In Summer 2012 the new Lowry Bridge will open to the public. Designed and built by Hennepin County, this $92.7 million project will finally reconnect North and Northeast Minneapolis. But there’s a problem, because Hennepin County still hasn’t committed to providing key safety features that bicyclists have requested. To be clear, Hennepin County staff have made positive steps in considering bicyclists, including a commitment to add bike lanes. This is real progress, and the County deserves credit for this. But important safety problems remain unresolved. This isn’t just bad for bicyclists, it’s also bad for motorists, as I’ll describe below. Please take action today for a safer Lowry Bridge (detail below)!
First, a bit of history: back in May of 2011, County staff and members of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) met to discuss options for the Lowry Bridge. The Minneapolis BAC is an advisory group that includes public agency staff and citizen representatives appointed by elected officials. Both bike lanes and a sidewalk trail were discussed.
County staff offered the option of a sidewalk trail, with eastbound bicyclists travelling on the south side of the bridge, and westbound bicyclists using the north side of the bridge, to maintain consistency with other traffic flow. Minneapolis BAC members voted unanimously to support this design option, but only if safe transitions were added to get bicyclists safely onto the trail and back off of the trail prior to the intersections with 2nd and Marshall.
Why is it so critical for bicyclists to be able to get back on the roadway/bike lane prior to entering the intersections? Because entering an intersection from the sidewalk is likely to surprise motorists. In a few short seconds, bicyclists go from being in the blind spot of right-turning cars to being directly in their path. This type of collision is such a common problem that it has earned its own name among traffic engineers: it’s called a ‘right hook.’ A similar problem can occur for oncoming traffic making left turns, and this type of collision has earned the moniker ‘left hook.’
The ‘right hook’ and the ‘left hook’ might sound like boxing moves or engineering trivia, but they are not at all trivial. Several of the bicyclist fatalities of the last few years have fallen into one of these two categories. Bicyclists in Minneapolis don’t think of dry statistics when they think of these deadly collisions. We think of names, faces, and life stories that ended far too soon. This is why the seemingly subtle request for a transition from the sidewalk trail to the roadway/bike lane is actually a very big deal – it could mean the difference between life or death.
This isn’t a case of bicyclists vs. motorists. When a bicyclist and a motorist surprise each other in a collision, it’s a lose-lose situation. The bicyclist suffers injuries, or in the worst cases loses his or her life. The motorist suffers the trauma of being involved in the injury or death of another person. A Lowry Bridge that is safer for bicyclists is also better for motorists. Everybody wins when traffic accidents are avoided.
Regardless of whether you drive or bike for most of your trips, nobody wants to be involved in a collision. Especially if that collision could have been prevented by a simple, inexpensive trail improvement.
Take Action for a safe Lowry Bridge
Now is the time to let the County know that an unsafe design for the Lowry Bridge is unacceptable. Use the link below to find your County Commissioner, and contact them by phone or email to let them know that bicycle safety on the new Lowry Bridge is important to you.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition will use this blog to keep you updated on the latest developments.