A couple weeks ago, the City of Edina City Council voted to revise the striping on Wooddale Avenue. The plan will remove the experimental “advisory bike lanes” that were installed in 2012 and have proven to be a controversial issue for the City. In it’s place, the new design will feature a traditional bike lane for a short segment in one direction, and sharrows everywhere else. I think the City Council is making the right decision in revising the striping.
First, an important disclaimer.
My previous employer, a local engineering consulting firm, was asked by City staff for a proposal to provide the planning and design services for this project. I personally wrote this proposal, and City staff later recommended to the City Council that my employer be awarded the design contract. Several months later, the contract was ultimately awarded to one of our competitors, another local engineering consulting firm with an excellent reputation for delivering high-quality bikeway design projects.
Whew! Ok. Now that the formalities are out of the way, here are a few reasons why I think the City of Edina is making the right decision, even though a lot of local bike advocates aren’t too happy about it.
- Edina is trying really hard to be bike friendly. They take a lot of heat from the local biking community for not having the best bicycle network. Sure, it’s a fair criticism to some extent. However, I know from working closely with the City Staff and elected officials on a number of projects that they genuinely care deeply about bicycle and pedestrian safety and are serious about promoting bicycling. They are very aware that they have inherited a city from previous generations where the transportation system is almost entirely focused on motorized transportation. There are significant barriers to overcome, but they are making progress and are implementing bicycle infrastructure into a number of projects throughout the city. It is simply not fair to draw any conclusion from the City’s recent decision that the City is not supportive of bicycling or bicycle infrastructure.
- Let’s not forget that Edina bicyclists play an important role in Twin Cities bicycling in recent history. Before the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition was formed, the Bike Edina Task Force had been forging new territory in local advocacy for several years. The City of Edina also adopted the first citywide comprehensive bike plan in the state. When it was adopted in 2007, it was no small effort. It set a new standard for bicycle planning in Minnesota, and ushered in a new wave of municipal bike plans.
- The City legitimately took a chance to experiment with a design that is still unproven in a context like Edina. Let’s give them credit for that much. In addition, they overcame major hurdles just to install it in the first place. As far as I know, Edina was only the second city in the US (behind Minneapolis) to implement advisory bike lanes (if anyone knows otherwise, please do leave a comment). I know Minneapolis is claiming success with their implementation of this type of facility, but clearly it is a completely different context, and also a completely different context from their homeland The Netherlands. I suspect that we will continue to see advisory bike lanes with increasing frequency, but it was too soon for Edina. For the record, I know advisory bike lanes are all over the place in The Netherlands. I rode a dumb rental beach cruiser through tulip fields across Holland on advisory bike lanes taking photos of windmills and fueled by nothing but delicious Gouda (which I actually purchased in Gouda). I had the time of my life and felt completely safe bicycling in the process. This type of facility works extraordinarily well in that context, and it may work well in Minneapolis. It didn’t work well in Edina.
- The City is not removing all of the advisory bike lanes. To the best of my knowledge, they are only removing the ones that have proven to be problematic along Wooddale Avenue. It is my understanding that there are also advisory bike lanes along parts of 54th Street that will remain in place. The City is not waffling. They implemented a design, and are now modifying it to better meet the City’s needs.
- It was a legitimately confusing design to have advisory bike lanes on a roadway with a parking lane that is empty the majority of the time. If there is one key difference between the Minneapolis installation and the Wooddale Ave installation, it’s that the parking lanes are very well utilized along 14th Street in Minneapolis, and almost always nearly empty on Wooddale. I have heard from a number of cyclists that it simply felt awkward for them to try to hold a position within the advisory bike lane 10-ish feet from the curb when the adjacent parking lane was empty.
- This was souring city residents on bicycle infrastructure generally. The City Council felt that to some extent, the controversy surrounding the bicycle facilities in this one location would make it more difficult to implement improvements elsewhere in the City.
If I can add another disclaimer, I have never actually ridden the advisory bike lanes in either Minneapolis or Edina, so feel free to take this post with a grain of salt. I should also say that I’m supportive of their decision to terminate the advisory bike lane experiment, and while I expect the new design will be a better overall fit for the community, I’m not necessarily asserting that I think they’ve landed on the best possible design for the corridor either. But I think they are heading in the right direction.