New downtown lanes still confusing as hell for everyone

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A week after Minneapolis opened Hennepin Avenue and First Avenue as two-ways through downtown, pretty much everyone using them is still confused beyond frustration. We'd like to blame this on Midwestern driving idiocy, but these roads are so counter-intuitive and overly complicated that even after knowing the rules we're still not entirely sure what we're doing.

We took a stroll down First Avenue Monday during rush hour and couldn't believe the mess. We thought a week would be enough for some minor improvements, but things seem to be exactly the same. First Avenue has been converted to a two-way street with bike lanes between the parking lane and the curb. During rush hour, the parking lane turns into a driving lane.

Just walking down two blocks of the mess made us want to throw up our hands and give up on life.

Within 10 minutes, we saw a cop car parking in the bike lane, a car going the wrong way down the road, at least three cars parked in what should be a driving lane during rush hour, and a car honking at a parked car expecting it to move. There was even a car parked directly in the bike lane. The signs explaining the parking rules and bike lanes is so giant and overly complex, we didn't have the patience to sit and read it. Apparently the people who bothered to park along the road didn't either.

And don't get us started on the number of near-accidents we saw with bikers. At least two bikers had to stop short to avoid cars driving in the bike lane. Many had to swerve into traffic or ride on the sidewalks to avoid cars in their lane.

Minnesota Public Radio also addresses another problem: Drivers who park on First Avenue and have to cross the bike lane to plug the meter.

"I don't think it's intuitive to drivers that they can park in the middle of the street and walk across a bike lane to feed a meter," said cyclist Bill Dooley. "It's kind of an unusual design."

Other cyclists expressed concern about not having enough space to avoid being hit when a passenger door opens, and about having to constantly watch out for pedestrians crossing into the bike lane.
Hennepin Avenue is also a two-way road now, but the far right lanes in both directions are meant for bikes, buses, and cars taking right turns. Yet another rush hour disaster. Bikers opted to speed along the sidewalks instead of trying to negotiate traffic with buses. The bus we took home along Hennepin nearly hit several bikers who weren't patient enough to wait behind a bus and chose to speed around in the car lanes instead.

While we didn't feel terribly safe biking along Hennepin Avenue when there was the designated bike lanes, we suddenly wish they could come back. This set up seems to be a recipe for disaster, particularly in an area of downtown that has to accomodate a lot of out-of-town guests who haven't had the 20 minutes to sit and stare at the long list of driving lane rules along the way.

Want to see some of the mess for yourself? KSTP has some good footage:

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