Washington Avenue Traffic Signal Animation

Washington Avenue’s Experimental Signals

Next* summer, Hennepin County will be reconstructing Washington Avenue S from Hennepin Avenue to 5th Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. And to the glee of Twin Cities urbanists, it will have a cycle track, with bike paths on each side of the street raised above the roadway. Since this cycle track is a bit of a first for the city, I was wondering how the signaling system will be handled. I emailed the project manager, Jennifer Lowry, who gave me the run down.

Based on what I gathered from the email, this is what the most basic cycle will look like traveling on Washington Avenue:

Washington Avenue Traffic Signal Animation

Note: this is a very rough approximation. Cycle lengths do not reflect reality.

Basically, bikes will get a lead interval (of an as-of-yet undetermined length), during which cars will be prohibited from turning right. This will be communicated with an electronic sign like the ones used to control Marquette and 2nd Avenues. During other times, rights on red will still be allowed. This is not the complete right-on-red ban that many of us hoped for, but it is a step in the right direction for bicycle safety.

You may be wondering why the bicycle signal doesn’t stay green like it does at other intersections where a lead interval has been implemented. According to MnDOT meeting notes, the Federal Highway Administration told the City of Minneapolis that, if it was to use bicycle signals with this cycle track design, they would have to be in a separate phase from car traffic altogether. This was decided because the Feds feared the design of the track would make it too difficult for cars and bikers to see each other.

This is Hennepin County’s way of trying to get around that problem. As of now, the county still has to get permission from the FHWA in order to carry out this experiment. We’ll see if they have better luck than the City did.

* = Editor’s Note: We have seen reports indicating that this reconstruction project has been delayed until 2016. 

Tyler Schow

About Tyler Schow

Tyler Schow studies Communications at the University of Minnesota and is currently Communications Intern at the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. The views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent those of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.