For Lyndale, The Time is Now

Last night, I attended a listening session for Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, focused on the serious safety issues between Lake Street and Franklin Avenue. The event was organized by the county commissioner for the area, Marion Greene. Dozens of neighbors spoke about their experiences walking, driving, and biking on Lyndale.

Neighbors fill a community meeting to discuss Lyndale Avenue

The neighbors covered a lot of issues: cars don’t stop, particularly at uncontrolled intersections (25th, 27th, 29th). Even at signals, driver behavior puts people walking at risk — one man was seriously injured after a crash at a light this past summer. Two others talked about the wearing emotional aspects of dealing with drivers harassing and threatening them for simply crossing the street.

Carla Steuve After about an hour of testimony from residents, county engineer Carla Stueve gave some initial responses. Although she offered some welcome suggestions (bumpouts using plastic flex post delineators, turn restrictions), she immediately discounted the most significant tool that could improve Lyndale in the near term: a 4-to-3 conversion. This, she said, could only be done under a reconstruction but the county would “consider” this feedback at that time.

This is unacceptable.

Turning A Ship

People who attended the meeting were clearly hoping for something better than “considering” feedback at a distant, undefined date. Although Commissioner Marion Greene was clearly sympathetic to the need for action, she defended a slow process as necessary given the structure and practices of the county. This, she said, was like turning a ship — and must happen slowly.

Earlier in the same meeting, engineer Stueve noted that the street was constructed in 1954. From what I can tell, there have been no striping changes since that time. To me this demonstrated that the ship metaphor misses a key point: the nimbleness of the county isn’t the problem. The fact that the ship has been heading in the wrong direction on this street for 65 years is the problem. While the slow-turning ship may reflect past inaction on the street, it is not inevitable and should not confine a future vision for what this street can be.

Precedent for immediate action

Hennepin County is no stranger to 4-to-3 conversions. In fact, they created a handy map of 4-to-3s done on county roads:

A map of 3-lane conversions in Hennepin County

A map of 3-lane conversions in Hennepin County.

The vast majority of these conversions were done with mill-and-overlay projects, where the top layer of road surface is replaced (much more quickly and cheaply than reconstructing). If the pavement were in good shape, they could simply grind out the old striping or seal coat over it and restripe without an overlay.

Restriping now is the right answer for Lyndale

Restriping Lyndale prior to a reconstruction would provide an immediate safety benefit, but it would also answer help key questions. We have seen this work in Richfield. In 2010, Hennepin County did an overlay and restripe of Portland Avenue — just five years before it would be fully reconstructed.

Portland Avenue in 2010, just after initial restripe

Portland Avenue in 2010, just after initial restripe

In addition to providing improvements sooner, it also helped guide the final redesign. For example: speeds were more consistent after the conversion, but still too fast, so they narrowed the lanes on the final restripe. Pedestrians still had difficulty crossing, so a marked crosswalk with a refuge island was included on every block. Shoulders provided a welcome option for bicycling on Portland, but families still didn’t feel safe biking with 35 mph traffic, so a mixed-use path was included in the reconstruct.

Portland Avenue after a reconstruction

Portland Avenue after a reconstruction. Image: MnDOT and City of Richfield

Had we not done a “temporary” restripe, we would never have learned those things, and our reconstructed street would be less effective.

Lyndale would be the highest-volume 4-to-3 conversion Hennepin County has ever done. It’s no surprise that makes engineers more wary. But the precedent-setting nature of it is exactly why the County should act now, doing a 2020 test restripe and seeing actual results for people driving and walking alike.

Among those key questions that I think need to be answered are:

  1. How does traffic respond to reduced capacity? Does some traffic shift to other streets?
  2. How do signals perform in real-life conditions?
  3. How are bus speeds impacted?
  4. Are there any new specific safety issues created (e.g., passing on shoulder, aggressive turns off side streets)

I am not certain that a 3-lane layout will work for Lyndale. However, there a lot of variables to human behavior and I think these questions can best be answered in a real-life test of a 3-lane roadway. This would mirror Ramsey County’s highly successful effort on Maryland Avenue.

Restripe Lyndale as soon as the pavement is above freezing. Collect data throughout the summer, and decide whether to put it back (and prioritize reconstruction) or leave it in fall 2020. The time is now.

Lyndale at 25th

Sean Hayford Oleary

About Sean Hayford Oleary

Sean Hayford Oleary is a web developer and planner. He serves on the Richfield City Council, and previously on the city's Planning and Transportation commissions. Articles are written from a personal perspective and not on behalf of Richfield or others. Sean has a masters in urban planning from the Humphrey School. Follow his love of streets, home improvement, and all things Richfield on Twitter @sdho.

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43 thoughts on “For Lyndale, The Time is Now

  1. John Frid

    I agree that Lyndale is a menace to pedestrians and vehicles alike, however, the issue here is that there is too much traffic in the area for city streets to handle. Traffic on Lyndale is over capacity many hours a day – if you’ve ever driven 31st to Franklin during peak periods you’d know what I mean – just getting from 22nd to Franklin sometimes takes 5 to 10 minutes. Removing a traffic lane would make those times even longer and divert more traffic onto residential streets like Aldrich and Bryant that are already crowded with overflow traffic from Lyndale. Ultimately the solution is to get people to migrate from cars to mass transit but that won’t happen overnight. As a former part-time Uber and Lyft driver I avoided Uptown like the plague as trips to downtown could easily take a half-hour or more.

    The best solution in my mind would be light rail that runs as a subway from just north of the bottleneck to 53rd Street and then as surface light rail to Bloomington or beyond – this would be enormously expensive but would take traffic off local streets as well as 35W and by being more convenient encourage more riders to shift from cars to mass transit.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      IMO, too much traffic is not an excuse for ending people’s lives. The right to cross the street trumps the right to go faster in a car.

      The “spillover” effect is a common excuse given by public works departments in cases like this, but it’s largely illusory. Ramsey County has been studying this closely with their recent conversions and found little change

      1. Aaron S

        Definitely – with the right counter-incentives (filtered permeability, diverters at intervals, etc.) you could keep Lyndale as the fastest alternative for drivers, with the only means of not sitting on Lyndale being mass transit, cycling, or walking.

      2. John Frid

        I agree that any solution that puts people’s lives in danger is not acceptable. Perhaps the short-term solution should include adding full traffic lights at 25th and 27th Street. I’m just saying that any long-term solution needs to take into account all users. 🙂

        A side note from personal experience: Bryant Avenue is supposed to be a “Bicycle Boulevard”, and riding the stretch between Franklin and Lake Street literally is placing your life in danger as it is. Any solution that adds additional traffic to side streets in the area ought to be very carefully considered.

        Also, another poster mentioned that Lyndale is given as the Google Maps route from south (or east) 94 to 35W southbound, adding traffic. On that note, Aldrich, Bryant and Pleasant are frequently given as the best route between Franklin and Lake Street by Waze during high traffic periods. Food for thought.

        1. Lindsey Aster SilasLindsey Aster Silas

          I think it’s disingenuous to say that “any long-term solution needs to take into account all users” when you’re using that as an argument against removing car lanes to make the road safer for everyone outside of a car. For more than 50 years we’ve prioritized moving cars above safety or usability for people outside of cars. The amount of traffic on our streets reflects that history of investment. If we remove travel lanes and make it safer and easier to walk and bike, people will drive less.

          1. John Frid

            If we could go back to the 1950s and 1960s and change the public policy that allowed Interstate highways to slice and dice our cities and promoted suburbanization your idea would be great. The fact is that most metro area residents live in the suburbs and mass transit is not a viable alternative for many residents.

            Likewise, if the goal is to simply reduce the number of cars and trucks using Minneapolis streets by making it damned near impossible to get around by car, then your idea is great.

            I guess I’m just an old fossil believing that it is possible for different modes of transportation to coexist.

          1. Robin GarwoodRobin Garwood

            I’ll just say that I don’t agree that riding a bicycle on Bryant between Franklin and Lake is “literally placing your life in danger.” That’s the chunk of that bike boulevard that actually works pretty well, from my perspective. South of Lake is a lot less successful.

            And it’s kind of weird to make the case that we should be worried about people’s safety on Bryant, and use that as a rationale for not doing anything meaningful about Lyndale, when that’s where people are actually being put in danger. There are data:

            1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary Post author

              I don’t have a real problem with traffic on Bryant but traffic control for crossing streets is an absolute joke.

              In 8 blocks from Lake St to Franklin, you have four high-volume crossing where traffic does not stop for Bryant. (28th, 26th, 24th, Franklin). Other than leading to that overpass to the east side of Lyndale at the end, it offers zero benefit over riding any other side street — no traffic control benefit, and no exclusively bike space.

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary Post author

      As I said in the article, I think it’s very possible 3-lanes will cause significant congestion, and may not be acceptable long-term.

      I think it is possible a four-lane divided roadway (similar to Washington Avenue perhaps) is the best long-term option. I think doing an actual test will make this the most clear.

      Even if we knew for certain only a 4/5-lane would work — why should the temporary condition prioritize flow of cars over the basic safety of people walking? We know Lyndale’s layout is deadly, both in general (four lane death roads are bad) and specific to this street.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Or perhaps it could work for the southern half of the street but not the northern half. Looking the traffic data quite a bit of the traffic seems to disperse into the neighborhood prior to Lake Street.

        Building some right turn lanes might also make the difference between it working and not working, which might be why they’re saying it’ll have to wait until a complete reconstruction.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary Post author

          The street is very wide — a big, huge, blank slate. If RT lanes are needed to make it work, use some of the parking spaces to do that now.

          Even if it were a reconstruct, doing a right turn lane with parking together is exceedingly rare. That is, the same trade-off would exist: if you need right-turn lanes, you’ll lose that same length of parking.

          1. Stuart

            Most intersections have default RT lanes because of bus stops. Improving this in a 4-3 conversion would be great, but cars turning right are not a major problem now.

            1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

              Not sure if it’s been studied, but anecdotally, the use of the shoulder/bus stop as right turn lane seems pretty inconsistent. Some drivers merge far over to the curb and get out of the flow of traffic — but an awful lot turn right from the right-hand travel lane.

              IMO that’s both more dangerous and slows down traffic. I am not sure a designated right turn lane is necessary for all intersections, but I could certainly see it at 26th/28th (in the appropriate direction) and Franklin (in both directions).

              The 4-to-3 done in the 54th & Lyndale area has a ton of right turn lanes. It actually still has pretty bad congestion, centered on that 54th St light. That signal has very clumsy fixed-timed cycles, often wasting 20 seconds on a protected left turn phase with nobody waiting. Hopefully they’d look more carefully at signal phasing when improvements to Lyndale between Franklin and Lake move forward.

    3. Rosa

      how many car trips are made, or made longer, because people don’t feel safe being on or near the street except in a car? You have to slow the car traffic to solve the “too much car traffic” problem.

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    The county’s foot-dragging is unfortunate, but what can you expect? Hennepin County is simply far behind the visionary traffic engineers in [checks notes] Ramsey County. And look, while Minneapolis is an urban area, it’s not as dense a pedestrian area as [checks notes again] Richfield.

    Wait a minut—

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    After a few fatal and tragic crashes killed innocent people crossing the street, Ramsey County did 4-3 conversions from design to implementation within six months with just striping changes (and some new concrete medians).

    It can be done. The problem is political, not engineering.

  4. John H

    Today google maps frequently sends cars down lyndale as the default route through south mpls. Might want to wait until the flyover from 35w to 94 and the 94 East to 35w south entrance ramp work is completed or you may get dubious gridlock results. We only get one chance at this.

      1. Stuart

        If the conversion “fails” because of temporary construction on 35W and the street is sent back to a 4/5 lane format, then that would be bad. Making a plan to convert after the 35W/94 mess is complete may mean that the conversion is successful and stays.

  5. Keith

    Anyone recall those short lived orange bollards on Eat Street a few weeks ago? They were installed to test a bus lane on Nicollet, but one very noticeable side effect was that those bollards slowed the speed of traffic there. Why not install bollards down the middle of Lyndale at least to slow traffic on the inner lanes?

  6. Anton SchiefferAnton Schieffer

    I’m sure the traffic counts are slightly lower, but one good recent example of a 4-3 conversion is Broadway St NE. That street was a complete mess, with lots of reckless lane changing and aggressive driving. With some resurfacing and new paint, it’s a completely different street now (much calmer) and traffic flows more smoothly than it did before.

    We design the streets for the traffic that we want to see on them. I lived near 32nd and Lyndalebefore that area underwent a 4-3 conversion and there were crashes all the time. Today, it’s far safer for drivers and pedestrians alike. I have a hard time believing that such a thing is impossible just a couple blocks north of that location.

    At the very least, let’s put some new paint down and call it a pilot. I will all but guarantee that no one will want to go back to the old road afterwards.

    1. Andrew Evans

      Anton, I was excited for that 3 lane since I thought for a moment or two getting to my studio would be easier. However, making a right turn is harder and takes longer now that there is only one lane to get into. Not a complaint enough that I want to write the city or county about how they are idiots, but at least for someone that uses the street locally it’s not the best fix.

      Driving through it’s much nicer though, so that’s nice.

  7. Faith

    I think Lyndale would work much better as a 3 lane from a driving perspective. South of Lake, the one continuous lane flows smoothly. But north of Lake, I find myself changing lanes 3-4 times just to avoid sitting behind cars waiting to turn left.

    The map doesn’t include Cedar Ave as a 4-3 conversion but that was done several years ago. It had the highest ADT for a 4-3 at the time.

  8. Andrew Evans

    Just to rehash what I said before about that stretch of Lyndale.

    I took it once for fun from south of 31st, through Franklin, and onto wb 94 around rush hour one day a few months ago.

    It was about 15 min to get from 31st to Franklin in the left lane. Most of the congestion I was feeling was due to short left hand turn signals. Most of the weaving traffic was due to getting around left or right hand turning vehicles. Although I didn’t notice it going north, there was some congestion caused by mid block (illegal due to double yellow) left hand turns going into the Wedge, or left turns at non controlled intersections.

    I’m going to agree and disagree somewhat with Sean about this.

    I don’t think 3 lanes would work. There is enough pedestrian traffic that traffic would be stopped as people cross.

    I do think 3 lanes with right hand turns would work great. As it is now there is really only one through lane at a time with left turns, and taking turning vehicles out completely would solve that issue at least going North.

    I’m not so sure Southbound, if there is more traffic off of the freeway or not, and then the Wedge is right there. So it may make more sense, maybe similar to Broadway in a way, to put a barrier up somewhere around 26th and keep it 4 lanes up past Franklin.

    Then the problem is turning on Franklin. 26th and 28th got castrated due to bike lanes, so as it is can’t make traffic turn there. I’d either make 24th larger each way to allow for the turning traffic, or take the bike lanes from 26th and 28th and move them to 24th.

    Unless there is room for 4 lanes of traffic, plus right/left turn lanes at Lyndale Franklin?

    It’s fun to talk about, not sure I really care what happens though to be honest. Even though I live on Lyndale in North it’s much less frustrating to either take the parkways south around the lakes, 3rd through downtown, or 94 to Hennepin. Plus my days of being a regular for brunch at the CC are now almost 15 years go.

    1. Aaron S

      A 4:3 conversion, with left turns at 29th, 27th, and 25th (as well as at the Wedge) blocked by bollards would be a good temporary test – with bumpouts and pedestrian medians, made of the new DezignLine bollards/steel curbs.

      I think the point of the reduced crossing distance is pedestrians being confident enough to cross – so stopping traffic for pedestrians would be a boon, not a negative. It’s not like there’d be an endless flow of peds – so drivers would be inconvenienced for a few extra seconds, or maybe miss a light – but that’d be it.

      1. Monte Castleman

        I read it as a right turning motorist stopping in the through lane on Lyndale to allow a pedestrian to cross the cross street. This would have an extremely negative effect on operations, probably enough to make a conversion unworkable, but it’s something really easy to mitigate by providing right turn lanes at major intersections so the right turning motorist can stop outside of the main through lane, or at least not taking away the informal ones.

        1. Andrew Evans

          Yes, sorry, I meant enough crossing to hold up right hand turning traffic. Any 3 lanes would need to have right turn lanes to make it work.

          Not worried about pedestrian traffic at marked crosswalks crossing Lyndale.

    2. Jo

      I agree with testing, but a 3 lane road won’t make it easier to cross at uncontrolled intersections. I would guess a 4 lane with median island might make it easier. Or, make Hennepin and Lyndale into one ways.

    3. Brian

      What state statute prohibits left turns across double yellow lines? I read a couple of state statutes and didn’t find anything about left turns across double yellow lines. I also read through the Minnesota Driver’s Manual and the section on turns doesn’t mention anything about left turns across double yellow lines being prohibited. There is a section talking about yellow lines, but it only states that double yellow lines means no passing.

      Now, it is against state law to cross a double white line. Not that most drivers follow this law as seen on 394 exiting onto 94 East.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary Post author

        I have never heard nor can find anything of it being illegal to turn left across a double yellow line, as long no signage prohibits those turns. The striping controls passing, not turns.

      2. Brian

        My comment was supposed to be in response to Andrew Evans, but I must have hit the wrong reply button.

    4. Rosa

      isn’t getting traffic to stop so people can cross the point?

      If our streets don’t work for cars unless pedestrians are unable to cross, they just don’t work.

      You could limit pedestrians to signalized crossings on some busy streets, IF you also limited when cars could turn and made sure there were enough signalized crossings (that stretch of Lyndale might have one every other block already, which to me seems fine.) But they have to actually allow for safe crossing, which none of our signalized intersections does right now because cars can and do turn during every part of the signal.

  9. Mark Snyder

    I agree with Anton that at the very least, do a pilot on Lyndale with restriping. Along with what Sean noted about Portland’s temporary restriping, Ramsey learned an awful lot when they did that with Maryland Avenue.

  10. Andrew Evans

    For what it’s worth, I went up Central yesterday around 5:30 and had to go through the Broadway intersection. Going from 4 to 3 lanes in that area really backs up traffic and that intersection was a mess. I’m not sure if it’s a timing issue, or if planners didn’t take into account that much traffic turning onto Broadway there, or a little of both.

  11. Brian

    I live in this area.
    A few years ago, we had snow bad enough on Lyndale that it turned into a de-facto road diet for at least one month, if not 2. Parking was bumped out so far that we basically lost the outer traffic lane.

    Traffic really seemed okay then. It would be even better if it was striped that way with the turn lanes to keep the left turning traffic out of the main flow. Lyndale currently has a lot of friction driving on it because of cars dodging left and right to avoid turning traffic, coupled with the occasional accident to really bollix up traffic. After drivers change lanes, they typically accelerate, which increases the average speed on the road.

    Lyndale south of 31st is much more sedate in this fashion, and in my opinion is easier to cross as a pedestrian at the unsignalized intersections.

    I’d have to look up some widths, but I think they could make the parking lanes wider if they did the road diet, and that would also be helpful, with people getting in and out of their cars to patronize the businesses nearby.

    Other commenters might have a good point though, everything is worse right now with the 35W construction, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be trialed for a month in May or something – how much would the paint job cost the city or county just to try it?

  12. Ralf Thomsen

    I feel somebody should mention that none of what’s being proposed would have prevented the tragic death which started this whole discussion. The guy who died waded out into traffic in the middle of the block with his “friends” trying to stop the cars for him.

    If the goal is to make it safe to cross in the middle of the block you pretty much have to remove all motorized traffic.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Please do not blame the victim of a violent death for his death.

      This is not the first death on Lyndale, and if changes are not made, it will not be the last.

      However, if effectively 0% of drivers yield where the law requires them to (at an intersection with no marked crosswalk), how can we blame pedestrians for not bothering to walk to the corner? Whether mid-block (where Lyndale traffic has right-of-way) or at intersection (where crossing pedestrians have right-of-way), the only real option today is to find a gap in traffic and sprint for your life.

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