Local Business is a Two-Way Street (with Bike Lanes)

A crowd outside the Riverview Theater

A premiere celebration outside the Riverview Theater (courtesy of PhotoLogic ~ SightFlight Aerials)

The experience of living in a city is all about learning to share a small space with a lot of people. Nobody gets exactly the city they would prefer. The very nature of diversity means that everyone’s perfect city would be a little different than their neighbor’s perfect city. So instead we compromise. Much of civic life depends on the act of finding solutions that work pretty well for most people, and balancing the downsides to one group against the upsides to another group.

Right now a conversation is happening over the city’s plans to add bike lanes on East 38th Street between Minnehaha Avenue and West River Parkway. Though the specifics are tied to this particular place, the same argument has happened countless other times in Minneapolis and every other city making changes to become less car-centric. Adding bike lanes on 38th means removing parking from one side of the street, and the businesses along 38th are loudly opposed to any plan that removes parking next to them.Map of resurfacing project route

These are independent local businesses that add a lot to our neighborhood—the landmark Riverview Theater, two cozy cafés, and a lovely garden center. Our neighborhood certainly wants them to succeed and stick around. It’s fair for them to bring their concerns to the table and ask that these concerns be taken into account during the planning process. It’s not fair for them to demand that every single one of their preferences be met.

Right now the four businesses maintain that they support the installation of bike lanes, so long as it is on some other road and not 38th. I posit that this is not a compromise at all. This is demanding that it become someone else’s problem. This is demanding that we trade a certain improvement in the immediate future for a hypothetical improvement at a time and place yet to be determined. This is demanding that they be asked to make no sacrifices whatsoever.

Many of us in Longfellow choose to support our local businesses because we think they are important. We know that we could go to Menard’s, or Starbucks, or Southdale AMC, and we know that we would enjoy certain benefits by doing so like lower prices, more locations, or newer movies. Yet we support our local businesses because we appreciate what they bring to the neighborhood.

38th St, looking east from the neighborhood to the businesses

38th Street, looking east

It would be a mistake, however, to take this support for granted just because it is freely given. If we support neighborhood businesses because we consider them a part of our social fabric, they have an obligation to support the communities that sustain them in return. If we are to treat these businesses differently than the purely transactional nature of chain stores, then by that same contract they become once again subject to the social mores that we place on members of our community.

This is what it means to live in a city. It means sometimes making concessions. It means working with your neighbors to find the solution that everyone can live with, even if it’s not your first choice. It means understanding that you might be asked to make sacrifices in service of something that’s better for the whole community. A safer and more pleasant 38th Street is better for the whole community, and the whole city. If our neighborhood businesses expect our support, they need to demonstrate their commitment to our neighborhood by coming to the table with an open mind and a willingness to truly compromise.

40 thoughts on “Local Business is a Two-Way Street (with Bike Lanes)

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Except we’re not even asking them to sacrifice any parking. The proposal is to keep all of the existing parking on 38th at 42nd Ave (which is only on the south side east of 42nd).

    These businesses are opposed to a bike lane for no reason they’ve been able to articulate.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        There currently is no parking on the north side of 38th through this stretch. There’s also no parking on the south side of 38th west of 42nd because it’s a bus stop.

        The only existing parking is on the south side of 38th just east of 42nd. The plan calls for it to remain.

        1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

          Adam, you’re right there are bus stops on the south side of 38th west of 42nd, but parking is allowed otherwise along the south side of 38th, and is definitely utilized by theater-goers. I sometimes grab a spot along 38th when our family attends a movie.

          That said, we usually look for a space on 41st Avenue, the back side of the Riverview Theater block.

          Removing parking on 38th in lieu of a bike lane won’t reduce my attendance at Riverview movies, and I may go more often. In fact, our family may ride bikes more often if bike lanes are installed, if only we didn’t have to cross the dreadful Hiawatha Avenue!

          1. Ian Young Post author

            Right, what Sam said. Parking on the south of 38th is probably going away, at least from Minnehaha through 41st. It’s unclear if the new plan will have parking in the “business node” between 41st and 42nd—city planning is working on a second revision and doesn’t have a final public version yet.

            So the Riverview Theater will lose a couple blocks of one-sided parking (which sounds like a lot but is not the bulk of their parking capacity). The Fireroast will lose about 4 spots on 38th. Mother Earth Gardens won’t lose immediate parking but has the “loading zone” issue that they are working with the City to resolve. The Riverview Cafe, by my understanding, won’t lose parking.

  2. Keith Morris

    I’m not a fan of disappearing bike lanes that dump you into traffic. What’s going to slow down motorists so that cyclists, especially slower ones, can merge more safely? Speed humps would be nice and improve safety for pedestrians, but I highly doubt it despite the fact that 38th is low traffic and only has a few businesses. I’d also suggest a raised/tabled intersection at 42nd, but I haven’t seen a single one anywhere over here and have no idea why that is.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

      I LOVE the idea of a raised table at the 38th Street/42nd Avenue intersection! I believe the intersection should be a four-way stop sign as well, and the whole intersection painted in a crosshatch pattern or something.

    2. Ian Young Post author

      The first version of the proposal did have some disappearing bike lanes to try to preserve some parking, but almost no one on either side of the issue liked that proposal, so it sounds like that plan is out. I’m guessing a raised table at 42nd would fall under reconstruction of the road (versus simply resurfacing). They looked into reconstruction but it was ruled out as being not financially sensible. I’d love for 38th to have some more traffic calming features, but I also totally understand that the lowest-hanging fruit is bike lanes during resurfacing. If we add bike lanes now, that’s a big win on its own, and we can let the usage of the road evolve and be ready to consider further improvements in ten years (or however long it takes a road surface to wear out).

  3. MplsCougar

    I live in this neighborhood. And I bike to these businesses. I don’t drive there. But if this is their position, I can drive to the suburbs to get the things I would get from these local businesses.

  4. Ben

    I propose some community biking events thru this stretch to show the businesses how many bikers are out there and our support for the bike lanes. Maybe something where we bike up and down 38th from Hiawatha to the river for an hour or two and finish with a visit to the businesses. Maybe the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has done something like this in the past and could help organize?

  5. Justin Doescher

    I love when they ask the “bike people” to “compromise” by conceding entirely. We’re already starting from a compromised position.

    1. Ian Young Post author

      I’ve been wondering if I will need to write a follow-up to explain this idea. Every time “bike people” come to the table, we are already compromising. My ideal 38th street is a bike/walk greenway with trees down the median and no car lanes at all, with limited car crossing every 4 blocks or so. But I don’t show up at the table demanding that because I know it’s not the right thing for everybody.

  6. fIEtser

    Why bother doing bike lanes at all? Just throw down some appropriately-placed sharrows and introduce some traffic diversion along the length of 38th to create a bicycle boulevard. Alternatively, ditch the center line and make “advisory” bike lanes.

  7. Roger

    The “other” roads that run parallel to 38th St East are essentially residential with little or no retail. They have have less traffic and therefore would be ideal for supporting dedicated bike lanes. Adequate space for bike rakes near retail is a bigger issue.

    1. Ian Young Post author

      Roger, I left a comment below for Rich addressing the question of “why 38th?” There’s more to be said on this question, but I tried to give a quick summary of the strongest points.

  8. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I’m going to pick on you a bit for some word choices…

    “This is demanding that it become someone else’s problem.”

    “This is demanding that they be asked to make no sacrifices whatsoever.”

    Bikeways, if well designed, are not a problem nor a sacrifice. Studies in NYC and elsewhere have shown that businesses on streets with protected bikeways see an increase in business and more important is that this increase is coming from local people who are a much more stable revenue source than those who drive from farther away.

    1. Ian Young Post author

      To be sure, I’m totally on the same page as you and don’t think it’s truly going to be harmful to these businesses in the long run. But part of my goal in this process has been to give their concerns a fair hearing and basically give them the maximum benefit of the doubt, as an exercise in understanding.

      So, for the sake of argument I’m granting that a loss of parking might cause a short-term drop in business, that making adjustments to their businesses (like adding 15-minute zones, or changing their loading zone procedures) could be a nuisance, that for the garden center the increased bike traffic *might* not benefit them as greatly, and that at the very least change is scary for anyone and I’m sure it’s scary for small business owners whose bottom line is never out of sight.

      So, that’s what I mean with those word choices. From their vantage point today, these are problems and sacrifices. We can all patiently wait 5 years to accept their apologies once business has markedly increased thanks to the bike lanes 😉

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        I agree with you about giving their concerns a fair hearing. That must absolutely be done.

        For many businesses though, suggesting that they accept any loss in business, any sacrifice, is a non-starter for them. Many local businesses are often just barely hanging on. Any loss of business, even just 1%, can mean the difference in staying in business or not. If they hear you acknowledge and accept that they will lose business then that’s the end of the conversation for them.

        The good news is that any conflict between business and safer roads for all users appears to be nothing but ignorance. I’ve not seen any evidence of a protected bikeway, even one that reduces parking, having a negative impact on business. I completely understand their concern though. On the other hand studies do indicate that a protected bikeway will, if anything, increase business for those fronting the bikeway.

        We don’t have to ask them to accept any sacrifices to their business. Helping business owners understand this is what will win them over.

  9. Rich

    I would be curious to hear what these businesses have to say about their position. We live in Lowertown but we do frequent theater, cafe and wine bar. So I can appreciate their concerns that reduced parking might impact their business (although the neighborhood is very walkable; so parking a couple of blocks away isn’t ever an issue for us). However, taking the attitude that if they won’t support bike lanes, we’ll just take our business elsewhere seems kind of short sighted. These business are part of what makes this neighborhood great, not despite them.

    We approach from the River Road on 36th to avoid the traffic on 38th. I agree, why not look at 37th for the bike lanes?

    1. Serafina ScheelSerafina

      I think 37th is less desirable because it doesn’t connect to transit or the river paths, or the businesses. MEG worries about delivery and customer pick-up, but I don’t know what they do about it now. Block traffic?

        1. John Maddening

          Yup, I was at a movie at the Riverview on Friday night, and that seems to be exactly the case. Currently, the WB lane is wide enough that, even though there’s no parking on that side, there is enough space to safely pull over while you’re loading up a vehicle.

    2. Ian Young Post author

      Rich, the strongest and most consistent message the four businesses have put out on this issue has been “we are bike-friendly and support bike lanes, just not bike lanes on 38th”. Some of the business owners have said more on the subject at the public meetings and through fliers and social media, but I don’t have any links to comprehensive sources for you, and that messaging has been more from the individuals and harder to attribute to all four of the businesses as a group.

      38th Street was identified on the city’s master plan due to the fact that it’s a “connector street”. Most of the other East-West streets in this area do not connect across Hiawatha Ave to the rest of the city, and/or do not connect to the river parkway and bike paths.

      At the first public meeting, the city planners talked about how they had measured existing bike traffic along the streets in this area and found the highest volume was along 38th. This is kind of impressive if you think about it, because the 38th of today is not an entirely pleasant experience for cycling. Yet even despite that, even without bike lanes, its status as connector street draws more bike traffic than the many other quieter streets.

      1. Rich

        Thanks for the background, makes sense. Seems like an opportunity for these businesses to get some good PR as partners in the neighborhood while gaining some appreciation for their situation if they could just find their official voice.

        Nice civil thread, this. Too often everyone goes straight for the armaments.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          It is frustrating to watch businesses flub these opportunities. Maybe instead of alienating people on bikes while simultaneously telling drivers you’re too hard to get to or park near, they could find a message that encourages compromise and/or appreciation for their sacrifice?

          Anyway, the question should be how we can make it work, not whether it should go elsewhere.

      2. Eric

        “Some of the business owners have said more on the subject at the public meetings and through fliers and social media, but I don’t have any links to comprehensive sources for you, and that messaging has been more from the individuals and harder to attribute to all four of the businesses as a group.”

        The owner of Mother Earth Gardens represented the various businesses, and on the business website provided–what I find to be–a rather cogent articulation of the issues the business owners face and the positions they have taken on the question.


        (I would note that I think the suggestion of 42nd street is a solid one, because, like 38th it runs east-west from Hiawatha to the river).

        I have no doubt most will find the concerns of the owner of Mother Earth Gardens to be silly or hyperbole, but the reality of owning a business that traffics in plants is that large regular deliveries need to be made. I do not think it is a great idea to set a bike lane in the middle of a loading zone (apparently the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition did not either).

        I also do not think it is a great idea to run off these businesses because they have raised concerns about these proposed bike lanes. I live a few blocks south of this intersection and there is very little in the way of cafes and small businesses that draw people into our neighborhood. The node at 38th is a bright spot and I for one will not punish them by going to Menards/Starbucks/AMC Southdale–there is a certain irony in the rallying cry for bike lanes being to show these small businesses who is boss by driving out to vast parking lots in the suburbs, no?

        1. Ian Young Post author

          Hey Eric, thanks for finding that link! That is probably the best articulation of the businesses’ position, yes. But this also illustrates why I hedged on saying exactly what they collectively stand for. I went and talked to one of the owners of Mother Earth about a flier they were circulating, and she told me there is no official business association they are members of. They are informally acting as a group on this, but to what extent do the statements from Mother Earth represent the views of all four businesses? It’s not super clear. And when I pressed her on whether the full group would stand behind the statements of one business owner, she was quick to say that they are all individuals and there is no formal association. To muddy the waters further, two of the four businesses, to my knowledge, haven’t made any public statements on the matter at any point. So it’s a hazy area.

          I was very careful in this article not to advocate boycotting the businesses over this. I think they will lose customers over this and at least one commenter here is clearly planning to head elsewhere, but if we hit the point of an organized boycott it’s a lose/lose for everyone. What I’m asking is that the businesses understand that they are engaged in a relationship and relationships need trust. If they come to the table in good faith and are willing to negotiate to reach an outcome that benefits the whole community, then it will be easy for most of us to accept that we might have differences in opinion but we are all on the same side. If they act selfishly and refuse to acknowledge that other needs might outweigh their own, then they will burn the trust of the community and it will be much easier for us to look at them as adversaries or commodities.

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          That statement is comically hyperbolic, but to its credit, Mother Earth has shown an interest in productive dialog. Not so much from at least one of the other businesses.

          But people on bikes want to visit these businesses too. Sending them to 42nd doesn’t help with that.

    3. MplsCougar

      Thanks for noticing that my myopia, Rich. Very observant of you.

      However, the amenities that these business can provide can be had elsewhere, which was my point. You can get garden supplies at Minnehaha Falls Nursery. There are many options for bike-able and walkable cafes and bars in the neighborhood. The theater is nearly another thing, but there are not a whole lot of movies that really require a big screen anymore.

      1. Rich

        Not too subtle was I?

        Love the shared theater experience of the Riverview. It’s not the same on a small screen.

  10. Scott

    Question: Can patrons of these businesses use the Fairview Clinic parking lot in the evening when the clinic is closed?

    Also, I’m sympathetic that the business owners would be concerned about losing parking. However, this is a tiny business node in a neighborhood with almost suburban population densities. I find it hard to believe that there is really a parking crunch based on the hundreds of times I’ve been to these businesses. Customers cannot walk a block after riding to these locations in a climate controlled vehicle?

    Finally, it doesn’t make sense to me that bike lanes along the entire route could get scuttled because of an issue at one intersection.

    1. John Maddening

      The only one I can sort of see is the Riverview. There are around 660 seats in there, and on their busiest nights, there are 1300 people in and around the building at the end of one show and lining up for the next. Even if only half drive to the theater, with an average of 3 people to a car, that’s 220 cars looking for places to park alongside residents, residents’ visitors, and patrons of other businesses. I’ve had to park more than two blocks away on numerous occasions over the 25 years I’ve been seeing movies there (but that’s certainly not the norm).

      That said, it’s funny that I’ve seen a lot more backlash from the other businesses than I have from the theater…I don’t believe I’ve even read a public comment from them.

        1. John Maddening

          Oh, sure. I wasn’t complaining.

          It might be nice to have a few handicapped parking spots just south of 38th on the theater side so people who really can’t walk a block or two are able to comfortably attend a movie.

  11. Tina

    People are talking about “parking a couple blocks away” – you do realize that people live on those blocks and also need to be able to park there? We already get parking from the theater. Should we get more so that bicyclists don’t need to ride a block or two over from the busiest street? I want bikers and motorists to be safe. Maybe the busiest road around isn’t the ideal for biking.

    1. John Maddening

      I’m pretty sure all the houses in that neighborhood have off-street parking and most have garages, accessible by the alley.

      I like to park right in front of my house, too, but sometimes I can’t. I don’t own the street in front of my house.

    2. Ian Young Post author

      Hi Tina, I’m sure it is somewhat inconvenient to live within the Riverview’s parking overflow! I think sympathetically about that any time I’m getting there by car and parking on a nearby street. But for better or worse, that’s just part of the deal of living in that area. The changes to 38th affect a small fraction of the total Riverview parking load, so I don’t think you’re going to see much practical impact, positive or negative, on the parking on nearby streets.

    3. Serafina ScheelSerafina

      With the removal of a nominal number of spots on 38th, there will likely be some increase of parking in the public right of way on neighboring streets. It’s something we all face as the city is reprioritizing making our streets safer for walking and biking. We have to do something different if we want to relieve traffic and improve safety. Hopefully it will lead to more thriving neighborhood business nodes.

      I have 600 units of new affordable and senior housing going in a block from my house. Especially during construction, I expect the street in front of my home to get parked up. For what it’s worth, the bike lanes that have gone in on Franklin Ave SE, a similarly busy street with parking removed to make room, have been a real boon. And the city listened and worked with some of my neighbors who had a hardship because of the change. They found a workable solution.

      I think it’s a solvable problem in this location as well.

    4. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      It’s not the busiest street. 42nd St. is busier.

      It’s only one sample, and it was Saturday morning, but the other day I counted and there were 28 cars, total, parked on 38th between Hiawatha and the river. That’s less than one per block.

      And “several blocks away” isn’t right. Mostly it would just be around the corner.

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