Who has the right of way where trails meet roads? It depends

There’s a David Letterman vibe to St. Louis Park’s new public safety video.

There’s a David Letterman vibe to St. Louis Park’s new public safety video. A reporter stands at an intersection of a popular bike/walk trail while kitschy music plays and asks people walking by, “Who has the right of way at the trail crossing?”

One woman hems and haws for a second before saying, “Um, I think cyclists and pedestrians have the right of way?”

A klaxon blares. WRONG, appears on the screen in big red letters.

The video is the latest attempt by St. Louis Park officials to clarify the confusing situation at the intersection between a popular biking and walking trail and a busy road.

But as it turns out, right-of-way rules for trails are not very clear. The exact legal status depends on a finely split definitions and, in spite of the city’s best efforts, unless some key changes are made, everyone’s likely to remain confused about what to do at crossings like these.

Legal debate

In Minnesota, right-of-way determinations for cars, bicycles and pedestrians can be fiendishly complex, and depend on the definitions of “crosswalk,” “intersection,” “vehicle” and “roadway.” 

Here’s how the debate goes for Beltline Boulevard and the Cedar Lake Trail, the intersection that appears in the video. Let’s first take a look at the case of someone walking along the trail, looking to cross the street.

According to state law (Minnesota Statute 169.21 Subd. 2 (a)), pedestrians have the right of way at all crosswalks, marked and unmarked, and every “intersection” creates a legal crosswalk. Therefore, it would seem that pedestrians have the right of way, and cars should stop for them to cross the street provided that the pedestrian gives them enough space to stop.

However, state law also says (169.21 Subd. 3 (a)) that pedestrians crossing at “mid-block,” where an intersection does not legally exist, shall yield the right of way to vehicles on the roadway. If the trail (technically called a “multi-use path” or MUP) does not create an “intersection,” then pedestrians must yield to car drivers.

And there lies the rub: Is the de facto intersection of Cedar Lake Trail and Beltway Boulevard a legal intersection or not?

The answer depends on whom you talk to. According to officials in St. Louis Park, the answer is “no.” The Cedar Lake Trail is not a roadway, and therefore does not create an “intersection” when it crosses Beltline Boulevard.

“It’s a trail crossing,” Deb Heiser, the city’s engineering director, explained to me. “Because it occurs between intersections, and is not signed and has no pavement marking, it’s a crossing between intersections.”

(If you watch it again, you’ll notice that the video is also very careful to refer to the corner as a “trail crossing” each time.)

Different rules for bicycles?

The legal standing of bicyclists is a little different from pedestrians, but the same sticky question applies. According to state law (169.222 Subd. 1), bicycles are legally defined as vehicles, and therefore the stop sign on the MUP applies to them just as it would to a car driver at a two-way stop. Therefore bicycles have to yield the right-of-way to the car traffic.

MinnPost photo by Bill Lindeke
A similar trail crossing on the North Cedar Lake Trail in St. Louis Park, with an attempt at clarifying signage.

However, state law also says (129.222 Subd. 4 (d)) that bicycles in a crosswalk have all the “rights and duties” of a pedestrian, implying that car drivers should yield the right of way to a bicycle in some circumstances, for example, if the corner is a legal intersection, and if the bicyclist is in the crosswalk providing ample room to stop.

To make matter muddier, the St. Louis Park video focuses on the most vague of its Cedar Lake Trail crossings. For other corners, like the equally chaotic crossing at Wooddale Avenue, the answer is clear. Because the trail crosses at a signal, it is doubtlessly a legal intersection, and drivers are required to yield the right-of-way to people on the trail.

Was the video correct?

“That video was a good one,” Ray Thomas told me. Thomas is an Oregon lawyer and long-time national bicycling advocate who is a national expert on these kinds of crossing laws.

“It seems like that’s a crossing, but if you subject it to the analysis of the terminology that we use in the legal world, it makes it so that a ‘multi use path’ or a trail is really not a sidewalk, and it does not create a crosswalk where it crosses a roadway,” Thomas explained.

However, for others, the video gets the matter wrong.

“The situation is simple, and St. Louis Park just got it wrong,” Hokan, a long-time Minnesota bicycle instructor, told me. “The law says that crosswalks exist at intersections that exist at the crossings of streets. That trail is designed for use by pedestrians and bicyclists, and bicycles are vehicles, and therefore it is a street.”

If Hokan is correct, pedestrians would have the right of way, the St. Louis Park video would be wrong, and drivers should yield. Either way, as you can see from the Facebook thread that erupted after St. Louis Park put up its video, resolving this issue seems like counting the number of angels on the head of a pin.

Behavioral design — is ‘Minnesota nice’ a problem?

I’ve biked through this intersection many times, as well as the similarly confusing spots at WooddaleAvenue and Blake Road (in Hopkins), and I’ve seen all kinds of things. Some bicyclists are cautious, and can spend a long time waiting for cars to pass by. Others are aggressive, zipping through gaps between cars. Likewise, some drivers speed, others slow down, and some stop to let people on foot or bicycle pass by. (And some drivers honk at anyone who does something different from what they would do.)

The end result is a confusing mishmash, and there have been a slow but steady stream of nonfatal accidents. The latest mishap occurred last week, when a diagonally traveling bicyclist broke an ankle.

“Without question, it’s less than desirable,” Tom Harmening, the St. Louis Park city manager, told me. “Some time ago there was a crosswalk there, but we removed that. Our City Council and staff, along with the Three Rivers [Park District] have discussed this crossing a number of times. We’ve brought in consultants to look at the design options, and most recently made some changes 2-3 years ago that resulted in current configuration, adding a refuge and a curve.“

For someone walking or riding on the trail, questions about right of way are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is whether the oncoming car is going to stop for you. That’s one reason that, for bicycle advocates, the answer to the St. Louis Park problem is to either clarify the state law or change the street design.

“The video drives me bonkers,” Nick Mason told me. Mason is the deputy director for the Bike Alliance of Minnesota, the state’s largest bike advocacy group, and has been following this issue closely for a decade.

“I wish they would have interviewed someone coming up on that MUP in a wheelchair, or pushing a stroller. If our answer to safety is that people with limited mobility have no right to cross a less-than-safe roadway, we need to pause and consider that it’s inherently problematic. By removing those crossings [St. Louis Park] didn’t increase safety; they decreased their liability.”

Federal Highway Administration
Midtown Greenway at Minnehaha Avenue

Mason points to how Minneapolis designs trail crossings with specifically designated crosswalks for pedestrians, and calms traffic on intersecting streets to minimize danger. For example, the intersections of the Midtown Greenway with Minnehaha Avenue and with 28th Street have these treatments.

Mason and his colleagues at the Bike Alliance would also like to see a more nuanced state law around MUPs and intersections, one that takes into account the difference between a well-traveled path in the metro area and the many trail intersections scattered all around the state.

“Maybe this video will prompt more discussion and dialogue,” Mason told me. “We know our top legislative priority is working on bike and ped funding, because there’s not enough. But we’re still formulating policy issues, and we’re hearing that this is an issue.”

Meanwhile, St. Louis Park may not have to worry about these particular intersections for many more years. When the Southwest Light Rail is built, some plans include a grade separation for this troublesome intersection and others like it. Once a bridge is in place, nobody will have to worry about which came first, the bicyclist or the car driver.

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Comments (50)

  1. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 10/08/2015 - 09:08 am.

    SLP engineers don’t read state law?

    They say it’s a trail and not a roadway. What windshield mentality. What they say is irrelevant, since it’s defined in state law, 169.011 (Subd. 68).

    I was at a meeting last night with a few local traffic engineers and planners (we were prosecuting the war on cars in Minneapolis, of course) and every one that I spoke to was in agreement with this interpretation of state law (it’s not complex).

    There’s a reason why hordes of urbanists from Minneapolis ironically drive their bicycles to chain restaurants in this suburb. It’s a suburb. In a way, it’s reassuring to see they’re owning up to their suburban label with their windshield mentality.

    But St. Louis Park is a complex urban environment. And by creating more chaos, especially while in conflict with state law, they’re inviting death and destruction upon their most vulnerable road users. For this reason, I hope they face a legal challenge.

  2. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 10/08/2015 - 09:50 am.

    Legality? Irrelevant. SLP’s Message is Clear to Me

    The legality is murky, maybe, but the City of St. Louis Park has send me a very clear message.

    I navigate the Twin Cities (all the way to Minnetonka, sometimes to Mankato) by bike. SLP has told very clearly that I’m unwelcome. Signs that yell at me, telling me I’m “less than.” New and “improved” trail/street intersection designs that actually are less safe than the old ones. Videos that klaxon at common sense.

    If the city doesn’t want my presence, the businesses in SLP won’t get my business. And, I’ll happily share how the city makes me feel with my friends (and MinnPost comment readers).

    Lucky for me, Minneapolis, Hopkins, Golden Valley, Richfield, and St. Paul offer me all the business options I might need, so avoiding SLP is painless.

    I look forward to the day SLP conveys — with it’s design, action, and execution — that I’m welcome, rather than claiming they love bikes while making it a very hostile place to be a person on a bike.

  3. Submitted by Joel Fischer on 10/08/2015 - 09:54 am.

    It seems pretty clear to me.

    On any other road, path, whatever, if you have a stop sign and the cross traffic does not have a stop sign, you yield the right of way to any cross traffic.

    So, it would seem that SLP (or whoever) put a stop sign where they shouldn’t have.

    • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 10/08/2015 - 10:24 am.

      That’s true for vehicular users, but not other users.

      As such, the driver of a bicycle is required to stop at a stop sign such as that where the trail crosses Belt Line, not withstanding exceptions made for bicyclists in 129.222 Subd. 4(d).

      But stop signs are completely irrelevant in determining the legal right of way for people walking per 169.21 Subd. 2:

      “Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.”

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 09:58 am.

    Multiple accidents at that intersection when it was a crosswalk

    That crossing was originally an intersection with a crosswalk and there were multiple accidents, in fact I think someone was killed there back in 2009. So doing it the MPLS way doesn’t necessarily solve the problem.

    “Agressive” riders are far more likely to get hit than cautious riders… so why not ride with caution?

    The law isn’t actually the issue, and legal right-of-way from a practical standpoint may be irrelevant. There is no scenario wherein a failure to yield results in a pedestrian or cyclist smushing a car, and no right-way statute can change that. Signs are clearly posted there warning everyone that cars aren’t required to stop, and the cars in fact have no stop sign. We have a similar situation where the trail crosses Blake Road.

    Statues don’t actually dictate human behavior and reality. I’ve crossed there many times, and in actual practice as often as not drivers will stop even if they’re aren’t required to. Frankly I think it would be really hard for a driver to hit a cautious cyclist or pedestrian there. I think in reality if a person in a wheel chair were trying to cross there, drivers would stop and yield. You may have to wait, but I doubt it the wait would be much longer than the wait at a stop light. I don’t think anyone would sit there for 5 or 10 minutes waiting to cross.

    Sometimes I think these conversations or debates about who has right of ways are actually corrosive to safety. ROW in many ways only becomes an issue AFTER an accident, when trying to determine liability. Despite ROW laws we have accidents in intersections by the thousands every day in this country. I’m not saying we should scrap our ROW laws, or that they’re completely irrelevant, I’m just pointing out that in any given circumstance, people make choices. I’m not interested in having: “He Had the Right Of Way” chiseled into my tombstone so I never put myself in front of a car that going fast enough to hit me, in any situation, as a driver, cyclist, or pedestrian.

    As for cyclists being drivers; well drivers are required to follow signage instructions like speed limit signs. They have signs there telling cyclists to yield, I think that means cyclists are simply required to drive according to the signage and yield. If the law is unclear, the signage settles it.

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 10/08/2015 - 10:33 am.


      Or drivers failing to yield and hitting someone in the crosswalk?

      And if it’s the latter, isn’t it a bit strange to solve that “problem” by curtailing the crosswalk users instead of the drivers?

      I agree that once the signs are there, you should abide by them. But the question under discussion is whether the signs should be there.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 11:40 am.


        “I agree that once the signs are there, you should abide by them. But the question under discussion is whether the signs should be there.”

        Exactly. However I think the it’s clear that the city has a right to put those signs there because controlling that crossing as safely a possible is their legal and moral responsibility. We don’t settle this by arguing about right of way statutes. So what’s the point of arguing about right of way statues? Just obey the signs and no one gets hurt. This idea that no cyclist or pedestrian should EVER have to yield to a car or truck isn’t about safety.

        • Submitted by Adam Miller on 10/08/2015 - 01:02 pm.


          There is an argument that state law says that pedestrians and trail users have the right of way. How does the city get the authority to override that state law?

          Also, this isn’t anywhere near as safe as possible. As safe as possible would be stopping the cars so that the trail users have a free cross. This is as convenient to cars as possible.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 03:23 pm.

            Yes, there’s an argument..

            And then there are signs telling people explicitly and exactly what they’re supposed to do. Look, this is really no different in principle than having: “walk” and: “don’t walk” signs at stop light controlled intersections. Basically you’re saying “don’t walk” signs violate state ROW statutes because they deny pedestrians defacto ROW. I’m not a lawyer, but I seriously doubt that “argument” has any real legal merit.

            The point of telling people when they can or can’t cross is to provide safety and control traffic. I would guess that if someone who knows the law dug into this, there is in fact legal basis that establishes that pedestrian ROW is NOT absolute and inviolable. I’d be willing to guess that ROW is subject to local restrictions and modification for the sake of safety.

            I don’t why stopping cars is “safer” or easier than stopping pedestrians and cyclists. When you look at these specific locations, Belt Line, Wooddale, Blake, you can’t just look at the crossing, you have to look at the whole context and the surrounding blocks and intersections. At Wooddale and Blake stopping traffic frequently for cyclists and pedestrians could cause serious delays and snarl traffic. Wooddale is already snarled.

            • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 10/09/2015 - 08:55 am.


              Laws and road/trail design can only do so much to ensure safety. The rest is up to us. If you insist on walking out in front of a car that doesn’t have some sort of signal telling them that they must stop, you are at least in part responsible for your own injury or death. As a pedestrian, I assume a car is not going to stop. Period. Cyclists should assume so, too. In a contest between a cyclist or pedestrian and a car, the car will win every time. The loser is in a world of hurt…if they survive.

              This shouldn’t be about cars vs bikes/pedestrians ALL THE TIME. It should be about smart design in the context of the surrounding area. Cyclists aren’t allowed on freeways. Why? Because they’re not cars. Thus, it’s clear that bicycles are not always traffic, and their presence does not turn just anything into a road. If a moving bicycle turned anything into a road, the whole freaking metro, with the exception of buildings and other vertical barriers, would be one giant road. Obviously, that’s unworkable. So, some exceptions to the “bikes are vehicles” rule must be made where it makes sense. Like on trails and trail crossings.

              Personally, I think the biking community (at least the ones who want to make it cars vs. bikes all the time) need to clean out their own house and deal with people like the one I saw last night using sidewalks to beat traffic by riding very quickly across when the pedestrian signal indicated no walking…right in front of someone wanting to turn left on a yellow because they’re stranded there due to heavy traffic. If he got hit…I’d definitely blame him. And you know what? That sort of cycling behavior is quite common, no matter what the biking community may say. When that sort of cycling behavior becomes rare, you’ll get way more support from the “windshield thinkers.” (Oh, and derogatory terms don’t garner much support either.)

            • Submitted by Adam Miller on 10/12/2015 - 10:07 am.

              We know what you want to talk about

              But no one else is discussing what bikers should do to be as safe as possible.

              The question is what should the city be doing, and is what it’s doing violating state law.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/14/2015 - 09:24 am.

                Actually no…

                A lot of us are talking about what cyclist should do to be safe, because bicycle and pedestrian safety is actually more important than obscure arguments about fuzzy statutes.

                When you get to be a judge who has heard legal arguments from REAL lawyers in a REAL court of law…then and only then can you issue a legal ruling that the city is violating State Law when it establishes a safety protocol at this crossing.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 10:16 am.

    By the way…

    Apparently tunnels and bridges at these intersections are a current design feature when (if) the SWLRT is built.

  6. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 10/08/2015 - 10:17 am.

    Let’s talk trails

    Trails are not defined in state statute (169.011 definitions). MUPs that allow bicycles (a vehicle) are thus roadways (and highways with multiple roadways [what the Europeans would call carriageways]) in the case of the Cedar Lake Trail along the BNSF Railroad’s Wayzata Subdivision (to St. Louis Park, no less).

    But, since local municipalities wish to invent the legally undefined label of trail for some facilities and degrade the rights and privileges afforded to users as defined in state law, let’s talk trails.

    There are at least 150 local streets in the metro named as a “trail.” U.S. Highway 8 in Chisago County is known as the Moberg Trail. U.S. 212 is known as the Yellowstone Trail. Parts of MN-7 in Western MN are known as the Sioux Trail. Parts of U.S. 59 are known as the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail.

    And ALL of Interstate 94 in our state (a facility defined by 169.011(19) as a Controlled-Access Highway and with limited types of vehicles and uses allowed) is actually known as the Purple Heart Trail.

    So, are these trails somehow not roads or highways comprised of roads (carriageways)? Are the users of these “trails” (a term not defined in state law nor used to describe a type of facility) conferred with a different set of usage rights or right-of-way arrangements? Of course not.

    Similarly, we must go by the definitions in state law of what a multi-use path is. It’s actually a roadway (albeit with certain types of vehicles [motorized] restricted from use). Where it crosses other roadways (or highways with multiple roadways, in the case of Belt Line where the refuge island creates a dual carriageway situation) the location is an intersection. And, as such, 169.21(3) cited by St. Louis Park (Crossing Between Intersections) is irrelevant. Furthermore, “that portion of a roadway ordinarily included with the prolongation or connection of the lateral lines of sidewalks at intersections” constitutes a location of a legal unmarked crosswalk location. Which has been determined by courts of law in the state of Minnesota to include, for sake of explanation, “every corner” for roadway facilities without dedicated sidewalks as defined by subdivision 75.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 11:27 am.

      Let’s talk facts…

      You don’t get to ignore traffic signs because you have your own legal theories or definitions. The question isn’t whether or not this a “trail” the question is who has the responsibility and right to control traffic in any given location. In this case it’s the City of St. Louis Park and the Three River’s Park District. They are legally entitled to put up those signs and try to establish a safe crossing. You can disagree with the way they it, but you can’t that they way they’ve done it is illegal. You can point to whatever you want to point to but unless you point to a specific law or statute that legally REQUIRES the city control that crossing the way YOU want to control that crossing…. you got nothing.

      Meanwhile the fact is if everyone simply obeys those clearly defined signs no one will get run over, and we all get through the crossing in a safe and relatively timely manor… so what’s the problem, really? The only place I’ve ever really gotten hung up is further West at the Wooddale crossing, and a lot of that has to do with the bridges on MNKA Blvd. and the access to Hwy 100 from Hwy 7 being cut off.

      • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 10/08/2015 - 12:11 pm.

        “but unless you point to a specific law or statute that legally

        You mean like 169.04, on Local Authority?

        The only authority ceded to local authorities that would relate to this would be in 169.04(a) Subd 2, allowing the “regulating traffic by means of police officers or traffic-control signals.”

        “Traffic-control signal” is defined by 169.011.85 as a “device, whether manually, electrically or mechanically operated, by which traffic is alternately directed to stop and permitted to proceed.”

        I’m also fairly certain that the signage shown is not allowable under the FHWA’s MUTCD.

        St. Louis Park is outside the bounds of their legal authority.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 03:43 pm.

          We’re talking about real law here

          You can’t just google stuff and make proclamations. We have a complex web of statutes and laws going back over 100 years. The truth is you and I can’t just google stuff and render legal opinions. The statutes you’re looking at may not even be the relevant statutes. I simply note that no one has filed a suit to force St. Louis Park take down those signs or change the way they’re trying to control those crossings… maybe there’s a reason for that?

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/09/2015 - 08:36 am.

        Stop It!

        Simply obeying some arbitrarily placed stop signs does not make a biker or pedestrian safer. They still have to get across some very busy streets without getting turned into road kill dinner for the nearest vulture.

        I’m much less interested in what this statute or that law says and more interested in designing a system that’s safe for all–not just something that reduces St. Louis Park’s liability.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/09/2015 - 10:31 am.

          Stop it?

          I think you need to realize that in the real world, safety isn’t about engineering it’s about human behavior. All the bells and whistles flashing lights in the world didn’t stop a woman from stepping in front of a Green Line train, it’s not always about design.

          There’s nothing arbitrary about not stepping or riding into moving traffic, it’s actually common sense. Obviously riding or walking into moving traffic is dangerous, so obeying signs telling you not to do that does in fact make one safer.

          I’ve ridden through these intersections hundreds of times and they’re not in any way any kind of non-negotiable gauntlets. With a little common sense, patience, and instruction they’re actually perfectly safe. It’s not actually “difficult” to get through any of these crossing without becoming road kill. I’ve been negotiating crosswalks and intersections for 50+ years all over the world, and I haven’t got killed once yet regardless of engineering.

          Just because you may not like the signage or agree with the design doesn’t make it: “arbitrary”.

  7. Submitted by Walker Angell on 10/08/2015 - 11:16 am.

    This is a non issue in Europe, why so difficult here?

    Great post Bill.

    In The Netherlands every interaction between bicycle riders and motor traffic and pedestrians is carefully orchestrated. A junction such as this one, and it would be considered a junction just as any two roadways or carriageways crossing, would clearly indicate who has right-of-way.

    In most cases one or the other will be told to yield right-of-way with sharks teeth (and occasionally a sign). Stop signs are extremely rare though you will occasionally encounter one. The final alternative is a signal system. Understanding the benefits of momentum for bicycle riders and their desire to increase the use of bicycles which have numerous benefits over cars, they try to always give right-of-way to bicycles.

    There is never any ambiguity about who has right-of-way for drivers, bicycle riders, people with disabilities, or pedestrians. This creates a road system that is not only much safer but also less frustrating.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 11:31 am.

      You’re actually describing this crossing

      There is a stop sign and clear instructions at crossing telling cyclists they have to stop and yield to cross traffic. The problem here isn’t really confusion, it’s a complaint that cyclists and pedestrians should never have to yield to traffic.

      • Submitted by Matthew Steele on 10/08/2015 - 12:14 pm.

        Just as at any other intersection with two-way stop, the stop sign indicates right of way for vehicular users rather than pedestrians. State law is quite clear, every corner (including this legally-defined corner) is a crosswalk.

        If you are a motorist driving down a street without a stop sign, and a pedestrian asserts their right of way at the legal unmarked crosswalks at the corners of an intersection of a street where vehicular traffic DOES have a stop sign, you as a motorist are obligated by law to stop. The pedestrian has the right of way, regardless of stop signs. It’s quite simple, really, yet it’s probably the second-most violated traffic law in the state. Behind speeding, of course.

        • Submitted by Mark Brigham on 10/08/2015 - 01:10 pm.

          Dangerous mindset to assume one possesses a right of way until the ROW has been yielded to him or her.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 03:01 pm.

          Dangerous indeed

          It is indeed dangerous to tell people they can ignore explicit signs telling them to yield to traffic, because you have a theory that “state law” trumps those instructions. If you see a sign telling you that cross traffic does not stop… I wouldn’t assume that traffic WILL stop, on the contrary. Of course we’re not supposed to run people down, but if you breeze by a sign telling you stop and walk in front of moving traffic…

  8. Submitted by Walker Angell on 10/08/2015 - 11:21 am.


    When traffic on either crossing (road or bikeway) is very high then The Netherlands (and most northern European countries) will try to include an underpass for bicycle riders. This eliminates the need for either mode to stop and significantly increases safety. This is of greatest benefit to bicycle riders as the only time they need to stop is for interactions with motor vehicles. Even a huge volume of bicycle traffic can safely navigate among themselves at bicycle-bicycle junctions.


  9. Submitted by Sean Ryan on 10/08/2015 - 11:30 am.

    Tragedy in waiting

    Reminds me of the case of Dr. Brian Lew this summer. Killed while crossing Vicksburg Lane in Plymouth at a ‘trail crossing’ that had been signed & marked then was quietly wiped from the pavement by city engineers.

  10. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/08/2015 - 12:21 pm.

    Wooddale Crossing

    I frequently drive through the Wooddale crossing in St.Louis Park and I can say it’s a bit of a challenge for a biker or pedestrian. The article implies there’s a light at the crossing, which is not correct. There’s one nearby on 36th Street, half a block away.

    The entire area is one huge mess as you have 36th St., an active railroad, the bike crossing, and entrance & exit ramps for hwy 7 all in the span of a few hundred feet. Plus hwy 100 is under construction, which shunts a lot of traffic onto hwy 7 and Wooddale. That’s a temporary item and traffic levels should ameliorate somewhat when construction is done in a few years, but it’ll still be busy as it’s a major through point for large residential and commercial districts in the area.

    To add to the chaos, the new Wooddale bridge over hwy 7 is nothing short of a design disaster. Wooddale goes over hwy 7 at an angle rather than perpendicular and the bridge has a pronounced hump to it. And there are tall concrete railings defining the edge of the bridge. All that makes it extremely difficult for people coming off hwy 7 to see anyone coming from the left, to the point where they’ve closed the left turn lanes due to the large number of accidents. You can still turn right, but that’s still a dicey proposition.

    Add into this stew of lanes, rails, signs the bikers and pedestrians who are trying to cross Wooddale and get on their way. I have to say my hat is off to those who want to give it a go as it’s not something I recommend for the faint of heart. For a couple of reasons I typically stop for people on the trail whether I’m required to or not.

    1. If I don’t stop, it could be a long time before traffic clears and the biker or pedestrian can go.

    2. It helps to calm traffic. People driving through that area tend to be impatient and a little nervous–we could all benefit if people slow down a bit and take some time to evaluate the changing dynamics in the area.

    3. The car is by far the more dangerous vehicle. Slowing down a bit makes the situation safer for everyone.

    It’s a heck of a tough area to navigate in a car, let alone on a bike. You would think in this day and age that we can design an intersection that is both safe and accommodates all modes of transportation. But Wooddale must have got the B team when the state designed this one. Currently St. Louis Park is battling with the state to get some stop lights put in at the hwy 7 ramps and keep getting turned down. I hope in the end they prevail, but even that’s not going to do much to make up for a bad design.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/08/2015 - 03:35 pm.

      Yes and no

      It’s actually dicier to drive through than it is to ride across on bike trail. You can get stuck if a lot of people are waiting to make right turns off of Hwy 7 and that frontage road, but there’s something of a halfway safety island there, so you can cross in stages if you have to, but it’s definitely the worse of the crossing.

      Day before yesterday I rode south on Wooddale, crossed Hwy 7, and jumped on the Cedar Lake Trail headed East towards the Lakes. THAT is NOT something I’d like do on a regular basis. Yikes. I will say though that drivers were very considerate and thoughtful, EVERYONE I came across yielded to me. Of course that’s not always the case.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/09/2015 - 08:45 am.


        It sounds like you made it through the intersection safely because a whole lot of people yielded the right of way to you. If that works, maybe we should modify the confusing mish-mash of laws we have to say cars yield to cyclists at all crossings.

        Until we get grade separated crossings, that seems like the most sensible thing to do.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/09/2015 - 09:32 am.


          However, I want to be clear that drivers yielded to me, I didn’t “claim” right of way. I never ride in front of someone until I know they’re going to stop for me, because sometimes they don’t stop. In other words, we deal with these situations by negotiation, not by asserting some kind of statutory “right”.

          • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/09/2015 - 11:57 am.


            This isn’t an issue of claiming the right of way or yielding it, but rather of setting expectations. Stop sign or no, if a biker or a pedestrian dashes out into an intersection without first checking the traffic conditions, they run a good risk of getting turned into a human pancake.

            What I’m shooting for is to alleviate some of the confusion, which helps to set the expectations for drivers, pedestrians, and bikers as they approach an intersection. You’re always going to have some people who are unaware of the rules or aren’t paying attention, but for the vast majority if people they’ll get it and respond appropriately when they get to the crossing.

  11. Submitted by William Lindeke on 10/08/2015 - 01:01 pm.


    Thanks for the correction. My mistake. I meant to say that it’s not a “mid-block” crossing because of the existing roadway.

    Also, there’s a 300 page Mn-DOT document on the issue of trail design and intersections that anyone is welcome to read through. It doesn’t clarify things, but offers a whole lot of detail: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/research/TS/2013/201323.pdf

  12. Submitted by Mark Brigham on 10/08/2015 - 01:06 pm.

    Yielding right-of-way versus having right-of-way

    Right-of-way laws are typically worded so that one party must yield the ROW to another. If a car is supposed to yield to a pedestrian, the pedestrian does not _have_ the ROW until said car has yielded it. Nobody should approach any intersection with the mindset that they _have_ the ROW. Look, make eye contact with others, ensure that if someone is supposed to yield ROW to you that they actually do. Your stress level will go down, and you’ll survive longer.

    And if you’re afoot or on a cycle, you’d better make darned sure you never assume you _have_ the ROW. False assumptions can be fatal.

    At trail crossings, where peds & cycles must yield to street traffic, seems to be a no-brainer that you don’t go shooting out into the street until traffic is clear, or the civilized & polite car drivers have noticed you and decide to yield the ROW to you…even though you should be yielding to them.

    • Submitted by Jim Buscher on 10/08/2015 - 02:03 pm.

      I’d like to see drivers have the mindset to Yield the ROW vs Have the ROW. A pedestrian hitting a car isn’t going to kill a driver. I think we’ve all seen far too more cases of aggressive driving versus aggressive walking.

      When the situation consists of bicyclist vs pedestrian, the bicyclist should also Yield as if they were driving a vehicle. Pedestrians deserve the most courtesy and protection. They’re the ones most vulnerable.

  13. Submitted by Eric Anondson on 10/08/2015 - 02:53 pm.

    Waiting for SWLRT? Ugh

    So we probably won’t get an improvement until SWLRT comes. If that is true can the trail bridges and underpasses be the absolute first things to be done?

  14. Submitted by Craig Recknagel on 10/08/2015 - 03:18 pm.

    So, what’s a highway?

    It’s a term that is not defined in statute 169.

    To me it seems that the argument comes down to: is this a legal intersection? Depending on if this is the case or not, then the rules change.

    Per Section 169 Subd. 36.Intersection. (a) “Intersection” means the area embraced within the prolongation or connection of the lateral curb lines or, if none, then the lateral boundary lines of the roadways of two highways which join one another at, or approximately at, right angles or the area within which vehicles traveling upon different highways joining at any other angle may come in conflict.

    (b) Where a highway includes two roadways 30 feet or more apart, then every crossing of each roadway of such divided highway by an intersecting highway shall be regarded as a separate intersection. In the event such intersecting highway also includes two roadways 30 feet or more apart, then every crossing of two roadways of such highways shall be regarded as a separate intersection.

    So, in order for this to be an intersection, we have to find out if this is where 2 highways meet. To determine this we need to know if the MUP is a highway or not. Problem is, the definition of a highway isn’t spelled out here. That’s what is missing. Get that defined and a lot of this gets resolved. Until then, people get to define it however they like. Many hear the term and think it’s a street (like what cars drive on) others will state that since bikes are on the MUP, it constitutes a highway.

    Without that definition, the argument is stuck in limbo.

  15. Submitted by David Markle on 10/08/2015 - 06:08 pm.

    An inconsistency in the statutes

    Yes, bicycles are vehicles. Why should a vehicle enjoy the same rights in a crosswalk as a pedestrian? Not good, especially when the cyclist using the crosswalk zooms across the roadway at 20 miles per hour! The law needs to be clarified and changed!

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 10/09/2015 - 08:29 am.


      Classify bikes as vehicles and giving them crosswalk privileges doesn’t bother me in the least. Depending on the weight, size, and purpose of various vehicles, they all have certain restrictions or benefits granted to other vehicles.

      Some buses can drive on the shoulder. Large trucks are prohibited from some roads and bridges. Bikes aren’t allowed on the interstate.

      It really only becomes an issue if someone wants to see the world in black and white terms. Often the world is more of a blended mix of a little bit of this and a whole lot if that.

  16. Submitted by John Clark on 10/08/2015 - 07:10 pm.

    Pedestrian and bicyclist’s right of way. Are they related?

    If we really want to solve the bicycle crossing safety issue, I think we need to start by recognizing that the vast majority of motorists in the state are ignorant of Minnesota’s pedestrian law. This law states that “drivers must stop for crossing pedestrians at marked crosswalks and at all intersections without crosswalks or stop lights”.

    On a good day, most motorists (maybe) will stop for pedestrians at marked crosswalks, especially if a road sign similar to the one at Midtown Greenway is present. But at unmarked intersections, all bets are off. Even if a crossing pedestrian gives motorists plenty of room to slow down and stop (which, by law, is required), few if any motorists will actually slow down and stop! Just step off the curb as a pedestrian at one of these intersections, and try this test for yourself. Be prepared, though, to step back onto the curb real quick, since you will be potentially putting your life at risk.

    The state of California also has basically the very same laws in effect regarding pedestrian’s right of way at intersections as Minnesota does. But the general public in that state is much more cognizant of this law than we are in this state.

    We need to dramatically increase the awareness of pedestrian’s right of way in this state. And, I believe, increasing this awareness will also increase motorist’s awareness of the rights of other non-morotized traffic, such as bicycles, especially if a serious campaign by the state is started to do just this.

    • Submitted by Jeff Christenson on 10/09/2015 - 10:57 am.

      Well said. I have to cross Grand at Saratoga every day to drop my 2-year old son at Montessori (usually with him on my shoulder). Even with me obviously carrying a toddler (and presumably more likely to get a motorist to stop), I have to wait for three or four cars to zoom past before one will finally stop. And that’s just to cross the first half of the street! Crackdown is needed or all unmarked crosswalks need to be marked.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/09/2015 - 09:25 am.

    See, this is what’s goofy…

    We have a situation where we have crossings with clearly marked instructions that are legally posted by the authority responsible for controlling the crossing, and instead of simply reading and following those instructions, people are trying to figure out what a “Highway” is? It’s kind of bizarre, and I’m not sure this happens anywhere else but the US. Instead of reading and obeying the signs, people are reading statues, as if it’s the statues not the failure to obey the signs that’s causing accidents or other problems. This weird tendency towards abstraction is an interesting phenomena.

    We cannot control every aspect of reality by statute. Democracy assumes that between statue and individual conduct lay a realm of common sense wherein individuals act responsibly and intelligently. Maybe the reason we have some fuzzy definitions of “crosswalks” and “intersections” is because one can usually assume that a responsible person is capable of negotiating any intersection safely regardless of statutory clarity. I mean seriously, does anyone really think that cyclist and pedestrians are getting run over because ROW statutes are unclear? When was the last time someone said: “well I hit him because statute 164.2 says this… but statute 189.4 says that… so I didn’t know what to do?” Or when was the time someone said: “Well, I figure it was OK to run him down because I have right of way.”

    Here we have a series of crossings with clearly defined and posted expectations/instructions and the fact is if cyclist and pedestrians follow those instructions no one will get hit by a car. It doesn’t get any safer than that. All the City of SLP is doing with its video is explaining the expectations because obviously someone can stand ten feet from a big giant stop sign and two big giant text signs telling them to stop and yield because the cross traffic doesn’t stop… and decide for some reason that the cross traffic HAS to stop for them.

    Think of it this way: We could do away with ROW statues and crosswalk definitions altogether if we simple had a statute telling everyone to obey all traffic signs. You see sign that says stop for pedestrians, you stop for pedestrians. You see a sign that says stop for traffic, you stop for traffic… done and done. Oh, wait, we already have a law that says everyone is supposed to obey traffic signs and signals.

  18. Submitted by David Markle on 10/09/2015 - 11:39 am.

    Crosswalk privileges

    Because of concern for pedestrian safety and the liability of drivers, I feel that bicyclists should have crosswalk right-of-way privileges only if they are walking the bike, not riding it: in other words, right-of-way only for pedestrians.

    And for the same reasons, I think there should be a state-wide speed limit on sidewalks, say 5 mph, for everyone, whether on foot or on vehicle, with provision for local variations regarding specific walkways.

    It seems to me that these are common sense measures.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/14/2015 - 09:39 am.

    In other words…

    The City of St. Louis Park and or the the Three Rivers Park District have established a clear and workable safety protocol and improve safety at the Belt Line trail crossing, and they’re using social media to educate the public. I seriously doubt that the city is doing something “illegal” at Belt Line, and since the changes have reduced accidents I’m not sure what a complaint would be other than an ideological assertion that pedestrians and cyclist should never have to “yield” to traffic. It’s important to remember that these anti-traffic “yield” arguments are about attitude, not safety. On the ground, where real pedestrians and cyclists meet real traffic… “attitudes” can get people killed if they ignore common sense safety protocol.

    Mr. Adler says:

    “What I’m shooting for is to alleviate some of the confusion, which helps to set the expectations for drivers, pedestrians, and bikers as they approach an intersection.”

    Well, isn’t that EXACTLY what the city of SLP is doing at this crossing? They are clearly establishing a sensible safety protocol and design, and publicizing it in order to minimize confusion. Sure, a grade separated intersection would be better and safer, but in the mean time we have to deal with what we have, and this seems to be the best solution for now on the ground at THAT crossing/intersection.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/14/2015 - 09:58 am.

    Design and legal nerds

    This article is interesting and obviously thought provoking, but we should recognize that it’s written from something of a “nerd” perspective wherein minutiae can overwhelm reality on the ground.

    This is a REAL intersection (in the broad definition of the term) where real cyclists, pedestrians, and traffic meet each other and try to negotiate safe crossings. Obviously the statutes, whatever they may say, don’t ( and probably can’t) establish a safe protocol, therefore the responsible mission is to make the intersection as safe as possible regardless of statutory obscurity.

    Physics tells us it’s easier to stop pedestrians and cyclists than it is to stop traffic, and common sense and experience tell us that pedestrians and cyclists that don’t move into moving traffic have a hard time getting run over. These two facts pretty much dictate safe design in any intersection that’s not controlled by a traffic light.

    Even in controlled intersections every pedestrian and cyclists needs to check traffic before crossing because clear ROW laws, and definitions of “trails”, “intersections”, and “vehicles” may clarify liability when people get run over, but they cannot restore broken bodies or return the dead to life.

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