What’s Wrong With This Picture?

A person driving a car on the Midtown Greenway

A person driving a car on the Midtown Greenway

On Saturday, May 7, Scott and I walked a stretch of the Midtown Greenway, a 5.5 mile bicycle and pedestrian trail that runs parallel to Lake Street. Traffic was heavier than usual because of the Bike MS: Twin Cities Ride. The trail had a race day vibe with lots of cyclists playing music and pedestrians cheering on the racers (OK, maybe that was just me). So, it took me a while to register that a car was coming towards us. For a split second I thought it was a pace car. Then I remembered this was not a NASCAR race.

Cyclists on the Midtown Greenway near painted stairs leading to Chicago Avenue S

Cyclists on the Midtown Greenway

I had just taken a picture of the painted steps leading up to Chicago Avenue S. so my camera was at the ready and I was able to snap a few photos of the incident.

The driver likely saw me taking photos and sped up so we planned to use the photos to get the license plate information. We looked up from the phone in time to discover someone was already reporting the incident. A few moments later we heard sirens and soon thereafter saw flashing lights. By that point the driver was too far away for us to witness what happened next, but my husband Scott said it looked like the driver was being escorted off the Greenway.

An Upsetting Scene

Thankfully, to my knowledge, nobody was hurt by the driver. However, all of the “what if” scenarios rattled through my brain the rest of the day. In addition to worrying about cyclists on the MS Bike Ride, the person I witnessed reporting the incident was with a toddler who seemed new to walking on her own. I was shaken at the thought of this young child being hit by a driver on a trail that her parents assumed was free of cars. This took place in broad daylight so I also wondered how this may have ended differently if someone drove a car on the trail at night.

How Did This Happen?

While I use the Greenway occasionally, I’m not familiar with it enough to understand how this could even happen. When I’m on this particular stretch of the trail (Cedar Avenue S. to Nicollet Avenue S.) I feel completely isolated from cars. In fact, that’s why we chose to walk along the trail–we needed a break from car traffic. I asked a fellow walker how this could happen and they told me that it’s possible to turn onto the trail in a vehicle from 5th Avenue S.

Once we reached 5th Avenue I could confirm it is possible for vehicles to turn onto the trail. To those of us familiar with the Greenway it probably seems like a no-brainer that it is reserved for bicycles and pedestrians only. I’d like to step back and consider what the experience is like for a person new to the area, or to driving for that matter.

Intersection at Midtown Greenway and 5th Avenue S

Intersection at Midtown Greenway and 5th Avenue S

The above photo shows the traffic signs a driver sees when stopped at the intersection of Midtown Greenway and 5th Avenue S facing north. A stop sign with “no parking” and “cross traffic does not stop” signs. The street sign has two small green signs with a bicycle symbol.

No Motor Vehicles Sign visible when moving east on Midtown Greenway

No Motor Vehicles Sign visible when moving east on Midtown Greenway

The above photo of the “No Motor Vehicles” sign was taken on 5th Avenue S facing east.

How Often Does This Happen?

I was hoping I happened to witness a rare event. I sent a direct message via Twitter to the Midtown Greenway Coalition asking them how often it happens and they replied “Unfortunately it happens every so often. Best thing to do would be to try to signal to them and or call nine-one-one.” Besides first responders and maintenance vehicles, have you ever witnessed cars being driven on the Midtown Greenway?

What Should or Could Change?

I’ll offer that at a minimum, the signs at all intersections where drivers could turn onto the Greenway should be redesigned.

I’m used to observing sign designs favoring drivers but ironically, in this case, the “no motorized vehicles” is sized and positioned so it’s easier to read for pedestrians and cyclists than drivers whom I’ll assume are the target audience for this message.

Street sign at Midtown Greenway and 5th Avenue S

Street sign at Midtown Greenway and 5th Avenue S

Additionally, the street name signs at the intersection use the same design as the signs used on the growing network of streets that have both car and bicycle traffic. Should we be concerned that this may cause confusion?

Do you have sign redesign ideas? Have you seen effective signs at trail intersections? Beyond signs, are there other things that could be put in place to prevent drivers from turning onto the Greenway and other bicycle and pedestrian trails? Please add your thoughts in the comments on anything that could or should change to prevent drivers from ending up on the Greenway.

Related Information

As I was writing this post, I found a few resources that were directly or tangentially relevant to this discussion that may be of interest:

Future streets.mn Post Ideas

It turns out that I have more questions than answers on the topic of traffic signs. Maybe you have some knowledge or opinions to share in response to this post or my list of questions. You do? Great! You should leave a comment or consider writing for streets.mn.

  • Traffic sign design for all: best practices for creating and placing signs for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
  • Who decides which traffic signs are used where?
  • Who to contact with traffic sign complaints or problems?
  • Who makes the traffic signs used in Minnesota?
  • How much does a custom event traffic sign cost and who pays for it? (e.g. “Road closed for event, May 8, 11 AM to 7 PM”)
  • Where are traffic signs stored when not in use?
  • What happens to traffic signs when they are removed?
Janelle Nivens

About Janelle Nivens

Janelle is an urban explorer who likes to challenge herself to walk long distances (40 miles is her record). She lives in southwest Minneapolis with Scott and their adorable dog Stewie and works at the University of Minnesota. Janelle documents what catches her eye on long walks in hopes of inspiring others to discover hidden gems in their own communities. Walk with her on Instagram, Twitter (@Janellie23), and FitBit.