death Trap

Death Trap


But it is at 1st that we encounter the first needed radical change. Indeed the whole 1st to Central section is a confused mess, actively hostile to pedestrians in what is the major center of this part of Northeast. Here we have groceries, beer, restaurants, schools, clinics, apartments, the riverfront, and more. I’m not skilled enough to say if the roads need to be changed to two ways, or what needs to happen to them in general. But surely something significant needs to shift. At 1st cars zoom by at 40+mph with 5 potential lanes of unhindered space. It’s ridiculous, unnecessary, insanely unsafe: It must change. We need to remove at least one entire lane and install a physically separated cycle track heading into downtown (the “bike lane” over the Hennepin bridge is a psychotic joke. A suicide lane if there ever was one). Either cars need to stop at 5th or we need a ‘beg button’ that changes an as yet uninstalled light as quickly as does the light at Broadway (a wonderful feature of that intersection). Visibility has to be made better so that we can see cars and they can see us. As it is, the cars in front of Red Stag et. al. make it difficult.

After 1st one encounters Hennepin and fifteen feet after that Central. It takes about a bajillion years to cross these two streets and as soon as the light changes for 5th it changes back. There are at least three major destinations after this intersection – Marcy Open School, 6th to the Stone Arch Bridge, and the bridge to Dinkytown – and I would like to see ped/bike traffic prioritized here; or at the very least see it not feel like a pedestrian pinch. The aforementioned cycle tracks should continue to 2nd. And can we plant a tree or some pretty flowers in this concrete weed jungle?

After 2nd, 5th begins again to feel like 5th north of Broadway. Cars are generally slow and respectful of cyclists. I don’t see that this section needs a full cycle track but the north going painted bike lane is a bit silly and awkward here.

As a quick note not directly related to 5th, the 6th Ave SE intersection with 4th/University is a wash. The light takes f  o  r  e  v  e  r. We need a proper bike beg button with the responsiveness of the 5th/Broadway one. At both 4th and University. University is especially bad because visibility is so poor. No way cars can see cyclists ready to cross and vice versa.

So these are a few things I’d like to see along the otherwise laudable 5th St Bicycle Boulevard. What other changes would you like to see on it? Where am I wrong?


Tony Hunt

About Tony Hunt

Tony Hunt rides his bike places and is just narcissistic enough to want to tell people about it. He majored in Greek and Latin at the University of Minnesota. This, he believes, qualifies him to write about anything. You can follow his rantings at

3 thoughts on “Biking Northeast I: 5th Street

  1. Tony HuntTony Hunt Post author

    I forgot one last point. Where 5th and 8th Ave SE intersect it should be 8th and not 5th that has a required stop. With parking restricted enough for clear sight lines.

  2. mnjimn

    I live a couple blocks over from 5th (south of Broadway) and totally agree that it’s a great amenity. You’re also right about the northbound bike lane south of Broadway. It’s really only half of a lane and is mostly pointless, everyone rides in the street because of it’s unevenness. One thing that may complicate things here is that the old Webster school is soon to be renovated and reopened as an elementary school, which means lots of buses will be lining up on 5th twice a day, effectively eliminating the northbound lane probably during it’s busiest times. I do hope that with the school opening maybe traffic will calm a little on that stretch. Speeds are two high there and that absurd double stop sign they put up just before Spring St only makes things more confusing and dangerous.

    While I do like the bike stoplight they put at Broadway, I really think we would’ve been better served having it installed at 1st and 5th as a priority. The crossing there is really, really hairy for cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists, and will only get worse with new residents from Red20, and other developments. I’m surprised I haven’t heard of any serious accidents here. Removing just a few of the parking spots here would do wonders for visibility. You’re right though, the whole area there needs some smart reconstruction.

  3. Joe U

    Thanks for the article; as a Nordeaster who loves to bike places, this got me thinking more about what we could do with Bike Boulevards in general. In their current form, all they are is paint on asphalt, but what if we put some effort in to create a boulevard built for bicyclists? I put together a streetmix to represent what I am picturing, but it’s nothing more than a bollard-separated bike trail with auto traffic on the sides. I guessed at what a typical curb to curb width would be on existing bike boulevards, so correct me if I’m wrong:

    Taking the idea even further, I would design intersecting bike boulevards for bike traffic only, with all auto traffic turning right.

    It just might be an affordable way to add bicycling infrastructure throughout the city without removing auto access.

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