Time of a Portland Ave for all People

April 3, 2017 at 1:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Right now unless you’re a motorist, Portland Ave in Bloomington is a pretty dangerous and dismal place.  But now we have a chance to improve things for all people, not just those in cars. Coming up shortly is a county resurfacing project with a chance to include unprotected bicycle lanes. But they’re looking to beyond that to when the corridor is up for complete reconstruction too.


Public Meeting


The Current Portland is a Danger to Motorists

First, let’s take a look at what’s wrong with the present situation.  Imagine a typical trip down a death road like Portland Ave.  You’re driving down the right lane. Pretty soon there’s a bus stopped or a brave and fearless bicyclist in the lane, so you move into the left lane. Then a car is at a dead stop waiting to make a turn, so have to move back into the right lane. But stopping in a traffic lane to turn is a good way to get rear ended, as well as causing friction and other motorists to make abrupt lane changes, another was of inviting crashes. Plus the motorist waiting to turn is going to get antsy, fearing being rear-ended if s/he stays their to long, so at the slightest break in traffic s/he guns it, hopefully not hitting any cars or pedestrians in the process.

Engineers like to talk about “conflict points”, where two motorist might try to occupy the same place at the same time. A four lane road doubles the conflict points at an intersection…


And conflict points for turning movements. Red is through traffic and blue is turning traffic. You can see at the bottom left the red car moves out of the left lane to avoid the blue car that is stopped in the through lane to make a turn, potentially hitting a car in the right lane, then ahead could rear-end a car stopped to turn in either direction on the through lane.


The Current Portland is a Danger to Pedestrians

There’s really two issues with pedestrian safety on 4-Lane Death Roads like Portland Ave. The first is that with multiple lanes, a motorist will stop for a pedestrian. A second car coming will not see the pedestrian because s/he is crossing in front of the stopped car and try to pass the stopped car, and hit the pedestrian. There’s been several fatalities due to this in the state recently, such as on Maryland Ave in St. Paul.

A second problem is a site distance problem with turning traffic. A car in the left lane can block the view of a car in the right lane from a motorist waiting to make a left turn.


Last year there was a pretty dramatic crash a mile over another Death Road, Nicollet Ave at 86th St. A southbound Xcel Energy truck made an evasive maneuver to avoid a left turning car that failed to yield, but wound up losing control and plowing into a signal pole on the southwest corner, knocking it over. And in “Final Destination” in real life, a man that was just standing there waiting for a bus was buried under the whole mess. As typical once the scene was cleaned up and the next dramatic story came about the news media stopped reporting on the investigation, so we don’t really know what happened, but I strongly suspect it was either the sight distance issue or the northbound motorist trying to get out of the through lane.


The situation is aggravated by the lack of flashing yellow arrows along these roads. A “left turn yield on green” just doesn’t communicate the amount of caution that’s needed for permissive left turns.  One thing Hennepin County is doing now as standard practice is a 4 second delay in permissive only phases from the time the green through indication lights to the time the flashing yellow arrow lights. This prevents left turners from gunning it as soon as they get a flashing yellow arrow before oncoming traffic and pedestrians can establish themselves. I really hope these signals make it into the new Portland Ave.

Of course some Death Roads just have too much traffic for a 4-3 lane conversion. Lyndale Ave or Lake Street in Minneapolis, or Old Shakopee Road east of Penn Ave. But Portland Ave is not one of those. In fact south of 90th it has so little traffic it would even function fine without the center turn lane, so including one is more than generous to motorists.

A Multi-Modal Portland is in the Alternative Transportation Plan

It’s worth noting that an “on street facility”, ie unprotected bicycle lanes, is in the city’s Alternative Transportation Plan.  Not that they always follow it of course. They stubbornly refused to provide any accommodation to bicyclists when Lyndale Ave between 99th and 102nd was overlaid, despite it being in the plan. But the fact that it’s at least on their plan is a good start.

The I-494 Problem

One complication is connecting with the bicycle facilities to the north in Richfield across I-494. We have the following issues here:

  1.  The 1990 era long term goal for the freeway was to shift the entire mainline to the south. Right now Mn/DOT “is not pursuing that vision”.  But things could change in the future where we once again have the wherewithal and funding to meaningfully attack the congestion problem with capacity expansion. So we don’t want to spend a ton of money on something that might eventually need to be removed.
  2.  Right now it’s not likely a 4-3 conversion over the bridge will work without creating an absolute nightmare for motorists. The plan is to close the ramps at 12th Ave, and Nicollet Ave, which will only increase motorists using this portion of Portland Ave making it even less likely to work.

Perhaps the best solution is like Hennepin County is doing at Portland Ave over the Crosstown, widen the sidewalks as much as practical, build slip lanes for bicyclists to move on and off them, and do a 4-3 conversion outside the immediate area of the ramps.

The Ideal Arterial

The new Portland Ave in Richfield is perhaps the ideal for an urban arterial. Three 11-foot lanes for motorists, shoulders for the confident bicyclists and an off-road path for the less confident. Street lights, that while according to my measurement don’t quite state standards are an improvement over Bloomington’s love with the darkness. Flashing yellow arrow traffic signals provide added protection for motorists and non-motorists alike.


The Portland of tomorrow, in Richfield

With the limited scope of this project and Bloomington’s stubborn refusal to follow state street lighting standards it’s too much to hope for something this nice in the short term. According to a Portland study only 8% of the population are the “Strong and Fearless” or “Enthused and Confident”; presumably the type that would use unprotected bicycle lanes such as these. So Isabella is probably still excluded.



But one can always dream of the future while modestly improving things in the interim.


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