Ask the LCI is an occasional column on Cycle Twin Cities edited by our Two registered LCI certified instructors (Nicole and Joe). As a reader feel free to email us with your questions about cycling around the Twin Cities area.
Everyday I commute on the Hiawatha Light Rail Trail, north in the morning, south in the evening. The problem I have is how to best cross E. 26th Ave. After crossing over Hiawatha on the Sabo Bridge I descend the trail and head towards the intersection. When a train is coming it’s great, the cars are stopped waiting for the train, but where the gates are up, I gotta watch out. Cars driving straight on E. 26th in both directions, cars coming fast on Hiawatha turning left and right, it’s rare when I don’t have to completely stop at the intersection.
The problem that I have is with the center island it’s too narrow for me to stand with my bike, but a lot of times it would be quicker to cross one half of the street when no cars are coming. Sometimes I can get stuck there with cars now whizzing by on both sides of me. What should I do?
Signed- Stuck in the Middle.
I have had similar experiences when I ride through this crossing as well. How this crossing is supposed to work is actually pretty straight forward, but in reality, because this is one of the busiest bike trail crossings in the Twin Cities, things can get complicated here.
As you can see, this is a complex intersection. There is an awful lot going on in this short stretch of street: 26th Street is a busy, two lane street at the LRT trail crossing. Immediately west of the LRT trail crossing, 26th Street becomes 3 lanes to allow for a right-turn only lane. Cars are also turning east on to 26th Street from Hiawatha Ave.as well. Finally, both the LRT trail and the light rail tracks are immediately east of Hiawatha Ave., so motorists on 26th street have three crossings in a very short distance.
There is no “secret” to crossing 26th Street of the LRT trail. The trail crossing is marked to alert motorists on 26th Street of the potential presence of cyclists crossing 26th Street on the LRT trail. LRT trail users have stop signs in both directions at the 26th Street crossing. That means that cyclists are supposed to yield to vehicles on 26th street and wait for an opening in traffic to cross. However, given the number of vehicles on 26th street, the wait to cross can be long for cyclists and they can get impatient. Furthermore, often motorists will brake for cyclists trying to cross to “help them out”. That’s where things get complicated.
Cars that yield to cyclists at this crossing generally do this as a nice gesture, but that can actually be dangerous for the cyclists because if there are other motorists navigating that crossing, they may not yield to cyclists (in fact, we recently had a serious bike/car collision at the point where the Midtown Greenway crosses 28th Street due to this problem).
The traffic law on this issue is intended to protect cyclists at crossings such as this, but in my experience, this part of the law is not understood well enough by motorists to afford the protection that it intended. Section 169.21 states:
b) When any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear shall not overtake and pass the stopped vehicle.
Cyclists are afforded similar rights in 169.22 – Subd 4f:
(f) A person lawfully operating a bicycle on a sidewalk, or across a roadway or shoulder on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.
In practice, cyclists should never rely on the law, or the encouragement of one motorist, to assume that they are safe crossing intersections such as 26th Street. In addition to the fact that other motorists may not understand that they cannot overtake or pass a vehicle waiting for a pedestrian or cyclist in a marked crosswalk, there is a problem of visibility as well. Cyclists and pedestrians in a crosswalk may very well be screened by the vehicle that has stopped.
Remember that cyclists are supposed to stop at this crossing and yield to cars. Cyclists should only enter the crossing when it is clear vehicles. If a driver does yield to a cyclist trying to cross 26th street, the best thing to do is make lots of eye contact, make absolutely sure that there are no other vehicles entering the crossing and proceed with caution. Do not put your safety in the hands of other people. Never let a driver persuade you that it is safe to cross just because they have stopped and waved you across if there are other vehicles at the crossing. Often, I will shake my head “no” and cross my arms to let the driver know that I am not going to cross just because he/she waved me across.
As you note, there is a narrow center island on 26th Street, but that center island is really not wide enough to create a safe refuge for cyclists, so I avoid waiting there and wait on either side of the crossing until I can cross both lanes of traffic. Sometimes it takes patience, but that’s the best way to make this crossing.
If you have ideas on how to improve difficult crossing such as this, pass your thoughts on to the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and let the City know through their on-line feedback form.