Oct 25, 2010

Cyclist Killed in Collision on First Ave.

1st Ave. 11/4/09
Originally uploaded by Snak Shak
Today a 55 year-old cyclist was struck and killed on First Ave. in downtown Minneapolis. Although reports are sketchy right now, it sounds like the cyclist was going straight in the bike lane and was struck by a delivery truck that was turning right.

First Ave. was modified in late 2009 to include bike lanes. The design for these lanes was intended to shield cyclists from traffic with a line of parked cars. During rush hour, parking is not allowed on the street, but during off-hours cars are allowed to park next to the bike lane, but away from the curb as shown in this photo, which I shot late last Fall.

There were problems with this design when it was implemented; drivers did not understand that they can't park next to the curb, or would hang over into the bike lane, creating a hazard for cyclists. The City installed "candlestick" markers to delineate the bike lanes better as a result of these problems. I originally took this photo to document the installation of the candlesticks.

I have ridden the re-designed First Ave. exactly twice. I rode it once right after it was installed to see for myself how well it functioned. I rode it again after the candlesticks were installed. The number of cars hanging over into the bike lanes were reduced thanks to the candlesticks, but I was never comfortable riding on First Ave.

The reason for my distrust of this bike lane was (and still is) that the parked cars obstruct the view of the cycle lane for drivers turning off of First Ave., and they also can obstruct the view of cars on First Ave. from cyclists using the First Ave. bike lanes. It always seemed to me that a right-cross was more likely, and left-cross was also a possibility. I avoided this street as a result.

My other concern with the design was that other cyclists would view First Ave. as a "safe" street to ride on because it has dedicated bike lanes that are isolated from traffic. In my opinion that creates a false sense of security that can lull inexperienced cyclists to believe that they are safe riding in these lanes.

I don't know the specifics of what happened today on First Ave. I can easily imagine the cyclist was riding up to the intersection, did not see the turn signal on the truck and proceeded straight through the intersection, directly into the path of the truck, which had begun it's turn.

I think this design needs to be revoked, or if not, additional controls need to be added to give cyclists green arrows or red lights to accommodate right turns.

It's too bad this tragedy happened, but hopefully we can all learn from this and create a safer city for everyone.


  1. I don't have this on any of my regular routes but have ridden it several times and agree that it is too isolating and I wasn't comfortable riding it so I always seem to find other ways through the city. It's great that alternatives are being tried but I don't think this one has a bright future ahead of it.

  2. Engineers seem to continually come up with "safe bike lane" ideas that aren't great. Remember the left side bike lanes? They were supposed to reduce the incidence of cyclists being "doored," but they created their own set of problems.

  3. This is very sad, and frustrating. As a traffic engineer, it is literally my job to make sure things like this don't happen. The City has taken a lot of heat for these lanes, and they have been criticized since day one for being under-engineered. It will be interesting to see how the cycling community and the city engineers respond to this incident.

  4. I think that the First Ave. redesign was done with all the best intentions. Adding bike lanes should be a positive (particularly at this time, when we lost the bike lanes on Marquette and Second Ave to Metro Transit buses), however the local merchants desire for on-street parking forced the City into a situation where they were forced to ask too much from the street (north-south parking, north-south travel lanes and north-south bike lanes). Pulling out parking on one side of the street would create more space curb-to-curb, but the merchants would raise hell over that, I suspect. I will be curious if the City responds by pulling the lanes off of First Ave.

  5. I drove that stretch of First Avenue in my car yesterday just to see it from a car driver's eye view. The parking occupies the right lane (adjacent to the bike lane) for most of the block, but a hundred feet or so from the intersection the parking ends, creating a right lane for right turning. Also, the bike lane stripe changes from solid to dashed and then ends altogether in the intersection. The light rail lines occupy the northern half of Fifth street. In other words, to turn right, a car driver must enter the intersection, cross the light rail tracks, and then turn right into what is the left lane of eastbound Fifth.

    In other words, it seems to me that there is plenty of space/time for both the cyclist and the vehicle driver to observe one another before meeting the hard way.

  6. Interesting, Blanc2. I thought about riding this yesterday, too, but I called that off due to the weather. I wonder if the issue was not the trailer, as in the Dennis Dumm collision. The cab of the truck tracks predictably, but the trailer "moves in" towards the intersection corner as the truck makes the turn, pinching cyclists or pedestrians as the trailer comes around? In general, I try to avoid being to the side of buses or trucks. So much better to be in front of them or behind them.

  7. An article in Finance & Commerce suggested that the bike was stolen and the guy riding it (who was killed) was the thief. The facts: (a) the bike involved had been reported stolen earlier that day (the lock had been cut), and (b) the guy who was killed had bolt cutters in his backpack.

  8. Thanks for all the comments.

    The Pioneer Press and Strib ran similar articles. This creates a conundrum for the bike community. On the one hand, this was a guy on a bike who was apparently riding legally in a designated bike lane and was killed by an inattentive driver. On the other hand, he was riding a stolen bike and had a bolt cutter in his backpack. It's an interesting situation. I feel bad for the guy and his family and friends. Yet, I feel differently than I did with Dennis Dumm, or Virginia, or some of the other cyclists that have been killed in traffic accidents in the metro. If I am feeling better tomorrow, I plan to ride that route and get some picks, which might help frame up an opinion about this whole unfortunate incident.

  9. The other bit of irony was that the vehicle was a Quicksilver vehicle. Isn't Quicksilver a messenger service? Don't they have bike messengers? Wouldn't you think a Quicksilver driver would be more attuned to cyclists than a "normal" driver?