Last week, I joined the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition to collect petitions in support of bike lanes on Franklin Avenue from Minnehaha to Lyndale Avenue.
Having lived in the Whittier neighborhood until just last year, I would sometimes take Franklin during my bike commute to the University of Minnesota. While this wasn’t my route of choice, I made it somewhat tolerable by taking 24th Avenue over 35W and on to 11th Avenue, and then 11th Avenue to Franklin to avoid (in my opinion) the worst parts of Franklin.
Last week’s petition meet-up was at Franklin and Nicollet Avenues, and it had been longer than a year since I had taken Franklin west of Cedar Avenue. That evening, I decided to take Franklin from Cedar west to the meet-up at Nicollet. Unfortunately, I didn’t get far and opted to bail at 11th Avenue. The following situations unnerved me enough to get as far away from Franklin as possible:
Cedar Avenue approaching right turn lane for Franklin Avenue. This is close to where the bike lane on Cedar peters out. Car traffic tends to be very heavy and fast, and zips quickly into the right traffic and turn lanes.
1. Passing through Cedar Avenue and turning right/west onto Franklin: A lot of bicyclists use 20th/Cedar Avenue to get to Franklin. If you’re not familiar with this route, it is a thoroughfare from the UM’s West Bank that has wide bike lanes and initially only moderate levels of automobile traffic. As it approaches Franklin, however, and crosses Minnehaha Avenue there is an awkward intersection (near Taco Bell) where the bike lanes disappear and car traffic picks up. While driving through this intersection to get to Franklin, car drivers typically float from the left lane into the right lane and, in my experience, don’t always notice bicyclists traveling in the right lane. I have had a few close calls in this intersection, which is why I chose to ride in the right shoulder/turn lane last week like many other bicyclists. While sticking to the far right, I encountered cars that zipped very quickly into the right turn lane headed for Franklin, many of them too close for comfort.
Franklin Avenue between Cedar and Hiawatha Avenues. While there aren't a lot of cars in this photo, traffic on this stretch of street is heavy and fast-moving during the weekday rush hour. This coupled with the poor pavement conditions and parked cars does not leave a lot space for bicyclists to comfortably ride.
2. Taking Franklin between Cedar and Hiawatha Avenues: On this two lane stretch of westbound road, car traffic tends to zip through at very high speeds. If you’re bicycling in the right lane, drivers often tailgate or pass while leaving only inches between you and them. If you try to move to the right shoulder, the ride is less than ideal with bumpy, cracked concrete, buses stopped at the Hiawatha light rail station, and parked cars. I tried to stay as close as possible to the right shoulder, but found myself moving too close for comfort into the traffic lane due to the poor conditions of the shoulder.
Taking Franklin between Hiawatha and 11th Avenues: To me, this was the most nerve-racking part of the commute. While crossing under the Hiawatha bridge, Franklin narrows from two lanes to one lane. Cars must merge right, often doing so quickly and at the last minute. At this point, my survival instincts kicked in and I moved as far to the shoulder as possible. But, once again, I could only move so far due to potholes and poor pavement conditions. Within a couple of blocks the right shoulder narrows significantly, and I was within inches of moving or parked cars. So, I kept as close as possible to the right shoulder, endured cars traveling very close to me for a few blocks, got into automobile traffic as close as possible to 11th, and turned left onto 11th. I ultimately went several blocks out of the way to get to our petition meet-up spot, taking the 24th Avenue pedestrian overpass over 35W (which arguably has its own safety issues) and then 24th Avenue on to Nicollet and Franklin.
Franklin Avenue gets more bike traffic than any other street in Minneapolis without bike lanes. It is a major east-west thoroughfare that connects many businesses and neighborhoods. When Hennepin County added bike lanes to Franklin Avenue east of Minnehaha, it made that area of Franklin safer and more accessible to all users. I hope you’ll join the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and me in urging the county to extend bike lanes the entire length of Franklin.
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