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.