Recently the 89th Minnesota Legislature reconvened to start what certainly bodes to be an important session in regards to transportation legislation. There’s already been some good rhetorical talk about the best ways to ask for money and there has already been a great deal of city plans asking for money.
I’ll let the grad students and college professors speak on those topics, “eternal recurrence of the same,” and other intelligent topics I never learned in music school. For me, it seems the political sphere has frankly gone a little batty and the most reasonable thing I can do now is dream. It is, after all, the way of my people.
Conveniently enough, I’ll phrase my dream in the form a problem that necessitates a reasonable bipartisan solution. (I told you I was dreaming, right?) Don’t worry: I might be a jazz musician, but I’ve been to enough of these community meetings to have figured out how to keep away from the weird stuff and play the blues. Here we go.
What’s the Problem With the 10th Avenue Bridge?
As has been elucidated recently, the 10th Avenue Bridge is in rough shape. It’s frankly getting on in age and needs a lot of work in order to remain structurally load bearing for the four lanes of traffic that it intends to serve. (More on those four lanes later…) The city of Minneapolis is asking the state legislature for $31.9 million dollars in order to make sure it remains a safe traverse across the Mississippi river.
As streets.mn readers may already know, this is a local bridge serving local traffic operated by the city of Minneapolis. Some great things have already been written about whether or not state funds should really be used to fix local bridges, but as promised earlier, I’ll stay out of that debate and stick to the blues.
But most importantly, this bridge is decidedly unpleasant to walk across. It’s this concrete monstrosity that makes you feel boxed in by steel bars and slabs of soviet era concrete because, frankly, you are surrounded by steel bars and concrete.
Biking across the thing isn’t all that better. It does have bike lanes, but there are gigantic manhole covers that make me feel like I’m risking my evolutionary biology to achieve ecological sustainability. It seems the only way to avoid these 3-4 inch deep holes the size of a fire pit is to swerve into traffic.
Speaking of traffic, there really doesn’t seem to be any car traffic on the bridge. Any time I have gone across the bridge on foot or on a bike, pedestrians out number the cars at least two to one. I’m not a traffic engineer, but the four lanes in my opinion seem to be unnecessary.
When I do drive my 1994 Dodge Shadow across the bridge, I often catch myself speeding gratuitously. If I can accidentally drive my budget hatchback four banger fast enough to seriously endanger pedestrians, imagine how someone with a nice car might accidentally speed?
This begs the question: Do we actually need four lanes of traffic that only seem to encourage speeding? And furthermore, what creative things can we do with this bridge if we remove two lanes (or more) of traffic?
Removing Two Lanes of Traffic: Cheap and Easy Like Mac & Cheese
At the very least, removing two unused travel lanes would allow this bridge to have a protected bike lane. Protected bike lanes are cheap and implementing this would be pretty easy politically. There isn’t any parking to fight over and there aren’t any businesses on the bridge that could complain. In fact, today there are just two traffic lanes south of the bridge (where it becomes 19th Avenue) and keeping it consistently striped would actually make things less confusing. Narrower roads are safer and cause people to speed less, plus emergency vehicles would still be able to use the bridge.
My obvious blind spot here as a non-engineer is that I can’t tell you if removing two travel lanes will allow the bridge to be legally load bearing. If it doesn’t solve the load bearing issue, then we risk this being a much more expensive project for the city to execute. Finding money then becomes a political balancing act and a simple bridge becomes a political case study.
But what if we can avoid that political science case study and at the same time make something incredibly memorable for the city of Minneapolis?
Remove All Lanes of Traffic like the High Line Bridge in Chelsea, NY
The High Line Bridge in Chelsea was for many years a contentious ugly face of urban decay that many politicians in New York wanted to be torn down. Through imagination and community organization, the city was able to create a pedestrian park that connects two neighborhoods of the city and adds much needed green space to New York’s urban jungle.
For me, this is the best case scenario for the 10th Avenue Bridge. Since it is already such a high use pedestrian bridge, why not just continue to allow people to use it as a pedestrian bridge and shut off traffic entirely? This allows the city to do something truly memorable with the bridge, add a bike lane for the spritely rad dads to race in, and empower students to safely wander across the bridge with their headphones in staring at the sky. And may we not forget, implementing more green space in a city keeps city dwellers sane.
The real added bonus here is that pedestrians are significantly less heavy than cars. While refurbishing the bridge for cars seems to have costs that could add up quickly in order to make the whole project weight bearing, the low impact of pedestrians could allow the city (and the state) to use public money more efficiently to make something truly memorable.
Furthermore, a lighter project is easier to pass in a packed transit session. And imagine how good all the politicians will look with their ties and skirts fluttering in the grass as they cut the red ribbon. It would save money, be memorable, and everybody would come out smelling like a rose with a project that gives them pride.
Wouldn’t that be a lovely day?