Waiting For a Sign: ‘Don’t Block the Intersection’

The secret is out. Drivers are needlessly, pointlessly blocking downtown intersections, causing backups of Metro Transit buses, as Bill Lindeke detailed in an article for MinnPost (“Is there a solution for the buses vs. blockers bottleneck in downtown Minneapolis?“).

The problem is acute at certain points, such as where Nicollet Mall meets Washington Avenue South in a T. During a weekday evening commute last week, I saw several cars come to a dead halt in the intersection and hold up at least three buses in each of three directions (for a total of nine or 10 buses). It took a while to clear and involved one of the buses backing up. Nothing in this picture was moving, or did move for several minutes, except the people on foot.

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Photo by Chris Steller

In the MinnPost article, Lindeke reports that “there are some ideas for improving the box-blocking problem. These include better signage.”

Yes! Better signage would be an excellent place to start. In fact, forget better — just put up any sign at all telling drivers not to block the intersection. It could be a fancy sign with a diagram as in Nick Magrino’s tweet:

But we’ve had this problem only since May, and maybe fancy diagram signs take longer, so how about a purely verbal sign? Something simple, in the vein of the “BIKE LANE CLOSED” sign a few blocks east on Washington. Those seem to pop up all over. The sign could say, “DON’T BLOCK THE INTERSECTION.” It could look like this:

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Photo by Chris Steller

That sign, in fact, stands a block away at Washington and Hennepin. It’s on metal feet so you can move it wherever is best. Get two of those made and put one on each side of Washington at Nicollet, facing traffic. Why has no one done this?

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14 Responses to Waiting For a Sign: ‘Don’t Block the Intersection’

  1. Patrick August 12, 2019 at 9:56 am #

    This issue being my hobbyhorse for some time, my feeling is that local officials do not really care about this. Oddly, the only ones really agitating for change are the suburban opt-outs!

    The City of Minneapolis and Metro Transit take one of three positions:

    1) Not talking about it
    2) Not acknowledging it’s a big problem
    3) Not willing to do anything about it

    It’s a pretty pathetic response from a city that seems to be focused on big, structural change in some areas but is quick to throw up their hands and walk away from others.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt August 12, 2019 at 11:32 am #

      Cars in our downtown have become a barrier, rather than an aid, to mobility for the majority of people downtown. It’s simply a matter of geometry.

  2. Chris Steller August 12, 2019 at 10:27 am #

    Here’s the nitty gritty on what’s going on in that first photo where nothing was moving. (It would be hard to get this across in anything but a short, very boring movie.)

    The bus in the foreground, heading north on Nicollet Mall, thought they’d be able to turn left into the always-clear right turn lane of Washington Avenue South, from where they’d turn right onto Hennepin. But a few west-bound cars on Washington blocked the intersection when the traffic in front of them stopped for a red light, so the bus had to stop right way up at the intersection instead of back about a bus length where they normally stop.

    That meant the bus at left didn’t have room to turn from eastbound Washington into the narrow opening of Nicollet Mall, although it had started to try. This was the bus that tried backing up, I think to give the eastbound buses (seen at right) a chance with their better angle to turn left onto the Nicollet Mall. But (I think) the bus at left couldn’t back up far enough. So it was three-way gridlock for three minutes or so where all nine or ten buses wanted to turn and none of them could, all caused by about three cars entering an intersection they couldn’t clear.

  3. Monte Castleman August 12, 2019 at 10:31 am #

    Those Austin signs are likely not MUTCD compliant. You’re allowed to use text to address situations for which a standard sign does not exist, but not symbols, The general idea is that motorists who are not from the area don’t have to play “Pictionary” if they see a symbol they’re not familiar with this.

    I’m thinking a MUTCD standard sign, R10-7 “Do not Block Intersection” could be used.

  4. Rosa August 12, 2019 at 11:18 am #

    I remember the last don’t block the box campaign and it came with no consequences for drivers. Tickets that cost actual money would change this behavior fast I bet. But the most anyone will get if there is anything is warnings, so nothing will change

  5. UrbanDelite August 12, 2019 at 1:02 pm #

    Minneapolis is all talk no action on day to day pedestrian and transit issues. There is no traffic enforcement for various reasons; lack of resources, priorities etc. That leaves us with few options to take action in situations like this.

    Who does one contact to request block the box signs? 311, or the local city council member? These issues are less clear than having a boulevard tree trimmed, or other straight forward city service.

  6. Karl August 12, 2019 at 1:51 pm #

    I would love to see one person that currently directs traffic at intersections/out of parking garages that stations at a different corner of Marquette or Nicollet solely ticketing cars where they’re not supposed to be: blocking intersections, in bus lanes, or in bike lanes. Until people see enforcement, there’s really no disincentive for the drivers beyond maybe a minute of feeling guilty.

  7. Chris Shillock August 12, 2019 at 8:23 pm #

    They desperately need people directing traffic at the cross-streets on Nicollet during rush hour.

  8. David A Marquette August 13, 2019 at 10:15 am #

    DON’T BLOCK THE BOX as they say in other parts.

  9. Melissa Wenzel August 13, 2019 at 11:04 am #

    Yup, I agree David. I’ve seen this in cities out east. Bicyclist/pedestrian-heavy areas (Philly comes to mind, or was it Baltimore? Or both?) where when auto drivers blocked the box, the drivers would get glaring at and peds/bicyclists would do nearly everything but walk OVER the car. I got the sense that auto drivers didn’t make this mistake too often. It was widely successful wherever I saw it, once someone explained to me what that phrase meant.

    To see the sign, just google “don’t block the box”.

    Here’s a quick article (editorial?) with picture:

    https://ggwash.org/view/6360/dont-block-the-box-or-else

  10. Brian August 14, 2019 at 4:37 pm #

    Blocking an intersection should never occur, but I know some of the reasons it happens.

    Drivers get upset at waiting through light after light and finally just get fed up and pull into the intersection even when they will block it.
    Drivers get upset at vehicles turning right and filling up all the space on the street straight ahead. Eventually they pull into the intersection to block the right turners.

    Drivers tend to blame buses and other vehicles, but the real issue is too many cars in downtown at rush hour. All those people in the buses would be even more cars to congest the streets otherwise.

    • Brian August 14, 2019 at 7:31 pm #

      I had numbers in my comment, but apparently they get stripped out by the software.

  11. Andrew Evans August 22, 2019 at 4:51 pm #

    Well the Mayor had a chance to step up and fund more officers, allowing (maybe) for more traffic squads.

    Start handing out tickets and this behavior will shape up.

    • Brian August 23, 2019 at 8:35 pm #

      I suspect voters will be more interested in new officers dealing with person on person crime than dealing with traffic citations.

      A new lower class of officer that only does traffic citations could possibly be created at a lower salary and with less training required. The first year or two of the cost could be completely covered with new revenue from traffic tickets I suspect.

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