9th Street Protected Bike Lanes: An Unacceptable Missed Opportunity

A before and after comparison, showing the improved design that was originally intended for 9th street.

What should’ve been the before and after for 9th St.

It appears that Minneapolis Public Works has decided against putting a protected bike lane on 9th Street in downtown. I found this out in a reply to an email I sent asking about the design of the new protected bikeway:

Public Works has decided not to pursue the 9th St protected bikeway project in 2015. The resurfacing provided an opportunity to implement a project; however, the resurfacing schedule did not provide adequate time for community engagement. The design of the bike lane will be informed by community feedback in addition to other technical considerations.

This reminds me of the repaving of some of Saint Paul’s “Terrible Twenty” streets last year, where there supposedly wasn’t enough time to engage the public about how to make those streets “complete streets.” Instead, they planned to simply repave the streets as they were then. It appears a similar thing will happen this time with 9th St. Though I don’t know for sure, since they never posted a layout for the project.

Now, do not take this to be an argument that we shouldn’t engage the public on projects like this. After all, public engagement led to a much better design for the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck. For this project, unfortunately, all the meetings had happened before the Protected Bikeways Feasibility Study (warning: large PDF) identified possible designs for this corridor. However, when an opportunity this good appears, I think that changing the design and doing a (slightly) rushed follow-up engagement process is not unreasonable.

On a related note, something I find interesting is that multiple news articles appeared to show that Public Works was planning on going forward with the protected bikeway as of March. So, it appears that something changed their minds. My (completely unsubstantiated) guess is that there was significant pressure from businesses along 9th St to wait to put the bikeway in. Many are probably concerned with how this lane would affect parking and traffic for their customers, especially since one possible design involved eliminating a drive lane during non-peak hours and eliminating parking during peak hours.

So, when will the next opportunity like this come up? Well, the Washington Avenue S bikeway project is being constructed in 2016. However, that’s really only useful for the northern part of downtown. Plus, it will only stretch from Hennepin to 5th Ave, while the 9th St project would have gone all the way to Chicago. 10th Street was seal coated in 2013, so it has a while to wait as well.

This means the south side of downtown will have to wait at least 5 years if not longer for a protected bikeway that could have been done this summer.

Though this seems to be the final decision, maybe we can change their minds again. Like you’ve heard so many times, call Public Works. Call your City Council member (and Lisa Goodman, since this is in her ward). The project doesn’t start until June 12th, so we’ve got time! Even if we can’t save 9th Street, we need to let our city know we won’t accept cop-outs on bikeways.

Tyler Schow

About Tyler Schow

Tyler Schow studies Communications at the University of Minnesota and is currently Communications Intern at the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. The views expressed here are mine alone and do not represent those of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.

30 thoughts on “9th Street Protected Bike Lanes: An Unacceptable Missed Opportunity

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    If there wasn’t time to engage the public, rather than go ahead with a suboptimal build we’d be stuck with for years and years, delay one year! What’s one year delay compared to a multidecade mistake?

    1. Tyler SchowTyler Schow Post author

      I should’ve put this in the article. This is seemingly the most sensible solution. It’s just too important to get this right this time to rush it.

  2. Scott Merth

    So they’re repainting it the exact same way (w/ parking on edges, with unprotected bike lane on the south side of the street)? If so, that’s a shame because the Option 1 shows a protected bike lane without reductions to parking nor travel lanes. I mean the only notable difference between the existing and proposed is a 2′ buffer is squeezed in. Drafting an email now…

    1. Erik

      I email Bender (my council member/fellow cyclist) and Goodman about this and included that suggestion.

  3. Keith Morris

    Just because a protected bikeway isn’t constructed doesn’t mean nothing can be done. We can easily add super sharrows like Boston, which together are essentially a dashed bike lane in the middle of a typical travel lane and no additional changes would be needed. I’d use them.

      1. Keith Morris

        How about a dashed bike lane and retimed signals for 20 MPH speeds and a 20 MPH speed limit? We can calm streets to the point that even no bike infrastructure is needed to attract lots of cyclists and provide a safe environment with Nicollet Mall as an example. Speed humps would help too. I personally think this should be a two-way street, but there are steps which can be taken to make this a real city street safe for all users even without a protected bikeway and in any case a speed reduction is needed since no amount of green paint at an intersection will save cyclists from drivers pushing 50 MPH to beat the red light.

  4. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Why does this street still need three lanes in one direction? Protected bike lanes would be a huge improvement, but we can do better yet. Two-way operation. No racetrack design for cars.

  5. Erik

    I also found out about this by emailing the city. I’m a regular user of 9th St, particularly on the west end near Hennepin. I want to see this happen and sooner than later.

    Construction projects seem to take forever in this area of town. I’m laughing at the June 12th start date because nothing with public works starts on time. The date will be pushed back again. And again. LaSalle Ave is a prime example. It was supposed to be all done last year and has turned into a 2-year project. 4 blocks and 2 years of construction. I wish I was making this stuff up. Some of this can be attributed to the utility companies jumping in and doing their work and delaying public works.

    In less words what I’m saying is this: there is time.

    With the exception of the Y, Chambers, and a few businesses near Nicollet Mall/Foshay this street is like a through way. A commenter above me called it a racetrack and that’s pretty much the case. That said, I don’t see there being any businesses objecting because so few front 9th St.

  6. Scott ShafferScott

    Response from CM Goodman:

    Sorry Scott, I completely disagree with you. There is a lot of concern from almost every property owner on 9th about this bike lane issue. There are an extraordinary number of ingress and egress issues as well as the only thriving retail in much of downtown located on 9th, ( JB Hudson, Target, Haskells, Chambers etc.) removing their parking is a nonstarter and they need to do that to get a protected lane on 9th. Unless and until there is some consensus and engagement with the property owners we are not going to simply do this to them. The plan is aspirational and a goal over many years not for all to be implemented immediately.

    I support protected bike lanes and was a very early advocate for them on 1st and Hennepin. It’s clear those were a test and now we know what didn’t work. I am quite sure the money set aside for protected lanes is programed for this year anyway and given there is more work to do on this I don’t support just doing this now.

      1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

        Rolling my eyes at the suggestion that Target, with it’s full block of dedicated, validated underground parking, will be harmed by the loss of its three adjacent street parking spaces.

    1. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

      ie. “this plan is a wink and a nod, but we have no intention of actually implementing it”


  7. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

    In other words, they require no public engagement for the status quo, but a laborious process for making any change. Very disappointing.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Pretty much. If we’re going to mandate the whole nine yards for routine maintenance with no functional changes, then where does it stop? Do we need an environmental impact statement and public meetings to replace a burned out streetlight? Sealcoating and mill and overlays are routing maintenance (although Bloomington, after the appropriate public engagment, is using them to do road diets on collector streets).

      1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

        Resurfacing a particular street only happens every few decades. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to take a breath and assess the street at that opportunity and wouldn’t have to slow the process down with any actual forethought.

  8. Bryan

    I just wish we could get rid of the bike lanes all together. Especially on the left side of the street. I’m a bike commuter and generally avoid street-side bike lanes whenever I can.

    I’m grateful that I’ve never had an accident, but I’ve had many more close calls when I’m separated from traffic and drivers don’t see me than when I’m sharing the road. Even when there are protected bike lanes, I prefer to ride on the road so I’m noticed. You can find studies that come down on either side of the overall safety issue on particular roads, but all of them generally agree that separate bike lanes can decrease the risk of getting hit from behind, but increase the risk at intersections because drivers don’t see bikes when they aren’t in road.

    Drivers and bikers should be encouraged to share the road. Every dedicated bike lane reinforces the idea that regular roads are for cars not bikes. Even if the safety on the roads with bike lanes (protected or not) is marginally better, it makes for a more dangerous biking culture and makes it riskier to bike on all the streets that don’t get special bike lanes.

    1. Keith Morris

      I don’t ride in the bike lanes on 9th or 10th since they’re squarely in the door zone. Only people who don’t know how to safely ride use these .

      9th St DZBL:


      I’d much rather they do a dashed bike lane in the travel lane(s) or a green shared lane treatment like Bryant south of Lake than keep demonstrably unsafe bike lanes: they should have to ride on these and see for themselves that they shouldn’t even exist.

      1. Bryan

        Left side of the street, in the door zone: about the only way to have a more dangerous to ride would be going the wrong way down the street.

    2. Monte Castleman

      There are quite a few people that will simply not ride on the road no matter what. I don’t care if there’s a 20 mph speed limit, and unprotected bicycle lane, or what. You’re simply not going to convince them that “they are traffic” and to assert themselves next to 5000 pound vehicles. This was a big factor in why Richfield is implementing protected facilities on 66th and Portland. Reducing the number of bicyclists that will ride doesn’t seem to be making things safer. (Hence the helmet studies that claim they’re actually a net loss, because even if they increase safety for the individual rider, they scare and deter other cyclists and with less overall cyclists around drivers are less used seeing bicyclists).

      1. Bryan

        I think you have a point about making people feel safer (whether or not they are) can increase the overall number of bikers.

        I know there have been some studies that have shown that more bikers makes biking safer. Do you know if they looked at where the bikers were? If the argument is that the more people get used to driving alongside bikers, the safer biking is, then it would seem to follow that the more you separate the bikers from the rest of traffic, the less of a safety bump you would get. So if all the bike traffic is on off-street trails (e.g. the Greenway), then presumably drivers aren’t going to get any more used to sharing the road and biking won’t get any safer. It’d be interesting to see how no lanes vs. on-street lanes vs. segregated lanes vs. off-street trails effect the overall biking safety in a city (outside of just the streets modified).

        1. Rosa

          anecdotally, more bikers on the offstreet trails at least makes drivers safer at the trail crossings – you can see it over time, in the years since the Midtown Greenway opened, and you can also see it each year with a driver learning curve in the spring (and a few years ago when the winter was so mild there were many more winter bikers, the spring drivers were a lot less scary, too.)

          Plus some portion of a mostly off-street bike ride is going to be on the streets. It’s not like a recreational trail with a parking lot at the trailhead.

  9. Alex

    Like some other commenters, I’m confused about why the mill-and-overlay wouldn’t allow the existing substandard bikeway design to be corrected.

    However, I support a wider conversation about the future design for 9th and its place in the downtown street network. I’d like to see the city consider a design more appropriate for a neighborhood street with not more than two lanes of car traffic and far less pavement overall. It may be worth considering moving the bike facility to 8th or 10th to accomplish this.

  10. Tyler SchowTyler Schow Post author

    To those asking if the design of the lane will be revised in the mill and overlay as it stands now, it probably will. All I know about the new design is what is in the email Simon sent to me. So it will probably be better than it is now, but not as good as a protected bike lane would be.

    1. Tyler SchowTyler Schow Post author

      It doesn’t help that they never posted a layout for this project.

  11. GlowBoy

    Bryan, if you don’t like them, then don’t ride them. Personally, I’m an extremely experienced enthusiastic & confident rider, and no way will I ride a busy 30mph street without bike lanes. I hope you recognize that your strong&fearless perspective is not representative of most cyclists, let alone most of the people we’d like to encourage to start riding. As bad as that left-side lane is, no bike lane at all would be a lot worse. It would be like riding in downtown St. Paul. Egads.

    (By the way, I’m recently transplanted from Oregon, which has statewide 20mph limits in business districts, and signal timing set to 15-18mph in downtown Portland to back it up. I had absolutely no problem riding on Portland’s downtown streets, most of which don’t have bike lanes. But alongside Minneapolis’ 30mph traffic? Forget it.

  12. Bryan

    I think you mischaracterize me as strong & fearless. The fact is that I’m just too scared of riding in separated bike lanes because I’ve come too close to being hit too many times in those. I think you have a point that 20mph is probably a more reasonable speed downtown though.

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