Beyond Park and Portland

Park Avenue buffered bike lane (photo courtesy Paul Mogush)

After much discussion and advocacy, Park and Portland Avenues have been restriped by Hennepin County as (mostly) two-lane streets (down from three) with a buffered bike lane.  At least two streets.mn’ers advocated for this change, and public sentiment seemed to support the change.  Time will tell how successful this conversion is in terms of making the streets more desirable and safe for cyclists while not reeking havoc with traffic.  I’ve heard anecdotally that both goals are being met, but again, it’s early.

A protected bike facility on Kinzie Street in Chicago

Hopefully this type of project is not a one-off.  Minneapolis, Saint Paul and environs is blessed with a pretty robust network of off-street trails, but we’re not likely to build many more of those in the future.  In my opinion, if we want to attract more riders, the next step needs to be adding more on-street (or in right-of-way) protected facilities in a coordinated fashion.  Chicago is aiming to add 100 miles of protected facilities by 2015.  In one instance on Kinzie Street after the installation of a protected facility, ridership increased 60%, with 40% of users relocating their route to use the facility.  86% of the users felt safe or very safe, versus 17% in traditional bike lanes.  We know from our own experience in Minneapolis that more cyclists mean a lower crash rate.  This is the “safety in numbers” theory.

But rather than go at this piecemeal or opportunistically once a repaving project pops up, we should begin planning a coordinated system that not only serves heavily traveled routes (and meets other design requirements of cycletracks), but a system that is attractive because it’s a connected network, not a series of facilities that starts and stops haphazardly (see CDOT’s plan as an example).  While this should be done more comprehensively, I’ll throw out my initial ideas for future corridors, realizing more careful thought is needed.

  1. University Avenue and 4th Street/5th Street.  Something clearly needs to change here.  These one-way pairs see some of the heaviest use by cyclists of any corridor in the city, and are in the heart of areas with the highest bike mode share.  As Bill has pointed out repeatedly, real safety improvements are necessary here.  New facilities should connect to Hennepin and 1st Ave N, and solve the no-man’s-land cyclists encounter around 35W.
  2. Washington Avenue on the East Bank.  This one is kind of a gimme, since I believe the new roadways that are part of the car-free “transit mall” on the east bank will finally give cyclists a non-ridiculous route through the east bank.  Gotta have easy, quick wins, right?
  3. Connect the West Bank and Downtown.  I think it was a large oversight that the road reconstruction on the depressed portion of Washington Avenue/4th/5th Street that coincides with the new “Green Line” LRT didn’t include bike lanes.  For the forseeable future, cyclists heading from downtown to campus (or vice versa) are forced to either use the somewhat terrifying Washington Avenue bridge over 35W or the circuitous Hiawatha Trail route.  Wouldn’t it be great to use the new LRT vertical circulation near the Law School or on 19th Avenue to access the depressed Washington Avenue and a protected facility at least to 11th Avenue South?  Traffic counts aren’t that high under 35W, and there certainly isn’t a lack of space.
  4. A Franklin reliever?  While cycletrack experts might tell you that close block spacing isn’t ideal for cycletracks, lots of European and even pseudo-North American cities do it.  Franklin carries a fair amount of bike traffic, and is a key east-west connector.  While there likely isn’t space on Franklin, perhaps 22nd or 24th street could be enlisted.  22nd would require a new bridge over 35W, making it less likely.
  5. Blaisdell/1st Avenue South.  There certainly may be a street in Minneapolis that is more over-built than Blaisdell (send your submissions to themostcrazyextralanescausespeeding@streets.mn), but I have the most experience with this one.  With a current design similar to Park (two lanes, one-way), Blaisdell carries half the traffic on it’s busiest section.  In my view, it’s a no-brainer to convert this street to a single-lane one way, with a cycletrack protected by a row of parked cars from Grant Street in downtown all the way to 40th Street.  Perhaps the street could revert to it’s current design between 28th Street and 31st until Nicollet is reopened.  The buffered lanes on 1st Ave South should be extended to Grant Street in downtown.
  6. Minnehaha Avenue.  Minnehaha Avenue will be reconstructed from 46th Street to Lake Street, and it’s bike lanes could be reconfigured as cycletracks.  Since it parallels the off-street trail on Hiawatha, this might not be top priority, but there is certainly lots of room.
  7. Plymouth, Broadway, and Lowry Avenues.  These are key connections in North and Northeast Minneapolis.
  8. Something on/near Central Avenue NE.  I told you this list needed more work.
  9. Saint Paul?  People tell me that cyclists occasionally venture here.

Most of these corridors are arranged in something of a hub-and-spoke manner (no pun intended), although my list doesn’t identify a totally comprehensive and interconnected network.  What do you think?


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11 Responses to Beyond Park and Portland

  1. Matt November 1, 2012 at 4:20 am #

    I hope sentiment continues to support these changes. I work at a major employer along the Portland corridor, and people are complaining huge about the change. A lot of people are stuck using it to get to/from freeway connections at Grant St./Franklin, or 31st. Some take Portland all the way to the Crosstown in Richfield. I guess they don't want to use 35W, but I told them it's not really the residents' job to provide them with a city street alternative to a freeway. But it is nearly impossible to rationalize with suburbanites who drive every day to an urban workplace.

    I'd occasionally bike to work, but I'd bike on slower neighborhood streets because the old bike lanes never felt safe. Most of the time, I drive Park/Portland for my commute, but I enjoy the slower traffic. I love having a commute that is measured in blocks rather than miles, and I LOVE not having to get on a freeway. Yet I have absolutely no problem with two lanes instead of three, or a slower speed limit. Maybe it's because I know people who live on Portland.

  2. Dave November 1, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    I have driven on Portland since the change and found very little impact on the traffic. The real change happened with the speed limit drop to 35 MPH so the light timing does not work. Drove from 46th to Franklin twice, maybe a +2/3 minute difference compared to old. Same congestion points and wait times.

  3. Alex November 1, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    Downtown! 4th St provides the most immediate opportunity for a cycletrack, as the contraflow lane becomes unnecessary after the 16 & 50 are truncated/eliminated. The Downtown segments of Portland and Park should also have been given cycletracks in the restriping and were only left out because the County still thinks of Downtown as a Disneyland for suburbanites. 11th St is the other one that cries out for a cycle track, ideally going from the Cedar Lake trail entrance to Park Ave in Elliot Park via Grant St.

  4. Dale November 1, 2012 at 6:42 am #

    I love the changes, and not necessarily from a bike perspective, but from a traffic sanity perspective. The speed and the number of lanes were WAAAY out of scale for what is a residential street. I notice that traffic speeds are slower (mine included), crazy lane changes and highway-like driving is diminished. But, traffic moves smoothly and I haven't noticed snags on my daily morning commute. It just feels much more calm.

    Also, I have ZERO sympathy for commuters who just want to buzz through the neighborhoods from all points south. Zero.

  5. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke November 1, 2012 at 8:14 am #

    This is something I've thought many times. We have these obsolete and dangerous one-way street pairings. Most of them probably WON'T be converted back into two-way streets because of inertia and infrastructural QUERTY. (I hold out hope for 26th and 28th.)

    So, the best remaining fix is to take advantage of these routes by taking one lane and creating a system of cycle tracks. It's a win-win-win scenario for everybody EXCEPT Dale's speeding neighborhood buzzers. It's safer for cars, bikes, and peds, MUCH safer for the latter two.

    Re: St Paul… There aren't these one-way street situations for some reason. I am tempted to say that some of the St Paul equivalents might be the current trucking routes, e.g. Pierce Butler and/or Energy Park and/or Ayd Mill Road. Why not make these into cycletracks w/ relatively separated roadways?

    Otherwise, St Paul has a different set of issues, methinks. (I need to give it more thought, though.)

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 1, 2012 at 8:15 am #

      Oh, and eventually, when there's enough bike traffic, you re-time the signals for a 'green wave'.

  6. BB November 7, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Thats awesome!

    MY biggest complaint Door zone and 3 foot buffer never happened with rude drivers.

    I get to move to SLC Utah.

  7. Jeff Zaayer November 12, 2012 at 11:38 am #

    I've got some potential St Paul cycle track routes.

    St Paul Ave from W 7th St to Ford Pkwy.

    Ford Pkwy from the River to Snelling

    Cleveland from Summit to University.

    University Ave from the U of M to the Capital

    Kellogg Blvd from Sibley St to Mounds blvd

    5th and 6th streets downtown

    Marshall makes a good bike route but could benefit from a contraflow lane/two-way cycle track between Western and John Ireland Blvd where it is one way headed West.

    While I agree Bill's recommendations would accommodate a cycle track they offer little in terms of a local connection and serve more as regional routes.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke November 13, 2012 at 8:29 am #

      prediction: there will be no new bike lanes in highland park for 15 years.

  8. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 25, 2012 at 9:42 am #

    Re: Franklin reliever. 24th Street would also need a new bridge, or a significantly retrofitted existing bridge, as it has only a stairway on one side. Even with a ramp, it's a real climb. While there may not be room for a full cycletrack on Franklin, I am confident that a reasonable facility is possible.

  9. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary November 25, 2012 at 9:46 am #

    On 1st Ave, I agree that the current bike lane facility north of E 28th St is quite poor. However, the creation of a full cycle track would probably require it being converted back into a one-way. I would be pleased if they simply moved the parking lane to the southbound side of the street and allowed the bike lane to be adjacent to the northbound curb — taking things out of the "door zone".