Bike Curious Master Class – Protected Bikeway Oak St Intersections
Are you a bit nervous about riding your bike in traffic and wish you could ride in more places? Then you are in the right place today.
My Bike Curious Masterclass blog series takes a deep dive into the tricks and tips I’ve taught hundreds of bike riders in training classes and on hosted rides – easy ways to make your rides both safer and more enjoyable. In each scenario, we look at the factors in play and offer options that become tools in your bike riding toolkit. (And knowing these will help your driving, too!)
Today we are riding on SE Oak St near the University of Minnesota campus.
Phew – we’ve made it onto the protected bikeway without any problems if you read last week’s Master Class post for East River Parkway but we still want to stop for lunch at Punch Pizza and get to the stadium by game time. Let’s keep rolling.
As we ride towards University Ave we come to our first intersection and it has a traffic light.
Should be a piece of cake to roll straight through, right? Of course, it’s not that easy… but pay attention to a couple of things and we can navigate this like a pro.
Two way bikeway on one side of the road with a parking lot driveway mid-block before we get to the intersection.
Heavy traffic for both cyclists and drivers during commute hours with drivers heading to and from the Interstate.
Being near the University means that some drivers will be unfamiliar with the area so you can’t assume that they will act predictably. This also means that lots of students will be cycling unpredictably as well.
Rotating the map and using the arrows to move back and forth will let you see the details we’ll cover next.
What to Consider as a Cyclist
All along this block there is a concrete curb with a break mid-block for the parking lot. At the ends of the curbs are the taller, plastic delineators. Further down the road, the delineators are not in a straight line so we can expect something a bit funky and confusing for all road users.
We can see just the back of the signal for the cars coming at us but by the size of it (5 bulbs) we know that it has some kind of turn only phase. We are facing 2 lanes: a left turn only; and a straight thru/right turn. That clues us that it is a left turn signal. All other directions have the standard 3 bulb signal and we don’t see any signs labeled “3-Way Signal”. The cars traveling in our same direction will be turning left across the bikelanes on green.
This intersection has a walk signal but watch to see if it coincides with a green for the travel lanes. Unfortunately, many cities that are installing the new style of bike lanes are not adding bike-specific signals. It can be ambiguous whether the cyclist should follow the walk signal or the travel lane signal. If the walk signal matches the travel lane signal then cars will be in motion next to us.
The bike lanes are colored a bright green thru the intersection, signalling the drivers to watch for cyclists and further down Oak St it becomes a clue as to where the engineers plan for the cyclist to ride.
Drivers entering or exiting the parking lot. They may not see cyclists when approaching their turn or misjudge a cyclist’s speed and try to scoot in first. When exiting, drivers may pull out across the sidewalk and bikeway before stopping to check if it is clear to turn. We are riding ‘against’ traffic here so we can be a surprise to drivers.
Drivers turning across the bikeway on red lights. The two signals controlling that action are marked “No Turn on Red” for right turns. Generally, if drivers see the sign they will stay put but don’t count on it. A tell-tale sign that they plan to turn is if they are leaning a bit forward and looking to their left – they are waiting for an opening to make their right turn.
Drivers turning across the bikeway on green lights. Not all drivers will be looking at the bikeway or crosswalk, and even if they are they may not yield so watch out. Their primary concern is timing their turn against the other cars coming at them. The risk is they’ll cross in front of you or hook you from behind.
Red light runners. Long signal lights encourage drivers (and cyclists) to catch the light after it has turned red. This can catch cyclists in two ways: First, if a cyclist enters the intersection immediately on their own green light they may be hit by a driver catching their red while turning; second, if a cyclist enters an intersection as their light turns red it is the full-speed cars approaching from a distance that are the real danger. Those drivers make the assumption that they have the go-ahead at the prevailing speed limit but they have not been sitting at the light watching as the cyclist rides through. Cars are increasingly deadly to pedestrians and cyclists as they get above 20 mph.
Slow down so you have time to check all directions before entering the intersection.
Be conservative on the signals. Watch for walk signal countdowns to estimate if you can make the green light (not the yellow.)
Communicate with the drivers around you. I like to make sure they see me and that they are reacting properly. I go beyond making eye contact and will wave at people and wait to see them wave back or some other form of acknowledgment like a head nod.
Getting off your bike and becoming a pedestrian. Walking your bike across the intersection takes the riding mechanics out of the equation. Your focus can be on navigating safely using the crosswalks.
Skills You Can Work On
Scanning ahead to look for cars approaching in all directions. If you see a driveway, watch for exiting cars. Notice the action for each lane at the intersection and at least 100 ft back.
Scanning over your shoulder to ensure traffic on your right stays on your right.
Listening for engine noises to match what you see. Are the cars accelerating or slowing down?
Assessing which traffic controls are in place – Did you notice the difference in the signals? Can you see which directions have multiple lanes? The left turn lane onto Fulton and the right turn lane from Fulton onto Oak give an indication of traffic volumes through this intersection.
Empathy and Patience. Think about how you would drive in an intersection. We are conditioned to creep past the stop bar trying to make a right turn on red or exiting a driveway. We’ve all made left turns on yellow…orange…red when opposing traffic clears without carefully watching for people in the crosswalks.
Why So Funky?
A little background on why two-way cycletracks are sometimes used versus regular bike lanes. The minimum size required by law for a two-way layout is slightly smaller than having two single direction bike lanes so this can leave space for slightly wider travel lanes or to keep parking spaces along the corridor.
In this case, keeping street parking is a priority but another factor is at play here. A lot of drivers leaving the University are turning left from Oak St onto Fulton to access the Interstate so moving cyclists to the other side of the street also allows longer green lights for the left turn lane and reduces the chance for “left cross” crashes for cyclists traveling straight through.
Today’s example has a lot of what are called Conflict Points – spots with people crossing the path of others. Once you can identify where the conflict points are, then you can anticipate the actions of other road users. And if you can anticipate, then its not a problem to prepare and react.
The Mississippi River Parkway is such a beautiful ride and the University campus area has so many exciting things to do and interesting places to explore by bike. I’m glad you’ve come along!