Reclaiming Grand Avenue

In considering how to make Cathedral/Summit/Crocus Hill a safe place for everyone to walk and ride bicycles we need to rebuild Grand Ave.

Grand Ave has an 80’ right-of-way (building face to building face) and in most sections a 12’ sidewalk on each side resulting in 56’ curb-to-curb.

There are a few critical elements that drove these designs. First is having physically segregated cycletracks and intersections designed to a Dutch standard.

Second is a one-way cycletrack on each side. A two-way track on a single side creates two very critical problems; they are much more dangerous at junctions (and elsewhere) since most cars and people walking will not look for bicycle riders coming from the right, and this would serve only half of the businesses along Grand Ave both for customer bicycle access and the cycletrack acting as a comfort buffer between people on the sidewalk and motor traffic.

Slower motor vehicle speeds (25-30 mph perhaps) and safer crossing distances for pedestrians is also critical. While these designs will help with slower speeds they will not be a panacea. If speeds continue to be a problem then limiting overall travel distance so that Grand is not a through street might be necessary.

Some might ask about the option of bike lanes which in this case would be door zone bike lanes. These have proven dangerous for bicycle riders and people exiting parked cars and they are also not popular, with vehicular cyclists viewing them as dangerous and preferring to ride in the traffic lane and most average people (95% of the population) knowing that they are dangerous and preferring not to ride at all.

Lane Widths

The proposed lane widths are much narrower than typical in the U.S. These or even narrower are fairly normal in Europe and have proven to work and be quite safe (drivers are forced to pay attention).

For a bit of local comparison, I think Selby is about 34’ (curb to curb) in front of The Happy Gnome. This includes about two 8’ parking lanes and two 9’ driving lanes.

One issue is that some semi trucks that deliver during the middle of the day and who park in the center lane might be a problem. US Foods and Sysco the primary offenders. Fedex, UPS, and similar trucks should not be a problem. It may be necessary to limit truck widths during parts of the day on some layouts below.


The existing layout of Grand Avenue wastes considerable space, encourages speeding, and is dangerous and somewhat uninviting for people walking and riding bicycles. Crossing requires a minimum of 40’ (mid block) or 48’ to 56’ at crossings. All without any pedestrian refuges. Are 15’ driving lanes really necessary?

Grand Avenue can be much more inviting for everyone.



This is the simplest and should only require repainting (though a new bitumious layer on the cycletrack would be nice). Narrow the lanes down and stick cycletracks on either side. This will be much better for bicycling and make the sidewalks more comfortable for people walking. It will narrow mid block crossing to 24’ and make crossing at intersections somewhat better.

Bicycle riders will still need to be cautious of opening doors but since this is passenger side it is less likely and they will only be in the door zone when passing other bicycle riders. (Note: we should also teach people to always open doors with their opposite hand which somewhat forces people to turn their head and look before opening).



This is a fun one though I’m not sure how practical it is. The cycletrack on the left is now fully clear of the door zone. The shared lane on the right is intentionally limited to 10’ to reduce the problem of drivers thinking that they can squeeze by bicycle riders. Crossing distances are 18’ mid block and 26’ at intersections (shifting the median over to the sharrow lane to allow for a right turn lane).

This is not as good as ‘One’ for bicycle riders, particularly at intersections or during winter, but isn’t terrible. We’ve also lost parking on one side which I believe would be an overall 3% reduction in parking.

This should provide considerable benefits during winter with more options for snow storage. There are a few options for deliveries such as trucks being allowed to block a travel lane from 2am to 5am, or parking bays designated as 15 minutes from 3am to 9am.



This is something you might see in The Netherlands.


Note: In all of these the cycletrack should go behind bus stops.



This is my ideal. It is more visually appealing than other options, provides the greatest safety for all users, and is the more comfortable and inviting. On the down side we’ve lost parking on both sides for an estimated 7% overall reduction in total parking along the retail area. (If at least 15% of customers along here are from within 2 or 3 miles and we make it safe enough to for them to ride then hopefully half, or about 7%, will switch to bicycles. Ideally though a higher number of Grand Avenue patrons will begin riding.)

We’ve gained 4’ on each sidewalk which will be especially welcomed for eating outside but will be appreciated by all. Bicycle riders have a clear path with no dangerous obstructions. This is a place that parents will be comfortable with their 10-year-old riding to Cafe Latte to meet friends.

There is considerable room for snow removal and storage. This should make snow clearing faster and easier and lessen how much must be hauled off site in heavy snow years.

Deliveries will require some changes from delivery companies and businesses such as limited to overnight only or during the day limited to vehicles that can safely use the cycletrack such as trikes or carts. For more see Matty’s post on ‘s-Hertogenbosch.

So there you have it. I am not a traffic engineer nor more than a back alley urban planner so there may be huge problems with these designs. If not one of these, I am sure there is a design for Grand Avenue that will make it safer and more comfortable for people walking and riding bicycles.

Walker Angell

About Walker Angell

Walker Angell is a writer who focuses mostly on social and cultural comparisons of the U.S. and Europe. He occasionally blogs at, a blog focused on everyday bicycling and local infrastructure for people who don’t have a chamois in their shorts. And on twitter @LocalMileMN

37 thoughts on “Reclaiming Grand Avenue

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    These lane widths seem very unreasonable, even for someone who loves reducing lane widths. We need to get past the 10′ hurdle before we consider narrower.

    The one thing I do like is the multiway boulevard with woonerf concept for bikes, something I’ve advocated on Minnehaha Ave and on the sides of my Dedicated-ROW-Gauntlet-Track-Nicollet-Streetcar concept. Your “Grand Ave Blvd” concept is by far the most reasonable out of the bunch.

    There’s value to flexibility in this approach, and it can be done incrementally. By moving drainage, lighting, etc to the interior boulevards, you then have complete freedom on a block-level basis for transformation of the outside space. It could be a cycletrack with a wider sidewalk, it could be a slip lane plus parking lane, it could be a curbless woonerf (since drainage crowns to the medians) or it could be a giant plaza space. This fits with the change in character along Grand, with small business nodes, destination business nodes, residential sections, and a few institutional stretches.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      I generally love boulevards, thus my including one (or half of one). When the boulevard is also shared with bicycle riders it’s not very good for the bicycle riders unless in a very low volume residential area, thus my comment that I’m not sure how well it would work here with a much higher volume of cars entering and leaving.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        But how many cars really enter and leave a slip lane for parking? Even at the busiest of times, I can’t imagine it’s more than 10-15 per hour per block, no? That’s like one every 4-6 minutes, or every 2-3 minutes if you include both entering and exiting vehicles. Given the known speed reductions in areas like this, I think it’s a tradeoff we should be willing to make to keep on-street (but metered!) parking adjacent to local/regional businesses.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          It may not be that bad, though perhaps bad depends on the bicycle client. For you or I it may be acceptable, for mom sending her 9-year-old little Isabella off to meet some friends at Cafe Latte it might be scary and realistically too dangerous. I think it’d also be worse from a slush standpoint during winter than a cycletrack.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I agree with Matt regarding lane widths. At a certain point, you do start to create a danger. And even if that weren’t the case, it still needs approval. I am not aware of any laned street in the metro with less than 10′ lanes – except a small handful of 9′ turn lanes. (Turn lanes are generally allowed to be narrower.)

    And remember, if a travel lane is next to a curb, you need at least 2′ (standard says 4) for curb reaction distance. You don’t want cars to have one wheel in the storm drains.

        1. Sean Hayford Oleary

          The low-hanging fruit is the two-way center turn lane. Loading from trucks can easily be accomplished with time-limited loading zones (e.g., no customer parking early in the morning). My vote would be this:

          No curb changes. Wide enough cycletrack to accommodate passing. Relatively wide parking lane since it is a busy street, and people need to be able to get in and out of their cars. Travel lanes that are as narrow as current vehicle size and engineering acceptance allow.

              1. Sean Hayford Oleary

                Yup. Losing parking at the approaches to intersections would be beneficial anyway, since it improves sightlines between the travel lanes and the cycletrack. Since Grand Ave is oriented on long block faces, I shouldn’t think this would be overly burdensome to businesses losing parking. At least, nothing some good metering can’t make up for…

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                Thanks for the correction. Do you know if that width varies quite a bit along Grand or is it pretty consistent? Also, do you by any chance know the actual dimensions of Selby, like around Happy Gnome?

                On my plans I intentionally choose curbs (mountable on each side of cycletrack) rather than bollards. I think the curbs do a better job of keeping road debris out of the cycletrack and it’s easier to plow. Bollards also seem to get cruddy looking really quick unless you do something like black iron.

                1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

                  It varies in a few spots, but my spot checks of both data and aerial imagery suggest it’s fairly consistent.

                  Selby in the vicinity of the Happy Gnome is 38ft (not counting the bulb-outs), with a total right-of-way width (including sidewalk and boulevards) of 66ft.

                  I realize you prefer curbs, but using bollards is a way to get around the state statute requirement for “curb-reaction distance”. Though that mainly applies where on-street parking isn’t provided. So in this case, curbs to separate the cycletrack may be doable.

                  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                    Thanks for the measurements. I was getting 34′ (Selby) on numerous attempts on Google and a quick walk across seemed about the same. I thought Google was more accurate than that.

                    Curb Reaction Distance seems a MN exclusive. Do you know what this looks like elsewhere?

          1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

            The center turn lane gets used quite a bit for cars making left turns at junctions and in to drives all along here so I was somewhat hesitant to get rid of it. I think the question would be to what extent traffic volumes can be reduced so that cars stopping to make left turns don’t create major problems. Or would these problems be acceptable ‘calming’?

            I’d also wonder if a car blocking others behind them will be less patient and more likely to quickly cut across the oncoming traffic and cycletrack without looking well enough?

            BTW, you s/b able to insert a src= tag.

            1. Sean Hayford Oleary

              I think a 2/3-hybrid is best, no left turn lanes for driveways but allowing it at intersections. There really aren’t all that many driveways. I don’t think it would be overly burdensome for vehicles to have to wait behind a left-turning car once in a while.

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                I think the center turn lane is actually pretty cheap valuable space if there’s room for it. They often function as suggested lanes so the travel lanes on either side can more easily be narrower and cars/trucks can push in to the middle lane when necessary and it’s unused. From a political or stodgy traffic engineer standpoint it may be easier to get 8′ travel lanes with an 8′ center lane = 24′ vs otherwise perhaps thinking they need 10′ travel lanes = 20′ so the center lane only costs 4′ and does provide some benefit.

                One drawback to the center lane though is that when unused it could increase the speed of traffic since drivers won’t feel as constrained.

            2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

              Or we could just prohibit left turns into private curb cuts, etc. It’s a resilient street grid, not a hierarchical road network, so people can go around the block for RIRO accesses.

              1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

                Hah! 🙂

                I think what we don’t need is a bunch of traffic doing loops through residential neighborhoods and especially if they’re in a hurry, don’t give a peddle about the neighborhood, and do the loop as fast as they can.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        Yeah I’m confused why this is an issue. I agree we should probably take pragmatic steps in asking for lane width reductions, and 9′ against a curb is probably too giant a step.

        But I don’t see why we need to listen to the engineers who say lanes against curbs without reaction distances can’t work. I’ve been to places all over the world with 9-10′ lanes right up against curbs and they work just fine.

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

          I’d bet half the 60 mph rural A and B roads in the UK are about 18′ total width, dry stone wall to dry stone wall. And a gob more are less than 18′ (18′ is the minimum width for a dividing line). And we worry about curbs. 🙂

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Frankly, bumpouts at intersections would do wonders for peds; i like the cycletrack option maybe once we build them downtown people will see hwo great they can be.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Agree. Especially if we do the junctions properly so people can experience an entire system. Something that is common in Europe but that I don’t think exists anywhere in the U.S.

  4. David

    don’t forget winter – 2-3 miles biker zone in wintertime? and too, snow plowing & removal — much could be accomplished WITHOUT the need to actually move all the curbs/gutters/drainers —

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

      Agree. That’s kind of the idea behind Grand Ave One though I do think curbs between the parked cars and cycletracks would be very beneficial (and fortunately shouldn’t create plowing problems and can be drain permeable). Otherwise it’s a change in paint and maybe some minor improvements in the cycletrack surface (to Mike’s point, like changing drain openings to something less dangerous).

  5. Eric SaathoffEric S

    Forgive me if I’m being dense, but I don’t understand how removing half the on-street parking only amounts to 3% and both sides only 7%.
    We have to be talking about some pretty serious changes if the loss of on-street parking isn’t going to be matched by new off-street parking lots.

  6. Walker AngellWalker Angell Post author

    I’ve been enjoying and learning from a great game of volley mail about this on an email list. I hope to share some of it in another post. David Hembrow shared this photo that says a lot. The cycle path is 7.5 feet wide. There is supposed to be about a 1.5′ buffer between the parked cars and the cycle path but the cars have over run it. Even so it is quite safe.

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