A Safer Hennepin Avenue Bridge Layout

We are (or should be) saddened to hear of today’s news of a motorist, suspected of being intoxicated, ramming their vehicle into the back of a Pedal Pub — without regard to our opinions of Pedal Pubs themselves. (See other posts)

Bicyclists, slow-moving vehicles, and other street users are allowed on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, and should feel safe there. Chris Iverson notes over on his post:

“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.”

What could this look like? It appears that each half of the Hennepin Ave bridge is 56′ wide, including a 12′ sidewalk “above the curb.” Consider this hypothetical layout, which includes dedicated right-of-way for the proposed Nicollet-Central Streetcar, and/or a dreamed-of north-south LRT spine. It includes narrowed 10′ 6″ traffic lanes to reduce speed, and a 2′ buffer on one side before a curb. Above the moved-in curb, we could have a 3′ buffer (maybe with concrete planters with low-maintenance native plants) to keep bicycles and pedestrians even more safe and comfortable. Then we could have a 7′ paved buffered bicycle lane and a 10′ concrete sidewalk on the same level to round out this hypothetical layout.

Proposed Hennepin Ave Bridge Layout

Proposed Hennepin Ave Bridge Layout. Streetmix by author. Click for larger.

20 thoughts on “A Safer Hennepin Avenue Bridge Layout

  1. Mike A

    I’ve always thought it was strange that the bridge is 3 lanes each direction. Hennepin (Henn and 1st on the NE side) is only 2 lanes as it approaches and leaves the bridge. Clearly no reason for the 3rd lane. I really hope they reconfigure this soon!

    While I like the look of the layout above… If the streetcar would run in mixed traffic on either side of the bridge, I’d say leave it in mixed traffic on the bridge.

    Another note, the other day on the PM commute home I witnessed a van turn right without a blinker, barely in front of a bicyclist from Hennepin to Main St. The bicyclist had to squeal his breaks and jump off his bike in order to not smash into the side of the van. That little bridge could use more space for bikes!

  2. JeremyB


    This is a smart layout, and I hope that the streetcar comes to pass.

    To my mind, this raises a much larger discussion to be had about Hennepin Ave in its totality. South of Franklin, it’s a four-lane speed zone with light timings that cater to cars on Hennepin but not to the pedestrians trying to cross it. Its downtown section has been recently much improved with the new buffered lanes between Lyndale and 12th, but between 12th and Washington, it’s godawful: different widths every block, a notional sharrow, a bad four-lane layout. East Hennepin recently got attention here, as it too is a four-lane death road, despite an expensive bike crossing that does little to ensure that bikes get safely from NE to SE.

    I really hope the City and County band together to make this core artery into a truly complete street with trees, rail, bikes, ample sidewalk space, and slowed-down car travel lanes.

  3. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    A few numbers clarifications:

    – 56 feet per side appears to be about right. According to bridge data, the sidewalks are 14ft wide.
    – If you’re accurately trying to match what exists, the median should be 16 feet, not 8, though this shouldn’t affect the meat of your proposal.
    – Here’s where you might need to revise your proposal: LRT requires 13ft, not 11.

  4. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    Based on the existing lines and planned extensions for Green and Blue, 13ft is standard, excluding separation from adjacent lanes (which you’ve accounted for) or traction power (need extra space for the overhead line poles, but can also go in the separation space).

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      Fair enough. Is there a narrower loading gauge for modern streetcars? That’s really the only thing that’s likely to run across this bridge anytime during its lifetime… I just put LRT (assuming it could host streetcars as well) as a dream more than a need.

  5. Julia

    Totally agree with both the author and JeremyB.

    To the author, I would suggest shade/pedestrian scale design/interest. The bridge (like many) is unpleasant to cross and simply slowing traffic wouldn’t make it nice. Despite the elevation, there’s not really any good views, and the railings of the bridge are not scaled down (in design) for people. They keep those on foot from seeing the river nicely, despite the long walk, and instead make the primary experience that of traffic, rather than either the water or the skyline. It’s already a rather steep incline to walk, with no commercial/public facilities nearby on either side.

    To JeremyB, there is no portion of Hennepin that’s designed for or even neutral space for those on foot (or bike). It’s treated as a highway through most of its length, even through Minneapolis’ most walkable areas. Lights are poorly timed (including those by the bridge), and even basic amenities (e.g. safe cross walks, clear sidewalks) are virtually nil. Hennepin is, at various points, plagued by frequent curb cuts, impatient and dangerous drivers, lack of sidewalks on both sides of the street, unmaintained sidewalks, lack of boulevards, etc.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      I agree, great idea. Is it possible to plant shade trees on a bridge deck? Somehow I doubt it. What other options are there for shade? Some sort of canopy? I think of the Cedar St bridge in St. Paul https://goo.gl/maps/c05yt though it would be difficult to scale that up to a long river bridge. The Washington Ave bridge over the river has an enclosed walkway for shade and weather protection, though that’s on a bike/ped-only deck above vehicles/LRT.

    2. Wayne

      I think you really hit on something with how it’s designed for cars-first and essentially cars-only. That’s something that seems to be true with almost every major street in this city, especially the commercial corridors that actually have foot traffic. In uptown you’ve got not only Hennepin but the Lake/Lagoon split. In NIEBNA you’ve got 1st/E Hennepin/Central. In the north loop you’ve got Washington. I could keep going, but why do we not have ANY real pedestrian-first streets in this city? Nicollet barely counts because it’s got more space dedicated to sidewalk cafes than to actually walking and it’s pretty much the only street where car traffic is actually banned. Why do we have to treat all our ‘main streets’ and commercial corridors like car sewers to funnel out of towners to parking spots with no regard to the people who actually live there?

      1. Monte Castleman

        I guess the sidewalks and bicycle lanes on Hennepin were designed for motorists too since it is “essentially cars only”.

        How many of the motorists on Hennepin are suburbanites trying to reach their parking spaces as opposed to city of Minneapolis residents? Unless you’re coming from Columbia Heights there’s no real reason for suburbanites to use it.

        As for Nicollet, should we get rid of all the sidewalk cafes so there’s more sidewalk space.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

          The point is, we have limited rights of way on many urban streets – whether the space on a bridge deck that will last for many more decades, or the space between building faces on a street like Nicollet. So, we ought to have a discussion about how to achieve the highest use of these streets: Foremost, how do we create valuable places along a street, while also accommodating the highest amount of person-movement along the street?

          For this bridge, there are not bicycle lanes. There’s a narrow shoulder next to speeding cars which is often obstructed by debris. Additionally, there are at least two auto lanes which are not needed per traffic counts, at freeway-scale widths that are not congruous with the 30 MPH posted speed limit.

          Looking at this cross section https://goo.gl/maps/vvYNG or experiencing the Hennepin Ave Bridge by bicycle or walking, it’s clear that the bridge was designed essentially for cars only.

          1. John

            Matt, that may be your point, but that is not what Wayne said. Wayne asked, “Why do we have to treat all our ‘main streets’ and commercial corridors like car sewers.”

            Wayne, let’s not overgeneralize.

            1. Wayne

              Then please, point me to some thriving commercial corridors in this city with streets actually designed with pedestrians first in mind? Nicollet doesn’t count because it doesn’t have normal auto traffic allowed.

              Sidewalks are at best an afterthought in this city.

        2. Wayne

          Well if you want to argue semantics and ignore my actual point, sure, a lot of them are probably from further up in northeast in what is essentially suburban development patterns.

          And I was speaking of E/Hennepin/1st once you cross the bridge, not the bridge itself. Or Lake/Lagoon, etc. etc. These areas are pedestrian-hostile while supposedly being pedestrian-friendly commercial nodes. If this is the best we get then this city is pathetic.

          And I would actually like to get rid of sidewalk cafes, unless they can actually widen sidewalks and enforce keeping a clear walking path of a certain width.

  6. 72 Chrysler

    Because a drunken motorist struck a pedal pub, there needs to be protected lanes for bicyclists, and the remaining traffic (now seperated from bicycles and pedestrians), still needs to be ‘calmed’ for some reason.
    Of course, the reason isn’t to protect pedestrians or bicyclists, but to disrupt, to pimpede motorists.
    Friday there were two bikes on the bridge on my way north midday, coming back there were none. There were dozens of motorists. Bicycle usage is a joke. In winter, there’d be essentially zero usage- but the lanes would still be doing their jobs: impeding autos.
    Although it was mentioned the sidewalk was 12 feet wide, and a responder pointed it out, it’s completely ignored that bicycles use the side walk and are separated from traffic- Why? Because acknowledging it doesn’t fit the anti-car agenda.
    It must be a lonely fantasy world pretending the world is different than it actually is for the rest of us. Hold on the each other, it’s all you’ve got.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      The goal here is to “impede” motorists down to the posted speed limit, yes.

      I generally do ride on the sidewalk when I cross that bridge, but that doesn’t mean that the pedestrians for whom it is meant should have to deal with bikes on the sidewalk, especially when there is more than enough room on the bridge deck for a bike lane, and even a protected one.

      But you’re wrong that there is no winter biking (I see them, even though I’m generally not one of them) and you’re wrong to the extent that you mean to imply that bike facilities on the bridge wouldn’t lead to a lot more bikes using it.

      1. Wayne

        We do need to impede speeding cars on city streets down to safe speeds. Designing a bridge like a highway and expecting people to drive far slower than it appears designed for is stupid.

    2. Rosa

      I’ve been biking across that bridge (and down the downtown length of Hennepin, from Loring Park all the way to St Anthony Main) regularly since 1999; my husband has been bike commuting over that bridge all year round for a decade. We live here, we pay property taxes in this city that support the roads. We’re not second-class citizens of the city.

      Bikes shouldn’t use the sidewalk, it should be for pedestrians – especially as that whole riverfront area has gentrified, there are more and more pedestrians and they ALSO deserve to be safe. Bikes end up there because car drivers can’t be trusted not to wander out of their lane or accidentally hit someone.

  7. Julia

    With the closure of the lock/upriver barge traffic, could future bridges be lower? That would certainly help walking/biking design.

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