#19 – Left Side Bike Lanes on One-Way Streets

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Donald C. Pflaum, City of Minneapolis Public Works
Thomas Becker, P.E., City of Minneapolis Public Works


More than 50,000 people (35 percent of commuters) travel to downtown Minneapolis each weekday by bus. Practically every street within the downtown grid is a bus route. Most of these buses stop at each block on the right side of the roadway, creating a potential hazard for bicyclists who tend to ride on the right side.

According to Census 2000 data, Minneapolis has one of the highest commuter and bicycle mode shares in the nation for a city of its size. Much of this success is attributed to more than 80 miles of on-street and off-street bikeways. During the mid 1990s, the City of Minneapolis decided to install a grid of east/west and north/south bicycle lanes in downtown Minneapolis to encourage bicycle commuting. Most of these facilities were proposed along one-way streets with high volumes of right-turn movements. Possible bicycle and bus conflicts along these routes greatly concerned city engineers and transit providers, especially after a bicycle fatality involving a bus occurred downtown.


In an effort to reduce potential bicycle and bus conflicts it was decided that bicycle lanes on one-way streets in downtown Minneapolis would be installed along the left side of the roadway for the following reasons:

Typical left side bicycle lanes along one-way streets in downtown Minneapolis can be found on 9th Street South, 10th Street South, 12th Street South, Park Avenue and Portland Avenue.

Downtown Minneapolis bicycle lane routes.

Left side bicycle lane on Portland Avenue.

Left side bicycle lane on Park Avenue.

Typical downtown cross-sections.

To facilitate the efficient movement of buses during peak periods and to improve air quality, reverse flow bus lanes were implemented along three north/south downtown one-way streets in the mid-1990s. An additional east/west one-way street was converted in 2000 to include a contraflow bus lane and bicycle lane on 4th Street South to accommodate buses and bicycles displaced from 5th Street South, which is the corridor in which Hiawatha Line Light Rail Transit vehicles was to begin operation in 2004. Reconfiguring these streets by removing a 3 m (10 ft) parking lane and an 3.4 m (11 ft) driving lane allowed for a new 4.6 m (15 ft)–wide reverse flow bus lane and a parallel 1.8 m (6 ft)–wide bike lane to be constructed. To increase visibility of the bicycle lane, a red seal coat treatment was applied to the bike lane in all of these corridors.

Perhaps one of the most controversial discussions when the 2nd and Marquette corridors were redesigned was deciding which direction to place the bike lanes. Although there is technical merit for either option, the decision ultimately was made by bicyclists. After considerable debate by the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee, the majority felt that it was better to ride in the same direction as buses since bus drivers are professional drivers and are less likely to hit a bicyclist from behind.

2nd Avenue looking north. Bicycles travel northbound in the same direction as buses. Buses are allowed to use the bike lane to pass other buses only in the event of a bus breakdown. Bicyclists making right turns may share the bus lane with buses. Marquette Avenue one block to the west is the mirror image of 2nd Avenue except that bicycles and buses travel southbound and general traffic travels northbound.

Typical signs along 4th Street South.

Eastbound bicycle lane along 4th Street South. Note that bicycles travel in the same direction of traffic. A bicycle lane will be installed along 3rd Street South to replace the westbound bicycle lane lost due to Light Rail Transit along 5th Street South. Since 3rd Street is a typical one-way westbound street with a proposed westbound bicycle lane, an eastbound bicycle lane on 4th Street was the most logical application.

Modified MUTCD approved sign along 4th Street South.

Looking south along Hennepin Avenue at 7th Street.

Looking north at the same location. Approximately 50 percent of the crashes that have occurred at this intersection (and also at the intersections of 7th Street and 3rd Street) between 1998 and 2003 have involved a left-turning car and a bicyclist going straight ahead. To mitigate this problem, bollards with warning signs have been placed where left turns are permitted. Although the bollards have improved safety, they must be removed in winter to allow for easier snowplowing. The bollards also help keep vehicles from cutting into the bike lane. Over one-third of all bicyclists in Minneapolis bike year-round.

Evaluation and Results

The success of the left side bicycle lanes in downtown Minneapolis can best be gauged by observing how much the facilities are used, by examining bicycle crash trends, and by asking bicyclists their opinions. These outcomes were measured by examining accident records, performing a thorough downtown Minneapolis bicycle count, and by performing a survey with a reasonable sample size.

On September 10, 2003, the City of Minneapolis conducted a 12-hour cordon count, counting all people via all modes of transportation entering and existing downtown Minneapolis at 35 perimeter stations. There were 2,311 inbound bicyclists and 2,368 outbound bicyclists counted that day. In addition to the cordon count, over 30 volunteers took turns counting bicycles at four locations from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. that day. These mid-block stations were set up between 6th Street and 7th Street along Hennepin Avenue, the Nicollet Mall, Marquette Avenue, and 2nd Avenue South. A total of about 1,475 bicycles were counted in these four corridors. About 350 bicyclists were observed using Marquette Avenue, 325 used 2nd Avenue South, 200 used the Nicollet Mall, and over 600 used Hennepin Avenue. In Minnesota it is legal for a bicyclist to ride with vehicular traffic, even if there is a bicycle lane present. It is also important to note that bicycles are prohibited on the Nicollet Mall weekdays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. by city ordinance.

About 75 percent of bicyclists who chose to ride in the Hennepin Avenue, Marquette Avenue, and 2nd Avenue corridors used the bicycle lane. Unfortunately, improper use of the bicycle lanes was common. About 35 percent of those who chose to use the bicycle lanes on Marquette Avenue and 2nd Avenue that day were wrong-way riders. Wrong-way use was considerably less on Hennepin Avenue since there are dedicated bicycle lanes in each direction. One phenomenon that was observed was that wrong-way riding was worse along Marquette Avenue in the morning peak hours and worse along 2nd Avenue in the afternoon peak hours. One theory is that South Minneapolis has more bicycle commuters than other regions of the city and that bicyclists will take the quickest, most direct route possible from their origin to their destination. Clearly some bicyclists do not want to go a block out of their way to get to their destination, even if their behavior is illegal. At the easterly cordon boundary it was also observed that one-third of all bicyclists either used the sidewalk or chose to ride against traffic on one-way streets, both of which are prohibited by law. Bicycles are not permitted on sidewalks in downtown Minneapolis to avoid conflicts with pedestrians.

Bicycle crashes in Minneapolis tend to be directionally proportional to the volumes of bicycles in a corridor, vehicular speed, vehicular traffic volumes, and the number of turning movements in a given corridor. After evaluating types of crashes and crash locations from 1999 to 2003, it was found that the above statement is accurate throughout most corridors in downtown Minneapolis. Bicycle crash rates on 2nd Avenue and Marquette Avenue appear to be typical for a corridor of its functional classification and characteristics. Hennepin Avenue crash rates also appeared to be typical, but crash rates were higher at intersections where left turns were permitted. This problem was mitigated with additional signs to warn turning vehicles to yield to bicyclists traveling across an intersection. Many of the crashes that occurred on Hennepin Avenue, Marquette Avenue, and 2nd Avenue involved a driver or a bicyclist who was using the corridor improperly.

Although no scientific bicycle survey has been conducted citywide, more than 600 bicycle surveys were distributed to bicyclists and neighborhood groups throughout the city in November 2001. Of the 188 bicyclists who responded to the survey, more than 28 percent felt that safety concerns and fear of drivers is the most significant barrier in arriving at their destinations. The lack of trails and on-street bikeways ranked second with 17 percent of responses, and ranking third at 8 percent of responses was the poor maintenance of bikeways, roadways, and bridges. A number of those surveyed indicated the importance of the downtown bicycle lane system, but many felt uncomfortable using the left side bike lanes. Novice and even intermediate adult bicyclists found it especially difficult to safely get on and off the bicycle lanes along Hennepin Avenue. Many experienced bicyclists commented that they would rather ride with traffic instead of use the left side bicycle lanes because they felt unnatural and counterintuitive.

There are several gaps and discontinuities that remain in the Minneapolis bicycle lane system. Many of these gaps and discontinuities are programmed for funding within the next five years. In downtown Minneapolis many of these discontinuities and gaps occur at the perimeter. There is need to connect with existing bikeways systems near the University of Minnesota and in residential areas throughout the city. Experimental mid-block and intersection treatments are now being explored to better integrate left-side bicycle systems on one-way streets with right-side bicycle systems on two-way streets.

Conclusions and Recommendation

After evaluating the left-side bicycle lane concept in downtown Minneapolis and along the Park and Portland corridors over the last several years, City of Minneapolis engineers are satisfied with the left side bicycle lane system. No significant changes are planned for any of the corridors discussed in this analysis, however greater enforcement is needed to ensure proper use of the facilities. What is important to note is the left-side bicycle lane system in downtown Minneapolis was created to accommodate specific needs given unique conditions and circumstances. This concept is not a one-size-fits-all treatment and is not appropriate in some situations. Although many bicyclists do not like the left-side bicycle lane concept, left-side bicycle lanes create a safer environment for bicyclists by effectively providing separation from buses.


Costs and Funding

Standard bicycle lane striping and counterpart signs cost about $50,000 per mile to implement in an urban setting. Roadway configurations and seal coat/pavement treatments are extra and project costs widely vary. For example it cost $100,000 in 1996 to implement the Marquette Avenue/2nd Avenue restriping, signs, and seal coating project (3.2 km (2 mi) long). The 4th Street reverse flow bus lane project was part of a $900,000 mill/overlay project about 1.6 m (1 mi) in length. Annual bicycle lane maintenance costs in Minneapolis have been estimated at about $6.50 per linear meter ($2 per linear foot).


Donald C. Pflaum
City of Minneapolis Department of Public Works
350 South 5th Street – Room 233 City Hall
Minneapolis, MN 55415-1314
(612) 673-2129

Jon M. Wertjes, P.E.
City of Minneapolis Department of Public Works
350 South 5th Street – Room 233 City Hall
Minneapolis, MN 55415-1314
(612) 673-2614

Thomas Becker, P.E.
City of Minneapolis Department of Public Works
350 South 5th Street – Room 233 City Hall
Minneapolis, MN 55415-1314
(612) 673-2411