Heed Washington Ave. Bridge Restrictions

Just days before the start of the new school year, Hennepin County informed the University that the Washington Avenue Bridge needed improvements and that most of the pedestrian level would be closed to bikers and walkers. Engineers explored several options and decided that limiting all use to a narrow section inside the bridge enclosure was the safest route. Obviously, the situation is not ideal. But, with Hennepin County restricting the width of the path across the bridge to 14 feet, options are limited. If youâÄôve crossed the bridge, youâÄôve seen that it would be impossible to divide that distance in half âÄî seven feet for bikes and seven feet for pedestrians âÄî and then divide it in half again to accommodate traffic moving in both directions. The path is tight, but it is manageable, and I appreciate the cooperation and understanding of everyone who has worked together to make this solution work. With safety in mind, we also decided that bicyclists must walk their bikes across the bridge. This solution accommodates the heavy traffic levels on the bridge, and also ensures the safety of walkers and bikers. Signs went up at the entrance to the bridge and Vice President Kathleen OâÄôBrien sent a campuswide e-mail explaining the situation. Despite the requirement, many people continue to ride their bikes across the bridge. In recent days, OâÄôBrien, University police officers, student monitors and I have all walked the bridge and have directly asked riders to walk their bikes. The face-to-face contact has worked well enough, but we all know that as soon as officers leave, many bikers mount up and violate the restrictions once again. Predictably, we have received many complaints from pedestrians who have been put in harmâÄôs way by reckless bikers. On Tuesday, we had our first bike crash on the bridge. The rider was injured, and we can certainly expect more injuries if bikers donâÄôt comply. Unfortunately, the next step is for the UMPD to write tickets to bicyclists who insist on riding across the bridge. We will begin enforcement in the coming days. ItâÄôs not a step we want to take, because it strains relations between officers and bicyclists, it takes our resources away from other important issues and because each ticket will cost the offender $80. While Hennepin County has put repairs on the fast track, we can expect to live with the bridge restrictions for the rest of the school year. Rather than writing tickets, I would hope that simple good judgment and respect for everyoneâÄôs safety will encourage campus bicyclists to comply with this short-term solution to a difficult problem. Greg Hestness is the Chief of Police at the University of Minnesota Police Department. Please send comments to [email protected]