The Cedar/Franklin/Minnehaha intersection: You've probably walked, biked, or driven through it before. If you're like me, you probably approached it thinking something like, "Wait, how do I stay on Cedar? How can I get across this mess? How did they come up with an intersection more confusing than the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck?!" There's no denying that this intersection is a huge mess.
The good news is that's all going to change in September 2016 when the County repaves the intersection. When that happens, we want to make sure it is an improvement for biking. So, we're looking for your thoughts.
Bicycling Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha SURVEY and walk-and-talk
Please take our short survey about the county's plans for the intersection and how they can best support biking. Your thoughts will help inform our position on the details and we'll be sharing them with the City and County as well. We will also host a walk and talk on the bicycle aspects of the intersection on Monday, September 21 at 6pm. If you want to learn a bit more before you take the survey, read on!
The History of This Intersection
It all started with a two streets and a railroad. The intersection used to be fairly square, but with a rail yard on the northwest corner and tracks crossing the intersection diagonally, according to Bill Lindeke, transportation blogger. Over the course of time, the powers that be raised the railroad above grade, extended Hiawatha Avenue as a freeway, and built I-94, resulting in the mess of an intersection that we've come to know and hate today. It was an imperfect solution (to say the least) to a geometric problem.
What’s the problem?
The problem with this intersection is that it’s the second most dangerous one in Minneapolis, with the second most bicycle crashes. It’s also one of the most dangerous intersections in Hennepin County, with crash rates more than two and a half times the “critical rate.” The reason? It’s trying to be too many things and trying to connect too many strangely-angled streets. Because of that, the intersection cannot serve any of them well.
So, someone's going to fix this, right?
Yes! Hennepin County has been working with the City, Seward Neighborhood Group, Seward Redesign, Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), SPOKES, other local groups, and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition over the last few years to come up with a plan to adjust the intersection. That work is still ongoing, but a rough plan is complete:
The County is proposing to build a median on Franklin Avenue from Cedar over to Minnehaha Avenue, which will close off Minnehaha north of Franklin. Traffic going north on Minnehaha will turn right on Franklin, while traffic proceeding east on Franklin will be able to turn right onto southbound Minnehaha. At this time, Hennepin County also plans to close off the short segment of Minnehaha between Franklin and 20th (the green area on the map) to auto traffic. This will still allow people driving cars to turn into and out of the Taco Bell parking lot via Cedar Avenue and 20th Avenue. The change will reduce the number of possible traffic movements on Franklin and Cedar, making moving through this intersection safer.
Wouldn’t this impede some people who bike through the intersection?
That is a good question. Closing off Minnehaha may make it more challenging for those biking north on Minnehaha to cross Franklin Avenue to access the future protected bikeway on 20th Avenue (and take the reverse trip).
Also, the intersection is, at present, very dangerous for the most common bicycle movement: turning left from eastbound Franklin onto northbound 20th Avenue. Just adding a median will not help those bicyclists. This is why we’re involved in this project, to make sure all bicyclists will be able to move through the intersection more safely. So far, there are three concepts for how to address the safety of people on bikes at this intersection, with the solutions possibly being a combination of the three.
Northbound bicycle traffic.
Southbound bicycling traffic.
For this concept, the County has proposed creating a pedestrian/bike refuge in the median of Franklin Avenue. Examples of a median refuge can be seen in Minneapolis at 17th Ave & 42nd St, or in Saint Paul on Charles at Snelling and at Lexington.
Rendering of a median refuge island.
The refuge would allow bicyclists to cross safely between Minnehaha Ave to the south and 20th Ave to the north. If this option was selected, a pedestrian and bicycle connection would also be constructed on the hill between the stub of 20th Ave and the 20th Ave bridge. The bridge will have a protected bikeway constructed soon according to Minneapolis' protected bikeway plan.
Bicyclists traveling north on Minnehaha would cross eastbound Franklin onto the median and then cross westbound Franklin onto a short section of 20th Avenue. At the north end of 20th Avenue, they would use the new bicycle connection to access bike lanes on the 20th Ave bridge over I-94. This could also serve as a connection to the future protected bikeway planned for a 2018 installation on the bridge.
Bicyclists traveling southbound on 20th Avenue to either southbound Minnehaha or eastbound Franklin would turn left from the bike lanes to the new ramp and travel south to the refuge median. Those accessing southbound Minnehaha would continue straight, while those accessing eastbound Franklin would turn left and use the bike lane. Southbound bicyclists traveling from the 20th Ave Bridge to westbound Franklin would make a left onto southbound Cedar into a new bike lane. They would then turn right onto Franklin into another new bike lane.
Bicyclists accessing westbound Franklin from northbound Minnehaha would bike across eastbound Franklin onto the refuge and then turn left onto westbound Franklin. We will do further study in order to determine how a bicyclist would cross from the median to the westbound bike lane, which will be on the north side of the intersection.
This "goat path" connecting the stub of 20th Ave to the 20th Ave bridge would be converted to a bicycle/pedestrian ramp.
In this concept, there would still be a refuge in the median. However, instead of crossing between Minnehaha and 20th Ave, bicyclists would cross to the short section of Minnhaha that would be closed to car traffic (the green area on the map). If they were traveling northbound, bicyclists would then make a right turn onto the 20th Ave bridge. Southbound traffic would do the reverse, with those accessing eastbound Franklin turning left from the refuge. This movement will be studied more closely to determine if making this left turn movement safely would be possible. Bicyclists accessing westbound Franklin from the 20th Ave Bridge would perform the same movement as in Concept 1.
It's not immediately obvious, but the Franklin is very wide at this intersection. The street is so wide, in fact, that the next option is putting a protected bikeway on the south side of the intersection between Cedar and Minnehaha. What would this protected bikeway look like? While this option has not been studied at all, we can speculate that it would be a two-way bikeway, with one side up against the curb and the other separated from the car lanes either by plastic bollards and a buffer or by an added curb.
An example of both a curb and bollard two-way protected bikeway on Oak Street in Minneapolis.
Stretching from Minnehaha to Cedar, the protected bike lane would be used like this: northbound bicyclists on Minnehaha would turn left onto the bikeway at Franklin and bike the short distance to Cedar. When they got a green light, they would then proceed north on Cedar in a new bike lane and then make a slight right onto the 20th Ave Bridge. Southbound bicyclists would turn left from the bike lane on the 20th Ave Bridge into a new bike lane on Cedar. They would then make a two-stage left turn and proceed east on Franklin. They would then either continue straight or turn right onto southbound Minnehaha.
Bicyclists turning left from Franklin to Minnehaha would turn left into the two-way bikeway, then cross to a bike box on the north side of Franklin, and then proceed west, again making a multi-stage turn.
None of these concepts have been studied in any detail yet, so these three concepts are likely to change between now and the start of final design in January. So far, we are a bit concerned that the County has really thought quite a bit about the auto movements through this intersection, but has less commitment on walking and biking aspects. However we are glad they are engaging on them and are open to feedback.
What other considerations are there?
There are other factors that are being considered when looking at changing the intersection. These include giving people in cars and trucks access from northbound Minnehaha to northbound Cedar, since their access to Cedar will be eliminated by the median. In anticipation of this project, a small segment of 22nd St was recently built out to allow auto traffic to turn left off of Minnehaha and then right onto northbound Cedar. Also, a left turn lane constructed on Cedar will allow traffic on southbound Cedar to access Minnehaha via 22nd St. The County is also studying the possibility of an unsafe increase in auto traffic on 17th and 20th Ave as well as how to mitigate that.
What will go into the small stretch of Minnehaha Avenue by Taco Bell? It will definitely be closed to traffic, so we would love ideas for what could be placed there in order to improve the pedestrian or biking experience.
Why isn’t the county making bigger changes?
The project allowing the County to make these changes is a repaving of Franklin Avenue. Unfortunately, the small scope of this project will only allow for incremental changes to the intersection. To do anything bigger than this would require a full reconstruction, which would be prohibitively expensive at this time because of utility work.
Who has been working on this project? What outreach has been conducted?
Hennepin County is the lead agency on this project. Their staff have partnered with the City and various neighborhood groups to reach out to residents, Taco Bell, and the fire station, which will be affected by this project. Also, attendees at Open Streets Minneapolis Franklin were asked to contribute input on how to make this intersection safer.
What is happening to the rest of Franklin?
Franklin is one of the most dangerous streets in the entire city. As such, we continue to advocate with local partners (including Hope Community, NACDI, Sierra Club, and Cycles for Change/SPOKES) for the County and City to improve the street for all who use it.
We support connected bike lanes on all of Franklin to at least Bryant Avenue, wider sidewalks in the areas where they abhorrently (and illegally) narrow, and a safety conversion from 4 traffic lanes to 3 traffic lanes.
Recently, the County improved the median on Franklin Avenue by the Blue Line station with sidewalks and landscaping. NACDI's Anpetu Was'te Arts Market is getting rolling in the median under Hiawatha/Blue Line. Activating the space by the light rail will improve the pedestrian experience greatly.
You can learn more about Hennepin County's plans for the rest of the street on the project's website.
If we all work together to advocate for safer infrastructure in this area, it should become much more friendly to everyone eight to eighty very soon. Thank you for reading this blog, for taking the survey, and for attending the upcoming walk-and-talk. Your participation is integral to a positive outcome for this project. We look forward to having a safer version of this intersection next fall!
Don't forget about the SURVEY!
A final reminder, please take our survey about these options. It's very important that we gather input from as many people as possible to make sure we get an intersection that's safe for everyone.