Getting To School By 5th Street NE On Bikes

By my count there are six schools on or one block off of Jefferson Street in Northeast Minneapolis. From the trail at 18th Avenue NE to 4th Avenue SE, there’s Spero Academy/Heartwood Montessori, Sheridan Elementary, Webster Elementary, Aveda Institute, Marcy Open School, and the University of Minnesota.

5th Street NE is a bicycle boulevard and a perfect street to use as a baseline for riding to school, either as an adult or with kids. Here we will pay particular attention to riding with kids, as there are four elementary schools on Jefferson. I will show my own route to Marcy Open School through pictures and commentary.

 

From the Logan Park area, I hit 13th Avenue NE to get to 5th. This street is exceptionally wide and parking is never near capacity. Running parallel to Broadway and directly linked to many cultural hot spots, this street is more heavily traveled by drivers than it would otherwise be if the way weren’t so “free.” Given the space, drivers generally go in excess of the speed limit, which makes this a frustratingly busy street to ride with children. On it, my kids and I were cut off by a tow truck. When I confronted the driver, I was told we “should have been riding on the sidewalk.”

There is more than enough space to incorporate more substantial cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, without even taking away available on-street parking. Since this is a connecting route between many major local brewpubs, restaurants, and bars, it would make sense to transform this a more “complete street.” From here we proceed to the bicycle boulevard, unless we are going to Sheridan Elementary, in which case we would go one block further and turn left at 4th.

Our first school is offscreen on the right

From 18th to Broadway, 5th is a somewhat narrow street. More often than not, both sides are “filled” with parked cars. Throw in some handsome roundabouts and this section, small though it is, is generally pleasant for riding. The bike “beg button” at Broadway is one of the only such buttons in the entire city that quickly responds to the call and clearly prioritizes 5th’s function as a bicycle travel-way.

Wide open spaces

Crossing Broadway we enter into a much broader portion of 5th. Much like 13th it is far too wide and sparsely bordered by parked cars, so even though there is ample room for cars to gently pass, often drivers impatiently speed by, not taking the full available room. On this section of 5th my children and I have been harassed by drivers multiple times, one even yelling for us to “Get the F&*k off the road!”

At 6th Ave NE, a door-zone bicycle lane appears and we file in just as 5th, Washington, 6th, and Spring join in a cacophonous fusion of intersections. Here our third elementary school, the newly refurbished Webster, appears on our left. There is a “bike lane” painted on the northbound side, but it is half-curb, includes dangerous grates, and is host to plenty of road debris.

Continuing south, the lane moves along parked cars on the right. This portion of the street also is parked far under capacity. Curb-separated cycle tracks would make sense here, as well as for the whole of 5th from Broadway to 1st Ave NE, which street we are fast approaching.

 

 

Nice Ride station for nearby apartments and duplexes

Kids often struggle up the incline from 3rd to 1st and drivers often pass rather close. There is no northbound lane for half the block here as it disappears at the bridge over the train tracks. Here the lane should be moved to the right, spacially differentiated by parked cars and a curb, with a bump-out at 5th and 1st.

We keep building new apartments here but not space for more vulnerable road users

Drivers take whatever space they want here, and indeed are given it

Giant crash at 1st and 5th we encountered riding our bicycles to school as a family

Which brings us to 1st, by far the most dangerous intersection of this little ride. Straddling a monstrous gulf much larger than six car lanes could fill, drivers heading into downtown fly by, unchecked, at 40 or more miles per hour. And why wouldn’t they, when the street is so farcically overbuilt?

This entire stretch of 1st needs a drastic road diet. The seemingly forgotten Central-Nicollet rail line will probably pass into downtown here, but who knows when or even if this lamentably late bit of public infrastructure will come? In the meantime, with the southbound bike lane having disappeared at the apex of the bridge, we all just pile somewhere near the base and hope there is a break in traffic on 1st. Drivers heading down 1st do not yield for pedestrians and cyclists here, though they are legally obligated to. Drivers turning right from 5th onto 1st are just as anxious for a chance to proceed and often cut off vulnerable road users attempting to cross. The block of 5th from 1st to E Hennepin is also comically wide. In place of another door-zone paint lane, there should be a raised cycle track.

We move to another cluster of intersecting one and two-way streets. 5th, Hennepin, and Central collide, and the mix of signals for cars and for pedestrians make it a tough little section to navigate with young children on bikes. Once again, the bike lanes disappear.

After crossing Central, we return to sharrows on an overly broad section that transitions from a two-way street to a one-way just one block up at 2nd (where one would turn right to go to Aveda).

Passing 2nd, 5th turns into a one way southbound street with a narrow northbound bike lane. There are no sharrows on this portion but it seems to be understood that that’s what’s going on. Marcy Open K-8 school is here on the right. The street continues like this until it hits 35W where you can pass over on the pedestrian bridge to Dinkytown and the University campus, though one is likely not bringing children this way.

One can see readily how 5th is both convenient – since it has been a bicycle boulevard for long enough at this point that cyclists are expected by drivers – and also wildly inconsistent. There is no unifying design: It moves speedily, often block to block, from narrow shared spaces with traffic-calming measures, to ultra-wide streets. Occasional painted door-zone lanes disappear into the ether and broad two-way streets turn into gentle one-way sections almost (but not quite) reminiscent of a woonerf. But where it’s dangerous, it’s incredibly dangerous, in no way reassuring to children, beginning cyclists, or the less-able.

From at least Broadway to 2nd there is ample room for more serious, safe, physically separated cycling infrastructure with little to no parking penalty. If as a city we are committed to the safety and well-being of all its citizens, we should transform 5th into what it truly wants to be!

 

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17 Responses to Getting To School By 5th Street NE On Bikes

  1. Jeremy Hop
    Jeremy H September 21, 2017 at 10:07 am #

    The beg button at Midtown Greenway and Park also reacts instantly to a push.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 21, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

      Good to know!

    • Steve Brandt September 21, 2017 at 7:56 pm #

      So does 40th and Lyndale.

  2. Jason Goray September 21, 2017 at 10:55 am #

    Crossing 1st Ave NE really can be a nightmare for anyone on bike/foot/wheelchair. I’ve flagged city council and 311 about in numerous times and fear how many injuries have to happen before something is done to fix it.

    An additional issue that intersection has is while some people are traveling fast, others are going slow either because they want to turn or the light is turning red up on 4th Ave — this turns it into a live-action version of frogger which would be hilarious if the consequences weren’t so severe.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 21, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

      Truly a nightmare. And I cross it at least twice daily

  3. Alex Tsatsoulis
    Alex Tsatsoulis September 21, 2017 at 3:51 pm #

    Thanks for this perspective! certainly a lot of challenges and a LOT of room for improvement on those streets. 1st Ave NE and E Hennepin Ave in particular will be repaved soon – Our Streets Minneapolis is pulling together a workgroup to discuss improving intersection safety and other improvements! We’ll probably do a streets.mn post as that starts coming together.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 21, 2017 at 5:41 pm #

      We’ve got even more new buildings coming in right in that part of town. If we don’t take measures soon it’ll only become worse

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke September 21, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

        Completely agree! These obsolete industrial death-trap streets need to go.

  4. Keith Morris September 21, 2017 at 6:26 pm #

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that our bike boulevards are half assed. I took the ones on 5th and 22nd a lot when I lived in NE. The only times motorists slowed down was when there was a speed hump and at traffic circles when they were first installed before they figured out how to speed around them.

    5th in particular needs 1st have the same treatment that Broadway has: no car access and a cyclist prompted bike signal. If bike boulevards are supposed to prioritize cyclists then they should do so especially at major intersections. Just as you experienced, the mid-block traffic calming is all but non-existent and results in the number of cyclists choosing it over other streets capped at a small percentage. It does little good to calm traffic at intersections but allow motorists to speed down the rest of the block. Incremental improvements seem to be off the table once a bike boulevard is installed، since I’ve never seen additional traffic calming added years after the bike boulevards were “completed”. It’s almost like they shouldn’t bother with such facilities; just cover a street in speed humps and call it a day.

    Oh also, there is an example of a 3 lane oneway with speed bumps at the entrance to Rosedale Mall from Fairview Ave. Works fine there with neither the private property owner or the City of Roseville calling for their removal. Just sub humps for bumps and it would likewise work just fine on 1st between Central and Main.

  5. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson September 21, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    I’m leaning to needing an anti-bike-harassment law that cities like Sunnyvale, CA, have. Much like aggressive driving road rage laws, drivers who deliberately harass and cut off cyclists should get fined and moving violation citations. When it’s a kid involved the fines are doubled.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke September 21, 2017 at 9:38 pm #

      Care to write something about that for streets.mn?

      • Eric Anondson
        Eric Anondson September 21, 2017 at 11:14 pm #

        As I am not a lawyer I worry about making a serious blunder trying to cover it with justice. I can try and come up with something to generally talk about the subject…

  6. Serafina Scheel
    Serafinas September 22, 2017 at 8:36 am #

    Nice article! My only quibble is the idea that no one would be biking with kids east of the 35W pedestrian bridge. There’s the wonderful Minniapple Montessori on 5th St. SE which many parents bike to, and it’s a nice bikeway for SE Como residents with children to get to the stores and restaurants near Hennepin and Central. My kid still has such fond memories of what he called the Jail Bridge over the highway and the long slow spiral down to the other side.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

      I was unaware of this school. Thanks for filling out the picture!

  7. mplsjaromir September 22, 2017 at 9:41 am #

    Thank you for this! NE can be great, but the “downtown” area’s streets are waaay too wide. Documenting and sharing this perspective hopefully moves the city/county to action.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 22, 2017 at 12:01 pm #

      As bad as these are Central, University, Broadway, and Lowry are at least as bad. NE is full of extremely dangerous roads

      • mplsjaromir September 26, 2017 at 9:04 am #

        Tell me about it, I lived on Johnson.

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