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.

28 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

    1. SuperQ

      Yup, no amount of signs are going to help. Bollards are the only way to keep most drivers off of pavement they don’t belong on. But even with bollards, I’m sure a few will find their way onto the greenway.

      Google search for “driver in muni tunnel” and you’ll find plenty of cars stuck in the train tunnels in San Francisco.

      1. Nick

        Just scroll back through Metro Transit’s twitter feed and you’ll see at least three instances of cars getting stuck on the tracks on the lower level of the Washington Ave Bridge in the past year. Could be more, that’s just what I remember reading about.

    2. Rosa

      there have to be entrances wide enough for utility trucks, ambulances, and police vehicles. There aren’t many of them but they have to exist.

      1. Janne

        There are (removable) bollards on the Cedar Lake Trail on either side of the Twins Stadium — and all the same maintenance and emergency vehicle stuff applies there as on the Greenway. Why not use the same bollards?

        1. Rosa

          Does the Cedar Lake trail get the same level of maintenance traffic and police traffic? I don’t ride it as often as the Greenway but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a truck or police car on it. The Greenway has a utility truck, landscape/cleanup crew, or police car on it almost every time I ride it.

          1. Jeff

            I ride on the Cedar Lake trail daily and often see utility trucks doing trail maintenance.

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    My bike commute enters/exits the greenway at 5th Ave S. (And this morning, I had a maintenance pickup truck coming towards me near that intersection). The intersection is closely spaced with 29th St, and has difficult sightlines.

    Considering that 29th Street is a thing south of the greenway from 2nd Ave (35W) to Portland, and that 2nd / 4th / Portland bridge over the greenway… It would be appropriate to close down the 5th Ave grade crossing for motor vehicle traffic. The remaining 5th Ave stub north of the greenway could be a cul-de-sac, or somehow turn around in the Urban Ventures parking lot.

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    I’m sure they need to allow emergency responders to get vehicles there, as well as maintenance vehicles too. Any barriers need to allow them in too. Plus we have the at grade crossings just west of Hennepin.

    I’m a fan of the retractable bollards used in London.

  3. Jeremy HopJeremy Hop

    Bollards such as on cedar Lake trail near the ballpark. Need for maintenance vehicles to be able to access the trail. Have the bollards retract down when a maintenance person needs vehicle access. Up for default operations.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Here’s one option, but it’s signage overload. https://goo.gl/maps/KNB6sxVSRNs
    This example from my neighborhood includes medians on both streets, plus multiple signs for vehicular traffic:
    – Do Not Enter (Except Bikes)
    – Right Turn Pohibited
    – No Turns
    I’m generally a fan of design that aids people’s natural sense of where they can be and where they shouldn’t be, rather than relying on signage overload to do the job.

    1. fIEtser

      Yes, some “No Turns” signs (and appropriately-sized “No Motor Vehicles” signage too) should be adequate to convey the message.

  5. Monte Castleman

    I actually have a three part article about warrants for signs and signals in development. But generally speaking:

    * Just like signals, there’s specific warrants for 4-Way stop signs. Two way stop signs and warning signs have suggestions for use, but no warrants. The recommendation is AADT of 2000 for a 2-way stop, (which I doubt a lot of the Minneapolis “basket-weave” intersections meet)

    *Warning signs should warn of an isolated, unexpected condition and be clear what action to take. A highly inappropriate sign would be “Slow-Children at Play” (Warns of an ordinary condition in residential areas and thus contributes to motorist disrespect of all signs), An appropriate sign would be “20 MPH curve ahead”.

    *The agency responsible for the road generally puts up signs, Mn/DOT, Hennepin County, Minneapolis Public Works, etc, unless there’s an agreement, like the city of Minneapolis owns and maintains (and gets funding for) all traffic signals on Mn/DOT roads in the city.

    * There’s been cases where politicians have decided to play traffic engineer and order a stop sign put up because it seems like a good idea for them. Or residents will even buy a “Slow Children” sign after engineers rightfully refuse to put one up, and install it themselves. You can buy a road sign for $100 or so on the internet.

    * A Stearns County audit found 1/3rd of highway signs are not needed.

    * Used signs may have a new screening applied if the blank is in good shape, otherwise they get tossed into the metal recycling bin.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Drivers turn into our street off Excelsior at high speed, at worst going 40 because of the severely rounded corners, so a neighbor bought on of those little yellow “child holding a flag” signs and planted it in the parking lane on our street.

  6. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    > “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.”

    This is a good critique — they should be more conscientious about the similarity between these. I do like that they label the trails like streets — it’s handy for navigation. But perhaps they should be more obviously distinct from the streets that permit motor vehicles.

    I am not in favor of bollards or other obstacles. These add unnecessary danger to bicyclists, to prevent something that isn’t all that dangerous, or that common.

    1. Monte Castleman

      That was my thought, It would seem to be obvious I was on a bicycle lane, but I can see why someone might enter it initially by mistake. Sure looks like a regular street sign to me. I’m assuming they’re using a standard steel design to save money, but I don’t think this is a good idea.

    1. Jeff

      Bollards have a double bonus of being speed control. I’m so tired of spandex clad passholes trying to crush KOM’s on the Greenway. Make the bollards plastic with enough room for bike trailers to safely pass through.

  7. Jeff

    Bollards have a double bonus of being speed control. I’m so tired of spandex clad passholes trying to crush KOM’s on the Greenway. Make the bollards plastic with enough room for bike trailers to safely pass through.

    1. Nick M

      the strava segments on the greenway are oft flagged as dangerous, removed, then recreated in a never ending cycle. the thing about bollards is they are not going to stop people from chasing KOMs in dumb places. All it will do is add an extra layer of danger. i think the bollards would have the effect of slowing everyone down except the people you specifically want to slow down. i dont know what the solution is for getting people to ride on the greenway respectfully but i dont think bollards would improve things.

      i will say that i have seen two people crash into the plastic bollards they added in front of freewheel midtown and have almost clipped my bars on them myself, despite knowing good and well they are there. neither crash i witnessed ended up being particularly bad, nothing worse than some bumps and scrapes and possibly a broken laptop in one of the guys bags. both crashes happened at dusk. white plastic is not an ideal color for bollards as at dusk, when its light enough so lights dont make a difference but just dark enough that your vision is just reduced (sort of like riding on a very cloudy day, like this afternoon!), the white bollards really blend into the background. at night with lights they stand out due to the reflective elements and during the day you can just plain see em, but there is a specific color to the day where they get hard to see.

      Not that I support the bollards there, but if they did put them in, it would be better if they were fluro yellow or pink or orange, something that pops.

  8. Eric

    Somewhat off-topic, but after years of riding on the Midtown Greenway (but only occasionally), I still don’t feel as comfortable as I should because it is not clear what is supposed to happen at intersections with the avenues. There are marked cross walks, but also stop signs. What does that stop sign mean? Cars have to stop for me, but I am supposed to stop before I cross? It just doesn’t make any sense and adds ambiguity and unnecessary stress to what should be an enjoyable bikeway.

    1. Rosa

      Yes! Many of the intersections are really badly signed/designed, especially for the levels of traffic they get. I spent some time trying to track down what the stupid “cars are always supposed to stop but they have yield signs and bikes have stop signs” design means and got a lot of conflicting answers, so it’s not surprising that people using the intersections interpret them a lot of different ways. And then add in the (high) percentage of all users that just ignore the signs anyway.

  9. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Places like The Netherlands, Copenhagen, Sweden, Germany, and others are removing bollards. They have found that they cause more injuries than problems they prevent. What they have found to work best is red asphalt (we’d likely use green?) which sends a very clear message to drivers that something is a bikeway rather than roadway.

    They had begun to cut back on using it due to cost (about 20% more than standard black) but have reversed that as they’ve found that the benefits of a good solid color bikeway (that doesn’t wear off) are considerable. Bikeways that take a completely different route from a roadway (like the greenway) will still be black but anywhere they junction with a roadway will be red for about 40 meters each side of the junction to clearly indicate that it is a bikeway.

    As a side note, there are many bikeways in The Netherlands that also serve as driveways to access some homes. Only those who live there are allowed to use them and they are well aware that they are a guest on the bikeway. I believe these will always be red asphalt.

  10. Joe ScottJoe

    I once watched a car turn onto the greenway from 28th st and then get off at the 18th ave. ramp. I’m sure if they just stuck one of the flimsy plastic bollards in the middle of the path at intersections it would solve the problem, and maintenance vehicles could drive over it.

    1. Reilly

      ^^ This. It’s done in a number of places in Shakopee to ease emergency-vehicle access from main roads to the inside of de-gridded subdivision hell. In and of itself, it’s a useful tool. (Although every time I see one in a suburban setting, I take it as the city’s tacit acknowledgement of the wastefulness and inefficiency of its street network design…)



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