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For drivers and cyclists, new downtown lanes a bit confusing

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First Ave.
The reconfigured First Ave. in downtown Minneapolis, pictured here on Oct. 17, 2009, features two-way motor vehicle traffic and bike lanes. The change led to citations for many drivers who mistakenly parked in the bike lanes.
MPR Photo/Madeleine Baran

One week after the unveiling of unusual bike lanes on First Ave. in downtown Minneapolis, many cyclists aren't sure what to think.

"I'm surprised they came up with something so different," said cyclist Catherine Lee, while stopped at a red light at First Ave. on Saturday. "It's just a little counter-intuitive."

City officials added the new bike lanes during the conversion of Hennepin and First avenues from one-way into two-way streets. 

On Hennepin Ave., the city removed a bike lane in the middle of the street, and added a new shared right-hand lane in each direction for bicycles, buses and right-turning vehicles. So far, many cyclists have expressed support for the new lane.

But cyclists seem to have a different opinion about the changes on First Ave. 

The busy street now has a bike lane between the sidewalk curb and a lane of parked cars. Motorists have to cross the bike lane to feed the parking meters. During rush hours and weekend nights, the parked car lane switches to a regular lane. 

For your average bike commuter, it's going to be a real turn-off."

"I'll be honest. My initial impressions are not favorable," said Hurl Everstone, owner of Cars-R-Coffins, a local bike and coffee shop. "I think for your average bike commuter, it's going to be a real turn-off."

On Saturday afternoon, many drivers parked their cars partially in the bike lane. Some ignored the bike lane altogether, and parked right next to the meters. Many pedestrians stopped and looked curiously at the slew of new traffic signs above the street and on the sidewalk.

"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.

Police started enforcing the new parking rules on Monday. So far, there have been two citations for cars parked in the bike lane and three citations for people parked during rush hour.

Bike sign
The reconfigured First Ave. in downtown Minneapolis, pictured, features two-way motor vehicle traffic and bike lanes. The change led to citations for many drivers who mistakenly parked in the bike lanes.
MPR Photo/Madeleine Baran

City officials admit the design is unusual. 

"I don't think that I've seen a street that has all those elements all together at the same time," said Shaun Murphy, coordinator for the city's Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program. 

The city approved the renovation after several public meetings and over a year of planning.

Murphy said he would have preferred to put a curb in between the bike lane and the parked cars to create a more obvious distinction between the two lanes, but that plan would have been too expensive.

City staff held an informational session for bicyclists on Monday, and will hold two more this week. City employees will also be out on the street from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. this week to help drivers who park incorrectly, and provide reminders about the rush-hour parking restrictions.

City crews also plan to create "bike boxes" along both Hennepin and First Avenues to make it easier for cyclists to make left turns. Cyclists can move into marked areas in front of stopped cars when the lights are yellow or red, and then turn left when the light is green.

Murphy said he welcomes feedback from cyclists, and said that some changes could still be made, if needed.

"It's going to take a little while for people to get used to these changes," he said. "I would just encourage people to be patient as people get used to doing things in a new way."

(MPR reporter Elizabeth Dunbar contributed to this story)