Don’t Let 12.8 Seconds Delay Third Avenue Improvements

The City proposal would look like this between 8th and 9th Street and also between 10th and 11th Street.

The City proposal would look like this between 8th and 9th Street and also between 10th and 11th Street. Image from Third Avenue Redesign Streetscape Opportunity:

Minneapolis has the opportunity to transform Third Avenue downtown into a landmark street. The proposed redesign would offer environmental and aesthetic benefits through adding 10 percent more green space in the form of landscaped medians and planters, improve safety for all users by removing a lane of traffic and feature the first planter-protected bike lane in Minneapolis. Mayor Hodges has budgeted $3 Million to build the project this year. Recently, however, some businesses on the south end of the street have raised concerns about the delay going from four to three lanes will cause vehicles.

The delay cited would be an average of 12.8 seconds during rush hour, which would still allow traffic to flow more quickly than on most other downtown streets, according to a traffic operations analysis requested by Minneapolis Public Works.

Adjusting the proposal to include another traffic lane at the expense of the street-area greening would look something like this.

Adjusting the proposal to include another traffic lane at the expense of the street-area greening would look something like this. Image from Third Avenue Redesign Streetscape Opportunity:

Those who object to the proposal are calling for removing the proposed green medians and building a bike lane protected by white plastic delineators – like those that used on 26th and 28th – in order to retain four lanes for vehicles. Public Works engineers have actually determined that four lanes are not needed south of 8th Street. Retaining those lanes would leave a four-lane undivided street. According to the Federal Highway Administration, these types of streets have 19 to 47 percent more crashes than three lane streets with left-turn lanes, the proposed design.

Change is difficult, especially when the proposal includes a new type of bike facility to be built in the heart of our city where we all have a stake. Of course, the proposed redesign of Third Avenue would benefit people on bikes by offering a safe and pleasant and much needed north-south route through downtown, but the redesign offers much more than a bike facility. The green medians and removal of the unnecessary travel lane make this proposal one that could benefit the entire community. Here are a few ways different members of our community might benefit from the redesign of Third.

Move over Nicollet Mall, a redesigned Third Avenue would be a new landmark downtown.

Move over Nicollet Mall, a redesigned Third Avenue would be a new landmark downtown. Image from Third Avenue Redesign Streetscape Opportunity:

Property Owners: Landmark location potential for increased property value

Property owners on 3rd would find themselves on a landmark street in our downtown. A street that is not only attractive but easy to find and navigate. Consider what this means for the Convention Center and hotels whose businesses dependent on out-of-town visitors. It has already been shown that Twin Cities homes increase in proximity to off-street bike facilities. The experience of other cities shows bike and walking facilities can also increase the value of commercial property.

Businesses: Opportunity to attract more customers

Right now, Third Avenue is a street many people have to visit because it’s the location of the Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis City Hall, Hennepin County Government Center, the Federal Courthouse, many businesses and corporations, housing and hotels. Improving the street could make it a place that people want to visit. Parking a car downtown requires time and money. In comparison, parking a bike or pausing on a walk, takes little time and no money. Retail sales increased 49 percent after protected bike lanes were installed on 9th Avenue in New York City.

Employers: Attracting employees and promoting health

Green suburban campuses and golf courses used to be the types of amenities corporations used to attract talent. Who needs those kinds of amenities when it’s possible to be in the center of downtown, with all the access that implies, and employees still have the option to eat lunch next to a flowerbed? A survey of Portland transplants found 62 percent cited bike-friendliness as a factor influencing their decision to move. Further, an environment that invites people to walk, run or bike is going to improve health. The experience of Minnesota company QBP is that healthy employees save money on health insurance and miss fewer days of work.

General Public: Safer mobility for all

The government centers along the street make Third Avenue an important street for all people. Whether applying for a license or attending a public meeting, we all have occasional business with local government. Not everyone has access to a car just like not everyone who rides a bike does so because they love riding. Low-income people and invisible cyclists still have a right to move about safely. It is especially important that this street be accessible and safe to people traveling via low-cost modes. Removing the unnecessary travel lane is especially important to improving pedestrian safety.

Drivers: Easier to share the road

Unpredictable cycling often happens in places where there is not sufficient biking infrastructure. A 2014 study looked at perceptions of new protected bike lanes and found that 83 percent of people who primarily commute by car agreed that protected bike lanes made it clear where cars were supposed to be and where designated bike lanes are. The planter-protected bike lane has the potential to help drivers anticipate how cyclists will move and make it safer and less stressful to share Third Avenue.

This is how Third Avenue is proposed to look at 12th toward 11th.

This is how Third Avenue is proposed to be redesigned at 12th toward 11th. Image from Third Avenue Redesign Streetscape Opportunity:

When Lyndale Avenue was narrowed from four lanes to three south of Lake Street, there were similar concerns to those being expressed today. Many feared traffic would become impossibly congested but that turned out not to be the case. Traffic still flows, there is additional green on the street and safety has been improved. The easier we make it to drive, the more people drive. The more we acknowledge the true cost of driving – in terms of the air pollution, individual health, economics of maintaining a vast road network, space required in our city – the better decisions we can make when distributing our transportation resources and the better decisions we can make as individuals who have places to go. We need a transportation system that encourages choosing the best mode for each trip. Prioritizing biking, walking and transit in the densest part of our city, downtown, doesn’t mean people will not be able to travel or even travel by car but maybe it’s okay to let drivers feel the cost of the decision a little bit more than we have in the past. The resources that made mass car use possible are finite.

12.8 seconds of delay that some drivers may experience is not such an unjust burden that it should derail the greater community gains if Third Avenue were redesigned. If you agree, please show your support today by signing this petition asking the City Council to support making Third friendly to people on bikes and on foot.

17 thoughts on “Don’t Let 12.8 Seconds Delay Third Avenue Improvements

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    3rd Avenue runs right past my office building (more or less right below my office window). I’ve biked on it from time to time, but only briefly and I tend to ride (slowly and carefully) on the sidewalk for the last block of my commute rather than mix with traffic. Once this is built, I’ll be able to use it during my daily bike commutes. It looks great.

    I signed the petition.

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I have no idea how someone can claim, with a straight face, that additional lanes are the highest and best use of scarce right-of-way in this complex urban environment.

    Is this also evidence of the need for a major shift of direction inside Public Works?

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Amen. Looked at holistically, and not just through the reductive rush-hour LOS lens, 4-3 conversions are big improvements in many places.

    The #1 issue to me, though, is always safety. It should trump everything else.

  4. Monte Castleman

    Really? Traffic counts are barely above 10,000 in most places and only 15,000 at Washington and they think they need a 4-Lane Death Road configuration? I refuse to bicycle where there’s no “protection” but flim-flam sticks and paint between me and cars, and I assume a lot of other people won’t either.

  5. Janne

    I really, really want the greening because walking in downtown is such a post-apocalyptic experience. I often want to get food truck lunch but then… I have to walk down those barren, boring sidewalks where I always feel afraid a car is going to mow me down. And even once I get lunch, where am I supposed to eat it?

    Give me a pleasant street to walk on, and a pleasant place to perch on a planter to nosh, and I’ll stop packing peanut butter and jelly.

  6. robsk

    As a visitor in a car, I’m more inclined to stop at a downtown spot if traffic is moving orderly and slower and not at a “get-me-the-hell-outta-here” stop and race pace.

    We definitely don’t need hideous plastic sticks. They are about as safe, practical, and attractive as the center line rumble strip takeover on state highways.

    Dump the green space in the center of the road and give me a road that looks like the last picture. A protected bike lane like the first picture would be great, but keep the bikes off the sidewalk.

    1. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

      Robsk, the last picture you see (with center left turn lanes) and the “green space in the center” are actually one in the same: Because every other block (except Washington) is one-way alternating direction, the center left turn lanes share a block and then are not needed for a block. This is where the existing green space remains.

      I think your first point has quite a bit of merit. Two-lane two-way streets are indeed visitor friendly. I remember the first time I traveled to Charlotte for work. I didn’t even realize Tryon was their main street through their CBD, but I ended up driving on it on my way to my hotel. It was a narrow two lane street with parking on each side, and it moved at a crawl. But it moved. And I had time to see what was around me even on their densest blocks.

      Contrast that to cities with multilane one-way pairs (even the metropolis of Crookston, MN pop <8,000 has three lane one-ways in its downtown) and you feel rushed through without any time to actually "be" in the place, even as a motorist. It's platoons of motorists waiting at red lights, then blasting through as fast as possible until the next red light. Not efficient at all.

  7. Maria Wardoku

    Well said, Annie! I would add that while it may seem like the city should just drop the planters to appease the building managers- after all, we’re still going to get a crucial protected bikelane through the heart of downtown- this is not really just about a few blocks of 3rd Ave. This is actually about deciding the direction of our city, and aligning our city council members’ votes with their rhetoric and promises.

    Change happens incrementally. It may not seem like a big deal to take out the greening and leave in an underused car lane, but the way our city looks and functions is the aggregate of innumerable small decisions like this. When the opportunity to improve a part of our city arises, we have to jump on it. Especially when the decision is such a no-brainer. Here’s an opportunity for the city council to make our downtown healthier, more welcoming, and safer for people traveling by all modes, with barely any negative impact on traffic, and a large impact on the beauty of this key area of our downtown. Let’s do it!

  8. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    Here’s a potential alternative: What about having significant greening at the ends of blocks, but keeping the pavement midblock for new parking space. This would be great for businesses, would provide even more buffering for the protected bicycle lanes, and would still maintain the possibility for !significant! greenery and bumpouts at the start and end of each block, reducing crossing distances. There could also be midblock planters in this parking lane, especially on the blocks which don’t have the greenery in place of the center left turn lane. BOOM!

    1. Xan

      What businesses? The only businesses I can find over 12 blocks are a diner and a sex shop. Otherwise – office, blank wall, plaza, parking.

  9. Sam

    I agree that this should be built as planned, and will go sign the petition. However, I just wanted to point out that if there was a proposal to make your bike commute 12.8 seconds longer, you’d be writing a complete opposite article. 12.8 seconds times 260 work days, times however many thousands pass through each day (I’ll assume 5000). That’s 4622 collective hours wasted each year.

    Again I’m not saying I agree, but I think it’s funny how you dismiss 12.8 seconds when you aren’t the one paying that price.

    1. brad

      At 12 mph–a pretty typical bike speed–someone would get less than 250 feet in 13 seconds, or about half a block. So, not that high a price. A lot less than not quite making a stoplight and waiting there for a minute or two.

    2. Steve

      I think cyclists are already paying the price by having to go over to 3rd for a protected bikeway. This isn’t exactly in the heart of downtown, but since they wouldn’t make room on the new Nicollet, cyclists are settling by heading over to 3rd which will take longer than 12.8 seconds.

      1. ae_umn

        I actually would say this bike lane is in a great place BECAUSE it’s in the heart of downtown. No, it’s not Nicollet (which is still going to be calm enough to bike on, if a little slow), but it runs by several of our largest office buildings and is one of ONLY TWO north-south streets downtown that connect both to South Minneapolis AND across the river. That’s a big deal because it means we can eventually expand these bike lanes across the river (and into Stevens Square/Whittier) for seamless, protected travel.

  10. Jackie Williams

    3rd is a great route to get out of downtown. Im glad it will have a protected bikeway. As it is now, they cram too many cars into 2 small lanes. bikes are taking a chance on this street now. I have to go down 5th because there is a bike lane on this street. unfortunately the bike lane ends at Washington between 2 right turn lanes. who thought that one up??

  11. Scott

    13 seconds? C’mon. That’s pretty insignificant for someone in a climate-controlled motor vehicle. And, it’s likely only a delay for a few hours during peak times at rush hour.

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