As we mentioned a couple weeks ago, significant progress has been made to make the Lowry Bridge safer for all types of bicyclists, but there is still work that needs to be done. Thank you to the dozens of people who called their county commissioners–it made a difference. After months of positive work with County officials that has greatly improved the safety of the bridge (including adding back in bike lanes), we have a disappointing update on an important detail.
On November 21, several representatives of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, as well as neighbors of the Lowry Bridge project and a Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota representative, met with Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein. The group thanked the Commissioner for his help in getting bike lanes on the project, and then turned to the remaining problem: the County and its consultants have yet to commit to a safe design for getting less-confident bicyclists from the bike lanes leading to the bridge to the sidewalk trail on the bridge.
In a nutshell, the bike lanes on the bridge are a safety enhancement that will provide a very important option for bicyclists who are comfortable near 40+ mph traffic. For everyone else, the sidewalk trails will be the preferred route. On similar bridges in Minneapolis, about half of bicyclists use the sidewalk area because they don’t feel safe riding next to high speed vehicle traffic. County staff themselves originally planned for cyclists to use the sidewalk trails. Unfortunately, the same County staff who recommended the sidewalk trails as an inviting option are now declining to provide “slip ramps,” which would provide the safest way for bicyclists to access these trails (see picture for example).
The bottom line is that leaving the sidewalk trail without slip ramps creates conflicts and safety problems for bicyclists and pedestrians. Without slip ramps, bicyclists will enter the sidewalk trail at the crosswalk, where pedestrians are waiting to cross–increasing the likelihood of a bicycle-pedestrian crash. Even worse for safety, bicyclists exiting the sidewalk will be forced into the pedestrian crosswalk, where turning vehicles don’t expect to see bicyclists. This is particularly concerning at the intersection of Lowry Avenue and Marshall Avenue, where there is a right turn lane. The crosswalk area is simply a more complex area where more people will be interacting–in cars, on bikes, or walking. More complexity means increased likelihood of crashes. That’s why we prefer the slip ramp because it is simpler and safer–for everyone. It’s also why the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee–which includes City staff and community representatives–voted unanimously to support the slip ramps.
While Commissioner Stenglein seemed receptive to the slip ramps at our meeting, key County staff have continued to oppose them and additional work is needed to build understanding for what they would mean. They haven’t been used in Minnesota before, but are an integral part of Portland’s bridge design and have been used in Austin, Texas and other cities as well with good success.
Part of the confusion seems to be around the speed of bicyclists as they enter the slip ramp. Leading up to the slip ramps, bicyclists will be going uphill, meaning that they will enter the sidewalk at a moderate speed while the fastest riders will likely choose the on-street bike lane. If the concern of speed remains, there are also easy options for clearly marking the space between the bicyclists and pedestrians as bicyclists enter.
We will continue to advocate for a Lowry Bridge that is as safe and inviting for all users as possible. Our next step is to reach out to the pedestrian community so that their voices are heard more strongly in the process. We’ll keep you posted.