|[Image from the Star Tribune.]|
But unfortunately, a bicycle death on 28th Street is no accident. The Star Tribune article on the killing lists a few quotes from neighbors about 28th:
To me, neither of these comments reaches the root of the problem. 28th Street is one of Minneapolis's obsolete one-way death traps.Jeff Carlson, a neighbor of Hanson’s, told other neighbors gathered Friday night that he was organizing a petition to bring to the City Council and Mayor R.T. Rybak to improve sight lines and make other safety improvements at the intersection where Hanson was killed.Carlson said drivers as well as pedestrians on Pleasant and Pillsbury Avenue S., which is one block east, often have trouble seeing cross traffic on E. 28th Street, which is one-way eastbound, because parked cars on E. 28th Street block their view. That forces them to edge forward, nearly into traffic, before crossing the street or turning into the traffic.Magalli Aguilar Ramirez, who has lived on the corner for 13 years, said that even without watching, the accidents she has seen there have been “too many to count.”
These streets have long troubled me. Back in 2009, I blogged about the danger of the city's one-way street pairs, again following the bicyclist killed in Dinkytown last year, and the issue has come up many times during Streets.mn's discussion of Park and Portland Avenues.
More alarmingly, 28th Street is the exact place that was identified as Minneapolis's most dangerous spot for bikes in the city's excellent crash report released earlier this year. 28th was almost off the chart of bike accidents:
As you can see, the city's old one-way street pairings (26th and 28th Streets in South Minneapolis) have a terrible rate of crashes per cyclist mile traveled. (I'd wager that this information could serve as a proxy for pedestrian accidents, as well.) If the city wanted to increase safety overnight, they'd begin converting these street parings (as well as 35th and 36th, University and SE 4th) into proper two-way streets right away. This is something I've suggested before. High-speed one-way streets simply should not be running through dense residential urban areas.Jessica Hanson's death was depressingly predictable. Minneapolis' one-way residential streets encourage drivers to speed recklessly in areas filled with people, and should have been phased out long ago.
History of Minneapolis' One-Way Pairs
As anyone knows who uses them, one-way streets have advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side: they reduce the number of potential collision points by half, and they simplify signal timing to make travel more efficient. On the other side, they're confusing, and they often make trips longer as drivers circle blocks to reach their destinations. There's a debate in urban planning circles about whether these two sides cancel each other out, whether efficiency gains are outweighed by the increased trip lengths. For this reason, cities like Cedar Rapids, Iowa, are thinking of wholesale converting their one-way streets back into two-way streets. For better or worse, lots of cities have one-way streets in the downtown cores.
Minneapolis is unusual because of the large number of one-way streets that run through residential neighborhoods far from the downtown core: 26th and 28th, 35th and 36th, Park and Portland, and Blaisdell (and 1st) in South Minneapolis; 4th and University in Southeast; and Fremont and Emerson Avenue in North Minneapolis. (They're often classified as "B Minor" collectors by the Minneapolis Public Works, in the city's Orwellian classification code.)
|[Detail from the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan showing 26th and 28th.]|
Some years ago, I asked the late Minneapolis Planning Commission Chair Judith Martin about this odd bit of street design. She explained to me that these streets were legacies of the freeway construction era in Minneapolis. During the 60s, before 35 and 94 were built, these streets were attempts to increase traffic flows during the construction period. Once the interstates were completed, they just stayed around. It's hard to put an egg back into its shell.
The problem is that Minneapolis' residential one-ways encourage drivers to speed at 40+ miles per hour with few stops through dense neighborhoods. Most high-speed streets have wide medians, shoulders, or boulevards separating high-speed traffic from people and houses. Not so here. Many homes along these streets are literally shoulder to shoulder with an endless stream of cars traveling at dangerous speeds. To experience this for yourself, go stand on the corner of 28th and Bloomington where cars speed through a neighborhood filled with children, or walk down SE University Avenue where cars speed next to an unprotected bike lane and frat houses filled with college students...
The problem with high-speed roads in residential neighborhoods is that cars become exponentially more deadly when they begin to exceed 25 miles per hour, and by the time they're moving at 40 or higher, traffic accidents are almost always fatal. These streets create atmospheres of "everyday violence" along houses and neighborhoods through which they run. Parents don't let their children play in the yard, people shut their windows, shops stay vacant, fewer people walk or bike to get around.
One-way pairs force deadly traffic speeds through neighborhoods filled with people, yards, bicycles, homes, and otherwise calm residential streets. Any time you have 40 mile per hour traffic ten feet from someone's yard, it's a recipe for disaster. These streets trade a minute or two of travel time for degraded safety and quality of life city neighborhoods. Is it worth it? How many "accidents" do you have to have before saving two minutes on your trip to the freeway on-ramp isn't worth it any more?
Fixing the Problem
|[1st Avenue South used to be a one-way; now it's safe.]|
(On the other hand, Blaisdell Avenue, its "pair", remains a one-way "collector" street. Despite the bike lane, in my opinion its a dangerous place that degrades quality of life in the neighborhood.)
Likewise, in the downtown core, both Hennepin and 1st Avenues were converted from one- to two-way streets. Most would agree that they're safer today.
|[Portland Avenue S: still one-way, but calmed and far safer.]|
Another solution for one-way streets is lowering speeds through traffic calming. This is basically what Hennepin County did last year on Portland and Park Avenues, removing a traffic lane and striping a wide, buffered bike lane. Further down the line, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has called for adding pedestrian bump-outs and an actual concrete (planted) buffer between the cars and people. Doing all this will make these streets safe again, and last years change was a big step in the right direction.
Fixing Minneapolis' deadly legacy should be a mix of these approaches. In my opinion, larger one-way pairs, like SE University and SE 4th, should receive thorough traffic calming: bumpouts, buffered cycle tracks, medians. We need to do anything we can to reduce average speeds below the fatality threshold, while retaining the efficiencies that come with one-way directionality.
For narrower, more residential one-way streets, the city should simply get rid of them. There's no reason for 28th and 26th, 35th and 36th, or Fremont and Emerson to be dangerous one-way streets in the 21st Century. They're unsafe for families, children, pedestrians, bicyclists, and even car drivers who are bound to speed unsafely through these dense, residential neighborhoods. The city should have gotten rid of these death traps years ago. Let's let this latest tragedy be the last.
I just learned that Blaisdell is slated for a sealcoating this summer. The city could take this opportunity to re-paint the street similar to Park and Portland. Still, in my opinion, the best solution for making a street like Blaisdell safe again is to convert it back into a two-way.