It was Spring 2015. Winter was done and my bike was ready to go.
I’d heard that a two-way protected bikeway had been installed on 36th St W during the previous fall and was excited to get out and try it. I’m obsessed with bicycle infrastructure and had never ridden a two-way protected bikeway before, so this would be a first for me. I looked on the city’s page for the bikeway and saw that, although the protected bikeway only went to Dupont, bike lanes would be painted for two blocks to connect to Bryant, a major bike route.
So, I pedaled my way south on Bryant all the way to 36th Street. I turned right, and…
… nothing. Not even a sharrow. What a nasty surprise.
If I wasn’t an enthusiastic and confident cyclist (most people aren’t), I would’ve turned back. But, I figured I’d risk life and limb to bike the two blocks to the protected bikeway. I figured there’d at least be a clear way for bicyclists to to transition from westbound 36th to the bikeway, which is on the opposite side of the street.
Nope. That doesn’t count. It’s helpful to know that I should transition to the south side of the street, but the sign really needs to tell me how to do that safely. And no, there were no helpful markings in the intersection.
It’s the connectivity, stupid
This case is indicative of the importance of connecting bikeways to each other right away. In the Hennepin County Bicycle Plan, 81 percent of the people interviewed identified physical barriers, including gaps in the bikeway system, as a primary reason they don’t bike more.
In this case, because of the missing connection, most people living west of Dupont could only get to Bryant by taking 36th to Calhoun to the Midtown Greenway. Not very convenient.
Some may say, “Hey, they got the connection made in less than a year! That’s pretty quick!” Not quick enough. It’s likely those interested-but-concerned bikers tried 36th Street when it first opened and discovered there was no connection to Bryant Avenue. Some may have decided, “Well, maybe biking for transportation isn’t safe for me” and haven’t tried since. They might not ever try again. Also, because of this late connection, 36th Street probably left the bad impression that this type of bikeway is short and doesn’t get you anywhere.
Minding the gap
Thankfully, the importance of connections and of filling in gaps is starting to be noticed. The Hennepin County Bike Plan puts a large focus on filling in gaps in the County’s bikeway system. In the City of Minneapolis’ Protected Bikeways Master Plan, filling the gap in the Hiawatha Trail is designated as a “Tier 2” bikeway to be completed by 2020.
However, even though there’s so much focus on filling big gaps, small gaps like the one at 36th still fall through the cracks. Minneapolis might run out of time to paint before construction season ends. There might be a delay in a utility project. Or there may be a completely different reason.
In a perfect world, there would be an effective temporary measure put in place. However, I realize that’s not always feasible, and that sometimes the best they can muster is a sign with a diagonal arrow.
Today in 36th Street bicycling
Now, fast forward to last week: the bike lanes were painted. I biked down Bryant again and turned right into a bike lane.
Much better! Then, I got to 36th and Dupont. Gone was the useless sign, and in its place was a bright green two-stage turn!
It may not be a protected bikeway all the way to Bryant, but there’s paint that makes it very clear where everyone should be on the road and how to transition onto the protected bikeway.
I predict that ridership on 36th Street will skyrocket with this new connection. With a connection to Bryant, which had ridership of 730 daily in the area last year, 36th Street is now a vital connection to Uptown, Downtown, the Greenway, and the rest of South Minneapolis.
This just goes to show that a bike network is only as good as it’s weakest (or nonexistent) link. I’m excited to see what’ll happen as Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis create and strengthen those links over the next twenty-five years.