Pedal Pubs, Drunk Drivers, and Road Design

It seems that the Pedal Pub fiascos can’t catch a break in 2015.

On Wednesday night, several unfortunate souls were caught in one of those “car accidents” on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge while moving into downtown Minneapolis. The pub, minding its own somewhat obnoxious business, was rear ended by a red automobile driven by an individual likely under the influence of alcohol. Twelve people were injured, with a couple of them initially caught underneath the tipped Pub. Overall, its not what you would expect on a random Wednesday in June.

Obviously, I am sure we all hope the Pedal Pub Twelve (The duodecuple, performing in an encore after the Pedal Pub Five, recently dropped to the Pedal Pub Four) will make a quick and healthy recovery, and will be able to reveal their epic tale to their consternated colleagues. However, this event – and the 21st Century style responses to it – gives the observing public some good things to think about.

1) Drunk driving is still, and will forever be, a very bad thing

As long as you are not directing the bikemobile, drinking on Pedal Pubs is legal! Drinking and then driving a massive, fast, automated killing machine is not, and is actually pretty dangerous. The driver of the mysterious red car must have not been paying attention while bending around that corner on the bridge, and ran into the slow moving pub. Like all accidents regarding drunk driving, we should condone it, reject it from being the norm in our society, and reflect on why we don’t have strict drunk driving laws like other parts of the world.

2) Hey everybody… this is not the Pedal Pub’s fault

One of the main things that disappointed me in the Twitter response was the amount of people that threw more than 0% of the blame onto the Pedal Pub.  Although I am not a complete HATER, I can see why Pedal Pubs would annoy people. I also know the Hennepin Avenue Bridge is configured to move vehicles quickly and efficiently and everything – you know, traffic flows. But when a drunk driver rudely grinds on your Wednesday night out, this should probably not come to mind:

I get it – Pedal Pubs do operate slowly in the regular travel lane. It can be annoying for all involved except those inebriated and rotating their legs around aimlessly to careen towards another non-important drinking establishment. However, that is no excuse for anybody to blame the pedal pub, especially on a weekday night. This was not rush hour. Instead of directing blame on slower vehicles operating legally during periods of low volume, lets all cast pure judgement towards the drunk driver, and the act of drunk driving altogether.

3) The bridge is way too big now, but would a smaller one really stop a drunk driver?

The modern Hennepin Avenue Bridge was built in 1990, was designed by people who probably looked like this, and was finished during what was probably peak vehicle-centricity in this country. The bridge has a speed limit of 30mph, but contains three wide travel lanes and is apparently a massive speed trap.

To be honest, I think the sidewalk space is sufficient for pedestrians, and is nicely separated from the roadway by a large, standard-sized bridge curb. This may be a good urban roadway design element in 1990, but not in 2015. The bridge needs an overhaul in order to carry all modes more safely. I would recommend, at the least, reducing lane widths to discourage speeding, adding buffers to the bike lanes, or reconstructing the surface to allow for a curb-separated bike lane in each direction.

Would a safer, less speed-enticing configuration discourage distracted driving? It certainly might help. With a buffered bike lane, perhaps the pedal pub could operate in the bike lane over the bridge, or could at least skirt the edge of the buffer. The advantages of calming the bridge to traffic – and actually calming it to encourage drivers to drive no more than 30mph – far outweigh the congestion potential.

4) Non-affiliated bonus material: Twitter Tidbits about 1st/Hennepin

As a result of the Pedal Pub crash, I discovered some information presented at Wednesday night’s NIEBNA neighborhood meeting. Apparently, some (Hennepin County?) traffic engineers revealed plans to convert 1st Avenue N and Hennepin Avenue into two-way streets, while maintaining the bridge’s two-way status and apparently modifying it to allow AM/PM peak lanes.

This is a change long overdue, and one that matches well with the rapidly developing NIEBNA area of Minneapolis.

4b) Can we create an actual good nickname for NIEBNA?

Sorry, I had to add this in here. I personally like St Anthony Main, because people know what I’m talking about. But when I say it, I feel like I am succumbing to clever 1980’s branding techniques.

Chris Iverson

About Chris Iverson

Chris Iverson is a transportation engineer & planner for the City of Bellevue, WA and currently lives in Seattle. He holds degrees in both Civil Engineering & Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota, and worked on a myriad of transit & multimodal transportation projects in the Twin Cities. He is a former Minnesota Daily columnist, RAGBRAI participant, bad musician, marathon finisher, and an unabashed generalist.