Park, Portland, Priorities, and Alliteration

mpls-portland-franklin

Portland Avenue and Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis.

I ride from Northeast to South Minneapolis four times a week. Basically from one end of town to the other, including a trip through Downtown on the way. The route is very simple, really: I hop onto the great little 5th Ave bike boulevard, drop down 6th to the Stone Arch Bridge, and ride Portland straight to Minnehaha Creek, which I take to Nicollet. I’ve thus ridden Portland (and Park) at most hours of the day and night, with and without rush hour traffic. I am very grateful for this route, which is as safe a route as one can experience on streets in the Cities. There are, though, ways that it could be improved on. To get at these I think it’s important to look honestly at what Park and Portland are and are not.

Both streets are almost entirely dedicated to housing. And most of that to single-family dwellings, with some multiplexes and small apartments thrown in the mix. Which is to say that Park and Portland are not dense. Neither do they have destinations. Car traffic drops off dramatically after Lake St (and the 35W exit just after). Moreover, traffic is never terribly heavy anyway. Though it is fast! This seems to say to me that Lake and the freeway are the two places attracting cars.

There are no restaurants, shops, and relatively few parks. Yet that there are no destinations is not entirely accurate. The Midtown Greenway runs perpendicular, as does the River Lake Greenway and the Minnehaha. Obviously they also lead downtown and, not unimportantly, to Richfield and Bloomington. Note, though, that these are all cycling connections. Park and Portland therefore, coinciding with the general growth of infrastructure, are and may yet become increasingly important from a cycling standpoint. They are much less significant for their auto accommodation, which was made redundant, as has been pointed out, with the construction of I-35W.

What this suggests me to is that Park and Portland can best function as cycle-commuting routes; as ways to get somewhere else. Even if we were to advocate changing both into two-way streets – which seems like a pretty good idea – they simply would not have the same function as the lanes on Chicago, for instance (or the function they would have on Nicollet, where their absence is conspicuous). These routes aren’t going to increase business, for instance, or aid to create “complete streets”. This is as true further south as it is through Downtown, where there is little of interest on the streets themselves, with the exception of the football stadium and, uh, the hospital?

With this in mind, what might increase the use and efficiency of the two streets as cycling routes? Interestingly, despite the wide berth of paint afforded the lanes, in all the spots where accidents are most likely to happen, cars are more than happy to misuse their space, turning even non-dashed sections of the cycle space into extended turn lanes. Safety and clarity would be greatly increased by a physical (concrete) separation of the two sections. Literally, a curb or some kind of barrier. This would also have the effect, at least according to several studies, of increasing cycle ridership. Though not relatively dense, there are still a great many people living on Park and Portland and the surrounding area. Constructing a street-grade two-way cycle track on both streets would encourage more people not only to commute to work, but also to travel within the metro. (I would suggest two-way lanes whether or not the streets change to the same; at least until the Minnehaha, though why not extend it all the way through Bloomington?)

Given the important cycle routes directly intersecting P&P, this could potentially increase the number of people taking trips to Downtown, the Creek, the Lakes, Uptown, Longfellow, and Lake Street. Perhaps even the Blue Line and River Parkways. Physical barriers would also greatly increase safety at intersections, disallowing vehicles ever to cross into the cycle lanes.

The traffic lights too could use a change. They don’t seemed timed to make anyone happy right now, be they driver or rider. Because of their importance as cycle commuting routes, I think that timing a “Green Wave” for Bicycle (not Auto) speed during rush hour makes a great deal of sense. This would be a life saver in Downtown, where I end up spending more than half of my commute, though it makes up only a small part of the total ride, as the lights seem hellbent on making me stop at every single one. If only there were something nice to look at!

Finally, more and well-placed bike storage at key destinations, a bike shop or three, and other “small” factors would help. All of these would take an already good addition to our cycle-friendly city and make it glorious.


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25 Responses to Park, Portland, Priorities, and Alliteration

  1. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell September 17, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Tony, great post. I love the comparison of destinations. I completely agree with your suggestion of cycletracks along P&P.

    Is most of the current traffic on these just trying to avoid 35w or are there that many local traffic?

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 17, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

      All I know is that I perceive a noticeable drop in traffic after Lake and the 31st exit to 35W.

  2. Ian Bicking September 17, 2013 at 10:47 am #

    The dismissal of the mobility allowed through Park and Portland annoys me – as though urbanism only can value local businesses and slow streets, and cares little for the actual mobility of people living in the city. Either they should poke along on streets deliberately designed to thwart them, or go to a highway. Living near Park and Portland I use them often, and never use 35W. I don’t even see how they can serve the same purpose. For people in my area of South Minneapolis 35W is only useful if you want to go some distance, past downtown or past Bloomington.

    There are literally dozens of streets that are barely utilized in the area. Columbus, Oakland, 10th Ave, 15th Ave, 17th Ave. We have enough space to do things, we don’t need to overfocus on a couple streets that already serve an actual purpose.

    What has become mainstream urbanism seems too little concerned with the convenience of people in the city. Efforts to make the city more convenient have often aped the structures of the suburbs to poor effect, but we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater when we ignore convenience and mobility. We shouldn’t concede that only the suburbs can offer those features. Park and Portland are built for intracity mobility – something that limited access highways don’t achieve or even attempt.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini September 17, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

      With 100′ of right of way (yes, many SF homes have front yards that include grassy space in the public realm), one-way pairs could be made extremely mobile and useful for all modes of travel. The ever-elusive multi-way boulevard. If we can figure out a way to work around or replace existing trees, and be willing to deal with narrower lanes the pair of Park & Portland could be made to look like something like this:

      http://streetmix.net/alexcecchini/21/100-one-way-mwb-park–portland

      A separated bike lane from both traffic and parking cars provides safety and speed. 3 lanes of thru-traffic see less friction on the edges (I put in a dedicated bus lane, but that could be moved to Chicago as part of the aBRT plan with lane-reductions), and on-street parking preserved. The sidewalk is wider, and the pedestrian realm is even bigger. The MWB would be much more supportive of land-use that encourages destinations along the way while providing an improved intra-city mobility by auto/bike/transit. Too bad recent street section re-dos and the bridge reconstructions have limited this possibility…

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary September 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

        I guess I don’t see why this would be an improvement over what’s there now. The wide grassy boulevards are a signature feature (before the current iteration of the street, they were much wider, making the sidewalks extremely secluded. Trees thrive far better in grassy boulevards than in sidewalk grates, which is part of what makes the canopy so consistent and beautiful along much of the streets.

        Personally, I’d prefer way less street. There’s no need for transit shelters or dedicated bus lanes when there is no bus service on or planned for the roadway. In most areas, there is not need for parking on both sides (although where there is, it might be appropriate to widen to accommodate that).

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini September 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

          I think it’s an improvement because it decreases the distance one has to cross the street (currently 56′ from curb to curb vs. 36′), maintains parking that in the future may be used for businesses, creates a clear separation between thru-traffic (including bicycles) and pedestrian realms, and said thru-traffic is actually improved (safely) by reducing edge friction.

          I guess it depends what you see Park and Portland looking like in 30-40 years. I agree there are no plans for transit down either – I’m sort of challenging that notion given the ample right of way and the ability of a MWB to provide near dedicated transit ROW style service (compared to putting an aBRT down an 80′ ROW Chicago, mixing with traffic and parking cars). Obviously the challenge is that you’re moving the southbound line 4 blocks from the commercial-heavy Chicago. Perhaps that direction stays further east.

          Regardless, it’s obviously a personal opinion of mine, but wide grassy boulevards don’t make for an efficient use of urban space, nor do they really provide usable “lawn” or park land for residents. In a one-way boulevard, the existing buildings get to retain their ample grassy setback (currently 15-18′ to property line), with any new development having the option to front the sidewalk if they wish (maybe stemming from key intersections). I also challenge that trees can’t thrive in sidewalks or that access road/woonerf zones don’t provide seclusion for sidewalkers: http://31.media.tumblr.com/8e89072c27efe39548e20bbd3714b1e1/tumblr_mkfjambcub1raz9u3o1_1280.jpg Just my take, I guess.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini September 17, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

          I should have stated in my first reply… I completely agree with you that there is currently far too much street. 3 (overly wide) lanes are carrying daily traffic counts of (Portland & Park, respectively): 11.5k and 13.1k at 24th St, 10.9k and 9.9k at Lake, 7.1k and 6.5k at 38th, and 7.1k and 5.4k at 46th. I’m not a traffic engineer, but this seems like lane overkill for those counts.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 17, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

      I don’t know much about ‘mainstream urbanism’ since I’m just a server who rides his bike. It does seem to me that you seem to be reading, perhaps, a bit too much into what I’m saying. It’s not as if I’m suggesting we kick cars off of these streets. I didn’t even suggest taking away parking, though I think that too could potentially be another good idea; turning these streets into alternative transit corridors. But none of these ideas would require reducing P&P to a single through lane.

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary September 17, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    I disagree with you on one point — the dashed sections are actually inappropriately short in Portland/Park, and cars probably should turn before the dashes begin. (They don’t bear any legal meaning, some jurisdictions do the dashing and some don’t… regardless, you should merge into a bike lane before turning.) The trouble is that they used the same length of dashing as used for a typical 5-6′ bike lane. But here, you’re merging across at least 17 feet, and possibly about 25 feet if you merge all the way to the curb (which is ideal). I didn’t use to like this, but with a better understanding of turning-related accidents, I accept that it really is safer for motorists to merge.

    Now, there is a very closely related problem of motorists using the bike lane to overtake other motorists to make a right turn on red or similar. (I see this often on Portland approaching the lane drop at 46th St.) This is problematic, and I agree, physical barriers would discourage it.

    Green wave lights for bikes would be nice, although I’m not sure the volume exists right now to make it work well, since there’s a wide range of cycling speeds. With a greater density of bikes, it’s easier to get a more regulated speed.

    I would settle for them simply fixing the sections at Lake Street and downtown. Especially in the vicinity of Lake Street, it seems ridiculous for the entire bike lane to merge into the exact area that, farther south or north, is designated solely as a car door buffer. This is the largest commercial area on the route, with the highest volume of parked cars and highest rate of turnover.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      From the Greenway to Lake and from Lake to 31st (or whatever it is) there is a dedicated turn lane for cars. Traffic isn’t such that they can’t turn around the bike lane. I’d like to see ‘tear drop’ curbs that force cars to turn around the bike right-of-way.

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 17, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      Also, regarding differences in cycling speed, I would gladly trade a slower “green wave” for the ability to ride as fast as I do. I may not be a part of the lycra mafia, but as a 30yr old male in decent shape, I certainly ride faster than most. Yet taken as an average, with all stops, starts, and slow-downs, my average speed for the whole 8 mile trip still hovers close to12-15mph, despite stretches where I go over 20.

    • Janne September 18, 2013 at 11:43 am #

      I notice how where the turning behavior is marked in a way that is clear for cars, they DO follow the markings (26th Ave. is a good example). However, most other places they turn around without merging, or do a host of different things. I think this is in part because of poor communication of the design intent. It’s possible the designers have no intent which is why it’s not communicated, who knows. I think that creating a physically protected lane would force designers to clarify their intent and result in more predictable behavior — by both cars and bikes.

      I also agree that the dashing is too short for the wide buffer. It is also inconsistent (take the dashing before an intersection where a turn to the right would send a car the wrong way on a one-way).

  4. Cris September 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    I’ve been shocked at how few bicyclists I see using park and portland since the major revamp that gave cycles a full lane plus parking lane barrier. I would have to see a lot more use before getting behind additional spending. Especially when I hear discussions about closing it through downtown as part of stadium park. It does serve a vital role for those of is who live in mpls and need to get to and from downtown without adding to 35w congestion.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary September 17, 2013 at 2:43 pm #

      But remember, the striping wasn’t done until the tail end of bicycling season last year, and the bridges over 94 have been out all summer this year. They’re both done now, but I don’t think we’ll see people really out using the route until next year.

      • Cris September 18, 2013 at 7:58 am #

        True, yet I still see more people riding on Chicago between Downtown and South Minneapolis than on Park and Portland (and not just the detoured area) – which to me is truly terrifying and dangerous for both cars and cyclists. Hopefully more cyclists will use Portland and Park going forward and show that there is real usefulness there and improvements will follow. I think it has to be a three legged race (use-improve-increased use-increased investment) rather than an ‘if you build it they will come’ – especially when it’s already valuable to and used by another segment of population.

        On another subject, I also see a lot of people still riding on Lyndale from downtown to Lake area – even though Bryant was made a priority for cyclists. Any thoughts on why that occurs – again seems so dangerous for both parties.

        • Janne September 18, 2013 at 11:46 am #

          Chris, I’d beg the question of whether it’s already valuable as it was/is. There’s not much traffic for the square footage of driving lanes. Even fairly low-use bike lanes are a better use than underused driving lanes which impair the quality of life for neighbors and make it terrifying to bike/unpleasant to walk.

          As for they “Why” question you pose, my personal answer is “The places I want to go aren’t on Bryant, and I have to go those last three blocks somehow that hopefully doesn’t include biking the wrong way on a one-way street.” Here’s a more detailed response.

          http://mplsbike.org/blog/posts/four-reasons-why-i-ride-my-bike-on-lyndale/

          • Cris September 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

            Thanks Jane,
            I was curious whether it was the particular configuration of Bryant (narrow/traffic controls) or if was more about it being a detour off the main drag – as you say where everything is – and it sounds like it’s a combination of both.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary September 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

          While it’s certainly not a welcoming environment for bikes, I don’t find Lyndale north of Lake Street to be particularly dangerous for a cyclist who is driving their bike properly. If they control the full right-hand lane, they are well out of the door zone, and very visible to motorists exiting and entering the roadway. Motorists still have another lane available for passing slow-moving cyclists.

          Bryant is lower-volume and -speed but also has its own risk factors: it has unfavorable traffic control at 28th, 26th, 24th, and Franklin (stop signs with limited sight distance), whereas Lyndale has signals. The narrowness also means that a car choosing to overtake will do so very close, and that you may be forced to ride in the “door zone” of parked cars.

          I’m not saying nobody should ride on Bryant. It’s certainly more pleasant. But I think safety in Bryant versus Lyndale is basically a wash.

          And Chicago’s a great street for bicycling south of 28th St. Between 28th and 9th Street, it’s difficult. But again, the safety details depend on the style of bicycling.

        • Rosa October 4, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

          I just did Lyndale two days ago because I was going to MCTC from east of Lyndale. Going farther west than I need to and then crossing back across Lyndale from Bryant is a lot slower than just taking the scary 6 blocks of Lyndale before the bike lane starts.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini September 17, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

      Even if Park and Portland were both closed (highly unlikely, as Park will probably stay open), where are people going downtown via Park (or coming home via Portland) in large numbers that being cut off at 5th St would severely limit end-destinations? I’m not saying there is nothing north of 5th, east of Portland in the Mill District/DTE, (certainly a good number of bars, restaurants, the Guthrie, Mill City Museum, a couple businesses located in mid-rises, and a few other attractions). But by and large the street capacity surrounding this one-way pair can easily handle current and future traffic (for proof, the study for downtown showed that, assuming 0.5% yearly vehicle count increases, closing only Portland would result in an average vehicle delay in the surrounding area of 3-4 minutes in 2035 – hardly a move that would be earth shattering to people using either to get to downtown).

    • Tony Hunt
      Tony Hunt September 17, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

      I think Sean made great points. The relatively short existence of the lanes coupled with the bridge revamps has hindered growth. In addition, when it comes to traffic-separated cycle tracks, the popular wisdom is “If you build it, they will come.” That is, people who are too afraid or intimidated now to ride will be more likely to rise with better, safer cycle amenities.

      We need to encourage a shift in mode share if we take urban cycling to be beneficial to the city, which I most definitely do.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam September 17, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

      It’s not closing them “through downtown,” is it? I thought it was just the two blocks between 3rd and 5th Streets?

      • Rosa October 4, 2013 at 10:35 pm #

        I used to be a regular commuter on park/portland, but I’m not working downtown this year so I’m currently an occasional user. Every time I’ve tried to take Park this summer, some part of it has been closed. I was going to take Park from the Greenway to downtown on Thursday and at the top of the ramp off the Greenway I saw that traffic was down to 1 lane between 29th & 28th at least, so I didn’t even try.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell September 17, 2013 at 7:05 pm #

      From a post in my stack of I-really-need-to-finish-this-post stack:

      There are a few things, in my opinion, standing in the way of getting more people riding on Park and Portland. First, it’s still a bike lane. It’s a great bike lane, probably the best bike lane in the Twin Cities, but it’s still a bike lane. It still has cars driving directly next to it at 45 mph. It still has cars and trucks driving in to it to make a right turn, park, drop people off, deliver stuff, get around another vehicle, or just because it looks like a great place to drive (and looks better and better the more beer you’ve had). It still gets clogged with snow in winter and anyone using it in winter is likely to get splattered with salty slush by those cars going 45 mph next to it. You still must mix with right turning cars at intersections. The only thing I think it improved is that you are less likely to get doored (I can attest that parked cars still pull out without care of the bicyclist DIRECTLY NEXT TO THEM.)

      So, instead of the 1% of people who were willing to ride on P&P before, now 2% of people might be willing to do so. That’s good, but still leaves 98% of the population with no interest in riding on it. These people intelligently want segregated cycle tracks or paths.

      Then there’s mindshare – many people simply don’t think to ride. They’ve been getting in their cars to drive a half mile to the store for 50 years. This will take a few years for people to start thinking about it.

      Next are bikes – once people think that maybe they should try riding, they still need a bike (or need to fix their old Nishiki hanging in the garage.)

      Oops, they also need a destination – people will have little or no interest in riding until they can actually go somewhere—without doing battle with 4000 pound cars and unpredictable drivers. The network of safe and comfortable segregated cycleways needs to get filled out.

      This will all take time—longer than it will take me to finish writing a post on it all.

  5. Dale September 17, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    My big issue with the urban mobility argument is that these are residential streets and it is still too easy to go 40 to 45 mph on these streets. They are better than they were, but still problematic.

    I think a good compromise would be having a traffic flow like Minnehaha Parkway. That is a pretty busy residential boulevard because it cuts all the way across the city. But people still drive at reasonable speeds and you can still get where you need to be without too much headache.