Transportation roundup

Look ma, no coins!

Minneapolis’ some 7,000 parking meters are nearly ready for the retirement home, and in preparation the city is, ahem, test-driving some new options for their
replacement.

And yes, many of those new meters will take credit cards.

Earlier this month, workers installed new types of meters at six sites across the city. The new meters will remain for about six months while the city monitors their usage and collects drivers’ feedback.

City spokesman Matt Laible said there isn’t an exact timeline for the citywide replacement. Most of the meters were installed in 1992 and will need to be replaced over the next few years.

Four sites feature multispace meters. That means there aren’t meters at each space, just signs indicating the space’s number, similar to pay parking lots without attendants. Drivers park, walk to a payment machine (usually mid-block among the meters), type in their space number, and pay with coins, bills or — yes, it’s true — credit cards.

Another perk of new technology: Most of the meters will automatically switch between peak and off-peak rates, and will warn drivers in advance of tow-away zones and other parking restrictions.

If you use any of the meters, the city wants to hear from you: User feedback will guide the city’s final decision on which new meters to purchase and install citywide. Call 311 or fill out a short online survey at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/parking.

The testing areas include one block in the Warehouse District, one in Old Saint Anthony, one in Stadium Village, two blocks in Dinkytown and one in Elliot Park.

Want to avoid Greenway robbers? Stay in Southwest

The recent spate of robberies along the Midtown Greenway bike path has led to increased police presence, a group ride to reclaim the trail, and much discussion about the future of the path as bikers’ equivalent to an interstate highway.

One thing that hasn’t been mentioned much, though, is how rare such robberies are on Southwest’s section of the path.

There’s only been one between January 2007 and the end of November 2008, according to Minneapolis Police Department statistics. The majority have occurred on the eastern miles of the path, where it runs through south Minneapolis.

Then again, it’s worth noting two things. Other robberies may have gone unreported. And more importantly, the department’s stat keepers just recently got a designation for the Greenway and not all officers are using it yet, said Chelsea Adams, a Southwest crime-prevention specialist.

If you have information on the robberies, or have questions, you can contact Crime-Prevention Specialist Don Greeley at 673-3482 or donald.greeley@ci.minneapolis.mn.us or police department spokesman Sgt. William Palmer at 673-2896 or william.palmer@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.

Where there’s noise there’s a meeting

For Southwest residents still concerned about airport noise issues, there’s a Metropolitan Airports Commission meeting in January.

The meetings are held quarterly, and mostly used as a way for the commission to update the public on complaints, work toward solving ongoing problems, announce changes to airport procedures, and discuss other issues.

In November, 20 Minneapolis residents filed a total of 113 complaints over excessive noise, with the majority coming from Southwest residents. That number’s down significantly from October, when 46 city residents logged 1,140 complaints.

The meeting’s Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. It’ll be held in the Lindbergh Conference Room in the MAC building at 6040 28th Ave. S.

— Cristof Traudes and Jake Weyer contributed to this report.

Transportation roundup

 

The city is nearly finished with designs for Hennepin and 1st avenues, which will now be converted into two-way streets in 2009, a year earlier than originally planned.

City planners and consultants released the latest revisions Dec. 4 at the final public meeting on the design process. Plans are still subject to change between now and spring 2009, when work begins on the avenues, though what was presented were final city recommendations and likely won’t change substantially.

The city first announced it would begin the project in 2010. It now plans to finish the project by fall 2009 (with the possibility of waiting to seal coat the avenues in spring 2010 if fall weather doesn’t cooperate). The project doesn’t involve reconstruction; rather, it’s a simple lane restriping combined with minor curb and other work.

The avenues were both originally built as two-ways, but the city converted them to one-ways in 1980 in order to meet air-quality standards by curbing emissions.

The current project is intended to reduce congestion, create designated lanes for buses, and cut down on the high crash rate between cyclists and vehicles, largely due to the combination of left-turning traffic on Hennepin and the heavily used two-lane bike path that runs down the center of the avenue. Nearly 85 percent of all bike crashes along Hennepin occur because of left-turning traffic, according to city statistics.

Traffic impacts are expected to be minimal throughout the process.

Here’s a quick look at the current proposal for each avenue:

Hennepin Avenue:

Cars would have one lane in each direction, as well as a center lane for left turns in both directions. Bikes and buses would share a wide lane in each direction that abuts the curb.

Bikes and buses would have equal right-of-way in the shared lanes, meaning that cyclists wouldn’t have to watch for buses pulling around them or cutting them off for curb stops. Cyclists would also have a small amount of room on the left to pass stopped buses.

The plan mirrors designs in Madison, Wis. and New York City, among other places, city traffic engineers said at the meeting.

1st Avenue
:

Cars would have one dedicated lane and one parking lane in each direction. The parking lane would be restricted to off-peak hours, meaning two traffic lanes in each direction during rush hours.

Bikes would have a dedicated lane between the curb and parked traffic in each direction. The lane would be colored red to prevent drivers from parking vehicles in the lane, and to raise awareness of passengers who could open car doors in front passing cyclists.

Because of the shared-access plan for Hennepin Avenue, engineers expect the 1st Avenue bike lanes to become the primary route for cyclists traveling through downtown. Part of the project calls for bike boxes (bike-only areas painted in traffic lanes, placed before crosswalks at intersections to allow cyclists room to wait for red lights) and other symbols on the pavement to create awareness for drivers and direct cyclists to and from the avenue.

The city’s Transportation and Public Works committee is expected to examine and approve the designs at its Dec. 16 meeting.

Lyndale Avenue now open

As anybody who’s happily abandoned their detour routes already knows, Lyndale Avenue has reopened to traffic.

That doesn’t mean work is completed — construction will continue through summer 2009 — but there won’t be any more total closures or detours.

Workers plan to wire streetlights and signals (right now all intersections with traffic lights feature four-way stops) and do small repairs over the winter months, and starting in spring, the top layer of the road will be built. There will be one traffic lane open in each direction during the remainder of the work.


The project: Convert Hennepin and 1st Avenues into two-ways

The intent: Ease congestion and reduce accidents between cyclists and vehicles

The details
: Dedicated bus and left-turn lanes on Hennepin, primary bike route relocated to 1st Avenue

The talker: 1st Avenue bike lanes planned to run between the curb and parked cars

The timeline: Construction scheduled to start spring 2009 and end in fall

This architect’s rendering shows the current — and likely final — design for converting Hennepin Avenue into a two-way street. The project is scheduled to begin spring 2009. Image courtesy the city of Minneapolis

 

Transportation roundup

Why did the I-35W bridge fall?

The question has finally been answered.

While that answer — which the National Transportation Safety Board  announced Nov. 14 following a two-day hearing, 15 months after the Aug. 1, 2007 collapse — is labeled "probable cause," it’s the most definitive and final response from federal investigators.

Here’s a (mostly) government-jargon-free breakdown of the decision and what comes next:

Why did the bridge collapse?

A design flaw.

The NTSB said the bridge most likely collapsed because gusset plates — the huge steel plates attached to intersecting beams to provide structural support — were built half as thick as they should have been.

They should have been an inch. They were a half-inch.

This finding came as no surprise to anyone who had been following news of the collapse. Investigators had already focused in last year on the size of the gusset plates.

Did the report fault anything or anyone else?

Predictably, the report blamed Sverdrup & Parcel (the now-gone company that designed the bridge), as well as state and federal transportation officials, for not discovering, when they reviewed the design prior to the bridge’s construction in the mid-1960s, that the gusset plates were too thin.

The report also faulted current state and federal bridge inspectors’ "generally accepted practice" of not paying enough attention to gusset plates, as well as not including them when calculating how much weight a bridge could hold.

The report noted the weight of construction equipment — from a project under the supervision of the Minnesota Department of Transportation — on the bridge at the time of the collapse. And it noted that previous construction had added weight to the bridge.

Does the fact that the bridge was rated ‘structurally deficient’ for many years have anything to do with the collapse?

No. When a bridge is rated ‘structurally deficient,’ that means it requires repair, not that it’s unsafe to drive on or in imminent danger of collapsing. That repair could be for elements that directly support weight, but it could also refer to elements like surfacing or, in the case of the I-35W bridge, rust and corrosion.

The rating is certainly considered a warning sign, though, and makes the bridge a higher priority for repair. That fact led some to directly criticize Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who in recent years has vetoed large transportation-funding bills, for not supporting substantial investments to repair the state’s infrastructure.

What did the NTSB have to say about the findings?

"We believe this thorough investigation should put to rest any speculation as to the root cause of this terrible accident and provide a roadmap for improvements to prevent future tragedies," said Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker, in a release.

"Bridge designers, builders, owners, and inspectors will never look at gusset plates quite the same again."

Is this the end of hearing about the collapse?

Not likely. The report was largely based on circumstantial evidence — the NTSB couldn’t say for absolute certainty whether the bridge designers had checked their figures or not and couldn’t draw a final conclusion regarding what confluence of factors caused the collapse.

And the lawsuits — filed by family members of some of the 13 who were killed and around 145 who were injured — may have just begun. At least four have been filed this month, against both a San Francisco-based firm that inspected the bridge in 2003 and the Minnesota company resurfacing the bridge when it collapsed.