Dangerous Intersection: 3rd Ave & 16th St

[This post originally appeared on Our Streets Minneapolis blog as part of highlighting the most dangerous intersections Minneapolis. The author is Jesse Peterson.]

The intersection of 3rd Ave and 16th St is a major interchange that users must pass through to access major downtown features. Features such as the convention center, an entrance to I-94, and the Stevens Square neighborhood, present significant challenges to drivers, cyclists, transit users and pedestrians alike in its current configuration. In this post I hope to highlight the ways in which this intersection’s setup and operation is dangerous for all users.

First we have the bus stop. This image is looking East on 16th towards the intersection. As we can see, there are no facilities for people waiting for the bus, no shelter, no bench, not even a trash can. Not ideal for the transit-dependent commuter for whom standing for extended periods is difficult.

This is 16th Street facing east, a little further up from the bus stop. It has a curb cut for right turning cars, which is helpful for preventing automobile backup. However, note that the bike lane here does not have a green-painted bicycle box. When drivers turning right have to cross the bike lane to make their turn, and there’s no box where cyclists can stack up waiting for the light to change, this can cause unnecessary friction between drivers and bikers who are “queuing” to go straight in the bike lane. Finally, the path from the sidewalk to the curb cut island does not have a marked crosswalk or a walk light, meaning that pedestrians have to rely on the goodwill of  right-turning drivers to cross.

This image gets to the heart of what makes this intersection dangerous and inefficient for all users. This is looking into the intersection toward the east from the center island. As we can see, vehicles turning left from both directions are not provided with a signal, even though the traffic light clearly has the requisite spaces. This leads to a dangerous situation in which drivers heading straight west on 16th choose to go around the cars turning left by passing on the right. The person in the red car in the image faces this dilemma–they likely cannot see around the bus to determine if there is a car coming through that intends to go straight. The driver also does not want to get stranded in the intersection when the light changes, leading to frequent hasty decisions and near misses. This is extra dangerous for cyclists. As we can see in the image showing the bike lane above, there is no means of turning left from it, meaning that cyclists have to move over to the left turn lane they share with cars.

This is looking southbound on 3rd Avenue. The bike lane here is shared with the right-turn lane for cars. All other directions in this intersection have curb cut islands which prevent this scenario, so it’s inconsistent and makes for uncomfortable interactions between cars and bikes. Sometimes, because drivers don’t always understand or acknowledge the hand signals used to indicate a turn by a cyclist, and not all cyclists use them, there exists a strong potential for dangerous misunderstandings. Curiously, the left turn signals for this part of the intersection are used even though the left turn signals for other directions are not.

Looking towards 16th Street from southbound 3rd Street, we can see that the left turn from eastbound 16th to northbound 3rd is quite a bit of distance to cover–especially if you’re on a bike. This presents a lot of time for someone to come shooting through the intersection from 16th going west. Again, there’s a lack of marking for the turn, either for bikes or cars, meaning that users have no visual guide to work with when making the turn.

Finally, we come to the ultimate cause of this intersection’s danger. This is 16th street looking west. Several problems are apparent. Unlike every other entrance to this intersection, there is no designated left turn lane. This is what causes impatient drivers to pass the cars queuing to make a left turn on the right. They cut off the bike lane in doing so and, most importantly, drivers and cyclists taking a left onto northbound 3rd Street from eastbound 16th cannot see them until they’re already in the intersection. The left turn arrow on the traffic light on this part of the intersection is, again, not in use.

The particular dangers of this intersection all have their root in the confusing design of this section. It doesn’t work for drivers, transit riders, cyclists or pedestrians. It fosters the sort of dangerous driving that causes so many of the surface-street accidents in our city, and the problems aren’t anything that requires a major redesign- a simple repaint of some of the traffic lanes and a reconfiguration of the traffic light sequencing would relieve a lot of the pressure.

What are your experiences with 3rd Ave and 16th St? Follow #mplsintersections on Facebook and Twitter to join the conversation.

Is there an intersection you would like Our Streets Minneapolis to highlight? Contact Frances to let us know and get involved.

All photos taken by Jesse Peterson.

About Frances Stevenson

Frances Stevenson is a communications professional for a Twin Cities nonprofit. Her background is in professional journalism. When not advocating, biking, walking or contacting her elected officials, she can found reading or finding dogs to pet.

7 thoughts on “Dangerous Intersection: 3rd Ave & 16th St

  1. Janne Flisrand

    I ride this intersection almost daily, and have for more than two decades. It’s uncomfortable to be sure, but I don’t think it’s a confusing design. I think it’s that both 3rd and 16th are WAY overbuilt and WAY too wide for the amount of traffic. That causes drivers to speed, and invites drivers to swerve/pass when the right thing to do is to wait.

    Every single slip ramp should be removed. There’s no excuse for freeway-style design in the neighborhood. There’s no congestion, there’s no need to drive fast. Have people make sharp right-hand turns.

    3rd north of the intersection, along the Convention Center has no business being a four-lane street. (I hear that may be changing this summer? Anyone able to confirm that?)

    16th west of the intersection, also along the Convention Center, has excessively wide lanes and almost always unused parking on both sides of the street (for who knows who on the north side and for convention-related semis for the once-in-a-great-while conventions that need them). Let’s take some of that space back for trees, or protecting the bikeways here.

    16th east of the intersection could also be narrowed, although it’s not as bad on this side.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      So I really really dislike slip lanes / Bloomington rights, too, but they are sometimes the best option for an intersection with a big skew. The alternative option would be a conventional intersection with a very large curb radius on two of the corners, and probably with the crosswalks set way back.

      In this case, 16th is straight east-west, and 3rd Ave is going diagonally over to Clinton Ave to get around the Convention Center addition. It would be hard to fix this without a pretty big intersection. They might be able to make the NE porkchop have a bit more of a right-angle intersection, rather than the curving free right. But that would be hard to do on SW corner without modifying the freeway overpass.

      Nerdy detail: it’s funny to me that this is 16th Street for only 1,300 feet. You’d think they would have just called this through route 15th Street even though it is technically on 16th. I think the north-south street here is called 3rd, even though at least one building (the parking ramp at 1425 Clinton) is on “Clinton”, on 3rd.

    2. Jesse Peterson

      Yeah I think the width is a part of what I was getting at – there’s just so much space to navigate. The main interaction I’ve had with it is taking the left onto 3rd from 16th and I’m no slowpoke, but the amount of ground one has to cover to get out of the oncoming lane is daunting. It seems like it’s optimized for handling situations where there’s a lot of traffic to and from the convention centers and that just doesn’t seem to happen as often as they may have thought when they did the initial design. Thanks for your comments folks.

      1. Sam Jones

        I would guess the bigger traffic generator is the access to on-ramps to both directions of both 94 and 35W for PM rush hour.

  2. Sam Jones

    Hard agree with Janne, the root problem with this intersection is that 3rd and 16th are both massively overbuilt. I’ve lived in Stevens Square for 3 years and I can’t overstate how significant a blow to quality of life the design of 3rd is for my neighborhood.

    Both 3rd and 16th function as on-ramps – in addition to the immediate safety problems at this intersection, both streets’ primary function seems to be to funnel cars in and out of Minneapolis (specifically to and from 94 and 35W) during rush hour, straight through the densest parts of the city with the most significant car-free populations.

    Here’s how the area has changed since 1938: https://twitter.com/scjsundae/status/994693454205681664

    3rd was reconstructed in 2002 (?) around the convention center expansion, which means it hits 19th at a weird angle, and we end up with slip lanes on two corners. I’m guessing the southbound 11 wouldn’t be able to make that right turn without the slip lane.

    I have very frequently seen long lines of convention center trucks parked not only on the north side of 16th, but also basically all winter in the southbound bike lane on 3rd, often all the way up to 12th.

    I don’t think either of the pork chop pedestrian refuges was cleared of snow once this winter. There may have been a half-hearted attempt, but part of the problem is that the ADA curb cut on the southwest corner is about 30 feet west of the most natural point to try to cross. It’s also baffling that the sidewalk on the south side of 16th east of this intersection just… ends… really suddenly, with no way to get across to the sidewalk on the other side.

    I pretty regularly have to make the left turn from eastbound 16th to southbound 3rd on a bike, which is always stressful, always confusing, and very often terrifying. And on top of everything else, the way the 3rd Ave bike lane ends here is like… mean. There’s plenty of room on the bridge to extend the protected lanes at least to 17th St. There’s a whole painted median on the bridge that’s not serving any real purpose right now, just taking up space and allowing cars to drive faster.

    And I don’t bike on 3rd between the bridge and Franklin anymore, ever. It’s way, way, way too dangerous. Which is a shame, because it should be an excellent direct connection to the bike lanes on 26th and 28th! A straight shot from the Wedge/Whittier/Phillips to Government Plaza Station and Northeast!

  3. Monte Castleman

    Adding phases to traffic signal that aren’t justified by traffic volumes might increase safety but it absolutely does not increase efficiency for all users. In fact it decreases it substantially because you have more wasted time between phases in the cycle, more time through traffic and pedestrians aren’t allowed to use the intersection, etc. That’s why engineers are so wild about flashing yellow arrows- you can now use any phase arrangement- permissive, protected/permissive, or protected only at the same intersection at different times on the same day depending on traffic volume. Previously to switch to or from protected only you had to go out and mount a new signal head.

    I was there at around 6 in the afternoon today. Southbound 3rd had a protected / permissive and the rest of the directions were protected only. Just turning on the green and yellow arrows and going to protected / permissive for 16th wouldn’t solve the red car dilemma since it might arrive after the green arrow has gone out leaving just the green ball in the permissive phase, the situation in the picture. Although the red car dilemma is extremely common the solution here is to build a turn lane and then continue to use whatever phasing is appropriate for traffic volumes.

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