On April 23, I had the opportunity to demonstrate what happens when a wheelchair tries to unload from an accessible van into a bike lane on First Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis. Steve Mosing, a Traffic Operations Engineer, and three city workers from Minneapolis met me on First Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street to discuss this issue. Mosing had us park my van near the bike lane. Here is a summary of the test.
After we parked, we let my side ramp down on my accessible van. The ramp dropped about four feet from the curb. When I exited the van, I could maneuver my wheelchair into the bike lane. Mosing had my friend take a picture of how close the ramp came to the curb. Mosing then told me the following:
Originally, in 2009, the First Avenue bike lanes were six feet wide. When the City of Minneapolis found out that there was a problem with the width last summer, Public Works added a two-foot wide buffer zone. As a result, side-loading accessible vehicles can unload passengers with wheelchairs into the bike lane. After the passenger with the wheelchair is in the bike lane, they are supposed to go up the nearest curb cut designated along the bike lane. Mosing said it is legal for wheelchairs to share the bike lanes with bikers. So, bikers, be aware of wheelchairs.
Mosing admits making the First Avenue bike lanes accessible to all is still a work in progress. Each accessible van is designed differently. Meaning, if one van can do this procedure, another van may not be able to. He said others have contacted the city about this issue. Also, Mosing said there might be changes to the bikes lanes as they receive more inquiries. He had me e-mail him the picture of how close the ramp came to the curb.
Coincidently, an example occurred an hour after I met Mosing. After we met the city workers, we went to eat lunch. We parked on First Avenue, near Target Field. When we had to load me back into my van, a biker had to wait for us to load up. The biker was really respectful of the situation.
Personally, I believe Minneapolis should find a way to let a side ramp land on the curb. If you have had problems with these bike lanes, please tell your story by commenting. I have posted the same picture that I sent to Mosing in the Photo Gallery on this blog.
Written by: Michael L. Sack