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.
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.
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.
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.
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!