Why Even Have City Policies If You Can Legally Park in the 38th Street Bike Lane?

Minneapolis has a Complete Streets policy. The city website describes one of the key elements of this policy thus:

“Establishment of a modal priority framework to inform City transportation related decision making that prioritizes people as they walk, bicycle, and take transit over people when they drive.”

Minneapolis Complete Streets Policy, summarized in image form (Source: city website)

The concept it pretty simple. When we’re deciding how to design transportation infrastructure, we’re supposed to prioritize pedestrians and the disabled first, bikes and transit next, and cars last. There’s lots of explanation why in the policy, but let me just summarize by saying that it’s way more efficient and greener that way.

So that’s settled then. People. Bikes. Then cars. No deviation…

Except that’s not how it’s working out.

Last week Nathan Van Wylen shared why he supports bike lanes on 38th, and told us how it mattered to his personal safety. I’d like to get into a little bit of the history about why telling his story matters.

The angle I’ve been seeing frames the issue like this: “The crazy city and its crazy leadership proposed a bike lane for 38th Street. Whacky, right? Like, why would we need one of those?”

Well, 38th Street is on the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, would connect existing facilities along the river and next to the light rail, would provide an east-west connection that’s missing from greater Longfellow, is on a street that connects at both ends and isn’t as busy as the alternatives, is on a street that has businesses and other destinations that people on bikes want to get to, and the city just happened to be resurfacing this stretch this year and could easily and cheaply re-stripe it to put in the lanes.

Hearing about a potential bike facility here, some local businesses objected (probably residents too, I’m guessing). For example, Mother Earth Gardens put out a statement reciting all of the truly unique concerns for this project that are raised over every bike lane proposal ever.  There were Facebook fights (since deleted) calling out the local councilperson. Much civic engagement ensued.

The concern was about parking (and, for Mother Earth, a loading zone for deliveries). To put in proper bike lanes, we’d need to get rid of parking on the south side of the street (there is already no parking on the north side).

“No parking anywhere along the street, that sounds extreme!,” you say.

To which I say, “it’s not really.”

Because of how things already work out, the only spots we’re really talking about are a handful on the south side just east of 42nd Avenue and a similar number at 37th Avenue in front of Fireroast Cafe. The rest of the stretch is residential and people typically park on the cross streets. Other than these two areas, basically no body parks on 38th.

Meanwhile, around the time Nathan was telling us about how he was the victim of a hit and run on 38th Street, the city put out a new plan that says that cars can park – in the bike lane!!! – on the north side of the street at 42nd down the street from the Riverview Cafe and its parking lot, and on the south side at 37th in front of Fireroast and its parking lot for from 6am to noon. (It also adds a loading zone for Mother Earth, which is fine.)

This is unacceptable. At 42nd, this plan adds parking where there currently is none. Remember, there is currently no parking on the north side of 38th for this entire stretch. To compensate for the loss of a few spaces across the street from its parking lot, the Riverview Cafe is getting parking in the bike lane just down the street from its parking lot. At 37th, Fireroast is getting parking in the bike lane in front of its store and parking lot.

Around the time of the aforementioned Facebook fights, I pedaled over one Saturday morning to see what the parking situation looked like. Around noon on a Saturday, this is what parking on 38th looked like in front of Fireroast:

Around noon on March 18th

It was only one point in time, but there was no one parked on 38th in front of Fireroast. (I’ve also got photos showing ample available parking in both directions on the cross street, 37th Avenue, too, but I’ll spare you.)

I’ve been back by since and have seen cars parked there, but still. We’re supposed to have a policy that favors bikes over cars. How can parking be prioritized over safe biking?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t even see parking on the list of priorities in the policy. Maybe there’s an unstated penumbra of the policy that places parking all the way on the top, so fundamentally important as not to even need mentioning.

(No, that’s ridiculous. Parking can’t possibly rate any higher than driving a car, which means, sorry, it’s down at the bottle after bikes and transit.)

The part of the day where parking will be allowed in the bike lane is the part of the day that most needs bike facilities. The morning commute is one of the most dangerous times for bikes to have to interact with cars, and people will use these lanes to get to work and to drop their kids at nearby schools.

Finally, I don’t believe that this parking is essential to these small businesses. You might have noticed that I mentioned that both the Riverview Cafe and Fireroast have parking lots, where they can provide parking for their customers.

Parking or patio?

The photo above was taken around noon on April 22nd, and it shows that Fireroast had converted part of its parking lot to outdoor seating.

As it happened, I drove by (yes, even weirdos who complain about bike stuff on the internet also drive sometimes) this past Sunday afternoon and noticed that the entire parking lot is now outdoor seating. Fireroast is obviously not desperate for parking.

Parking in the bike lane (!) in these two spots is in direct violation of city policy. It shouldn’t be allowed.

Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.

43 thoughts on “Why Even Have City Policies If You Can Legally Park in the 38th Street Bike Lane?

  1. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    It would never be acceptable to have a lane for motorists that suddenly ends and becomes parking for a half block. Like you could just park your car in the lane, and anyone behind you would have to wait up to 15 minutes until you came back to your car with your soy latte.

    So how again is this acceptable for bicycling, walking, and transit infrastructure? I can think of countless examples – in Minneapolis alone – on new “progressive” designs from the past decade – where bicycle users, peds, or transit users are given the shaft so motorists can have some subsidized on-street car storage.

    1. Rosa

      Cedar from at least 34th St north is like this, the right lane is parking allowed. The thing is they’re specifically NOT allowed during rush hour. This is totally backwards.

      1. Eric W

        Parking in the outer traffic lanes of Cedar Ave (during non-rush hours) goes from about 26th St. E down to 38th St. E, at which point the traffic lanes are reduced to one in each direction with dedicated parking lanes on both sides.

        1. Rosa

          Is that recent? I have to admit I don’t get south of 38th much but I thought those solid white lines were new sometime in the last few years.

          Of course people still drive there if there’s no cars parked. But at least they should expect parked cars.

  2. Aaron Berger

    Is there another example *anywhere* in Minneapolis where parking is allowed in a bike lane? Genuinely curious.

    1. Jackie Williams

      parking is allowed in pretty much every single bike lane downtown Minneapolis. Every morning and evening I have to bike around people using the bike lane to park, pick up and drop off people, store city equipment, the list goes on. There is no enforcement. Calling 311 is about as effective as writing to Santa.

  3. Matt SteeleMatthew Steele

    One other thing happening here but also on nearly all projects: Why are we not bugging Metro Transit into moving bus stops to the far side of intersections concurrent with projects like this? Metro Transit wants it, and it’s highly beneficial for pedestrians for a variety of reasons. Simple change, big results!

  4. Julia

    Thanks for sharing this. I just want to state that yours is a very generous (to the anti-bike crowd) telling of what I watched unfold on social media during the 38th St debacle a few weeks ago. I was shocked and horrified by the very serious harassment that business owners were allowing and legitimizing on their Facebook pages and that carried over to Twitter. It’s extremely disappointing to think that that kind of crass, anti-social behavior is being rewarded by our city’s public works, at the direct expense of public safety and environmental sustainability.

    The damage both Fireroast Cafe and Mother Earth Gardens did to themselves with their public tantrums strikes me as far worse than they feared from bike lanes. I’ve been surprised at how many people, including drivers, were aware of the drama they created and disappointed to no longer feel like these are the kind of neighborhood businesses they want to support.

    As for the current proposal, it’s confusing and problematic. Are they removing boulevard for parking at these locations where businesses are choosing to use their parking lots for other purposes? And is this parking not specifically for those with disabilities, despite the pretense of concern was for disabled people who are able to drive and afford a vehicle? At what point does Complete Streets mean anything? At what point will our city leaders and businesses take climate change seriously enough to be okay with a few customers who are able walking an extra block from where they’ve stored their large personal fossil-fuel-dependent vehicle for free or subsidized rates on public property?

    1. Aaron Berger

      No, the current plan is to literally allow all drivers to park in the bike lane proper from 6 am to noon with a 15 minute limit. Bikers will have to merge with car traffic and avoid getting doored in these locations. What strikes me as especially ironic is that this policy places a great burden on bicyclists with disabilities, or children, or the elderly, or really anybody but the most confident cyclists.

    2. Rosa

      Oh no, did Mother Earth get into it too? That is so disappointing.

      The fake concern for vulnerable users (as long as they have cars) seems like it totally spiked this week. So weird.

      1. Aaron Berger

        MEG has been one of the most vocal opponents of bike lanes. They definitely 100% forever support bicycles and sustainability and bike lanes as long as they go on a street that does not serve any neighborhood destinations. Why they even kindly suggested the bike lanes be put on a different street a half mile away.

        1. Rosa

          Well, I guess I’m not going to trundle over on my Radish and pick up any plants there this weekend.

    3. Jackie Williams

      People who support complete streets should simply boycott any business that does not. If they want to promote unsafe behavior, then they do not deserve our money or support. Society in general is dominated by cars. Its why we refuse to park a block away and walk. just speaking of a bike lane brings on panic. The term “bike lane” is the new “abortion” topic. Just say bikelane and get ready for a heated debate.

  5. David

    I can think of no better way of getting the complete streets policy rescinded than to use it in the uncompromising fashion represented in your post. I personally like having a starting point from the City’s perspective that favors pedestrians and cyclist. However, if we attempt to use that policy to force infrastructure on communities that don’t want or welcome that infrastructure and point to the policy as though it were some sort of contract or ordinance – it will take one election cycle and the policy will be gone.

    So, to answer the question posed in the title of your post, we have the policy to serve as a guiding principal, and to start from a pro-pedestrian and pro-bike position. However, if we act like we don’t need approval and buy in from the communities affected we will very quickly find ourselves not starting from such an advantageous position.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      This is laughable. If you were talking about a street where we had to make real trade offs, you might have a point. Policy’s hard!

      But it’s not here. There almost no parking being lost, and in front of Fireroast, it’s objectively unneeded. This is where policy is supposed to hold.

      1. David

        Adam, you can condescendingly dismiss my comment as “laughable” but you do so at the peril of policy and issues we agree on.

        I (and I think most of the people at the meeting last night) agree that this compromise is not ideal due to the dangerous interaction it creates between cyclists and cars. What I strongly disagree with, and what is in fact, counter productive to our cause, is using the Complete Streets Policy and Master Plan to counter criticism or dismiss compromises generally.

        Simply pointing to the Complete Streets Policy and Master Plan and saying “this has already been decided, if you don’t like it your remedy is the ballot box,” or that the a compromise crafted by the City is unacceptable because it violates the Complete Streets Policy (rather than because it is dangerous) is a huge mistake.

        I was at the Ward 12 precinct 2 DFL caucus in April (covering the portion of 38th Street in question). Attendees attempted to make a motion for a resolution opposing any bike lanes on East 38th Street. It was explained that, per the rules, resolutions were not allowed. If resolutions had been allowed, I would have been one of a small number of people opposing that resolution and it would have easily passed (75%-25% in my estimation). This should give us pause.

        So dismiss my view all you want, but I am willing to bet a year ago you thought the idea of President Donald Trump was laughable. Nobody’s laughing any more. We should learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.

        1. Nick

          Your DFL caucus guess represents the community? Nope.

          I doubt (1) your ability to predict the vote and (2) your DFL caucus may under-represent young people who would bike. I’m guessing the representation based on voter turnout data.

          1. David

            I didn’t say my DFL caucus guess represented the community. I’m not sure if you are intentionally misrepresenting what I said or it is a reading comprehension issue on your end. I simply said it was the precinct that corresponds geographically to the portion of 38th Street in question.

            I related what happened there as a caution against the approach represented in Adam’s post of being uncompromising and insisting on strict adherence to the Complete Streets Policy for its own sake, turning it into a political issue. We have had a lot of success but we shouldn’t take things for granted when there is so much we still want to do and things probably aren’t going to get any easier.

            Is there a reason to doubt my estimation? Anybody else that was there have a different estimation? It might not have been 75-25 but it wasn’t close. At the community meeting last night it was at best 60-40 against the bike lanes.

            My larger point in response to Adam’s post remains, if you want to take the approach of saying, “this is what the Complete Street Policy and Master Plan say, so therefore the City shouldn’t compromise and if people don’t like it they can take their complaint to the ballot box” that is extremely counter productive, and we shouldn’t be surprised if/when people do just that and we no longer have the Complete Streets Policy or Master plan five years from now. As Aaron pointed out, that won’t happen from this project. But if it does happen it will be precinct by precinct, in reaction to multiple projects.

            However, Nick, I’m old enough and have been through enough to admit that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe being dismissive of and condescending to those that don’t see things the way we do and counting on their inability to acheive electoral success is the better approach. I keep hoping so called “progressives” will wake up and learn from the ass kicking we received in last November’s elections. Perhaps someday they will. In the meantime, here’s hoping Governor Johnson isn’t as bad as we all have good reason to fear he will be. SMDH

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

              Speaking of misrepresentation! That’s not at all what I said. I said there’s no reason, factually, to deviate from policy here. That’s because there’s no parking crisis on 38th, especially at 37th Avenue.

              The political necessities might require compromise anyway, but no, we shouldn’t preemptively cave in order to stave off backsliding.

              1. David

                The necisssity to compromise comes from the political reality that regardless of the facts around parking, the majority of residents in the surrounding area don’t want the bike lanes. I suggested it is counter productive to rely on the policy and a better approach to point out the very real threat to safety. I didn’t say we should preemptively cave. My issue is with your argument to the policy rather than public safety.

                If you thwart the will of the people based on a policy, the policy will be changed.

                At any rate, I’m sorry I came, and sorry I commented. Good luck with those who are actually in opposition to the bike lanes.

                1. Rosa

                  if the policy is just ignored, though, does it matter if it’s changed?

                  It’s like the speed limit. If prevailing speeds are always going to be at least 5-10 mph over the limit, and there’s no enforcement, and the common wisdom becomes “there’s nothing we can do except give pedestrians orange flags and hope that helps”, does it matter that we have a speed limit or a law that says drivers must yield to pedestrians?

                  1. David

                    I guess that depends on if you think the “compromise” is worse than no bike lanes at all. If the policy were truly being ignored there wouldn’t be the proposal for bike lanes in the first place.

                    The only reason bike lanes are being proposed is because of the policy. As was explained at the meeting the other night, the Master Plan calls for bike lanes when this road is reconstructed. The city is repaving (as opposed to reconstructing) and because of the Complete Streets Policy viewed this as an opportunity project.

                    Your question is similar to the one posed by Adam’s title. And the answer remains the same. Yes it matters a great deal if the policy is changed, because with the policy we start from a very pro-bike position. Adam and apparently others think that is laughable.

                    If however, you really feel that the “compromise” is worse than no bike lanes, then you definitely have a point.

                    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

                      Yeah, I just don’t agree with you that we have to abandon the policy so that we don’t abandon the policy.

                      But you’re absolutely right that pointing to the policy isn’t going to convince people already in opposition.

    2. Rosa

      but who is the community? I don’t live right there but I’ve been shopping there and going to the movies there and running events at the Minnehaha Free Space when it was there for years. Decades, almost. And all the sudden I’m not “a customer” or a member of the community?

      1. Aaron Berger

        I will say this. After attending the community meeting I can tell that there are many people who have been in the neighborhood for decades and feel that their way of doing things is being threatened. I’m on the opposite side of this issue but I understand, having had that feeling on other issues. It is easy to chock this up to a failure of imagination – people who have only ever known the street with the current layout have a hard time thinking of it as anything other than 38th Street, but with bike lanes jammed in – but that also means there is a failure of communication. Advocates for these lanes are certainly trying, but too often in public meetings it comes down to people who would rather say how they’re feeling than try to imagine how anybody else is feeling and what anybody else would want.

        So, while I profoundly disagree that this particular street is the hill on which the Complete Streets Policy is going to die, I don’t think it’s laughable to say that advocates would do better by considering everybody’s interests, whether or not they can be accommodated in a particular project.

        1. Rosa

          That’s true. Truthfully, seeing what my neighbors have to say about cyclists has made me much more strident on this issue over the last few years – the entire attitude that bikes should just stay out of the way because cars are dangerous (my husband overheard people at the Y last week claiming bikes now have MORE space on the Franklin Bridge than cars do.) has actually made me really angry. I don’t feel patient anymore. I used to think it was ignorance, or lack of imagination. Now I think it’s that they actually don’t give a shit if they kill people.

          Social media lets you get to know people better and that’s not always good for relationships.

          1. Aaron Berger

            Perhaps the most common refrain last night was that we shouldn’t put bike lanes on 38th *because* it’s a dangerous street. At this point there’s a lot of motivated reasoning going on and the city needs to make decisions in full confidence that people will adapt very quickly to the new design because they always do.

            1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

              That one is hard to wrap my head around, but it’s exactly the same argument I heard during the debate over Cleveland Avenue bike lanes in Saint Paul. It’s too dangerous for bike lanes, they said.

              Since the bike lanes have been put in, there have been no crashes. I find them immensely pleasant, and new businesses like Bar Brigade have opened up along the route.

              1. GlowBoy

                It’s the same old argument (as reported by the Star Tribune IIRC) used to oppose the Portland Avenue bike lanes in Richfield. And… and … and …

                Basically it’s a circular argument. Don’t change the road design to make it safer because its design makes it too dangerous.

                And personally, I bike on 38th (both sides of Hiawatha, though I live to the west of that line) a lot now, even though I was terrified of it when I first moved here. I’ve long known that it was one of the fastest east-west routes across south Minneapolis by car, and I’ve since learned that is also the case by bike. I find it generally wide enough and has moderate enough traffic to allow for safe passage, even with some parked cars along the way.

                Disappointed to hear MEG (a business I’ve patronized many times) has chimed in opposing the lanes. This is the same behavior I repeatedly observed in Portland (and we saw last year in St. Paul on Cleveland): supposedly progressive businesses digging in and vocally opposing reasonable safety improvements on their street because it threatened their precious welfare parking. (And by the way … three years later, NE 28th in Portland still doesn’t have bike lanes.)

                1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

                  It’s strange to hear people argue that 38th (and Bloomington too) is too dangerous for bikes because (1) it’s not terrible biking for the reasonably confident right now, and (2) it’s friendlier than the immediate alternative through streets.

                  And both are in no small part because there aren’t all that many parked cars, so you can ride entirely out of the way of drivers in the parking lane most of the time. When you can’t, there’s still enough room that cars don’t have to move entirely into the other lane to pass.

                  Which is why I see people biking on 38th every time I’m over there. The first day I took pictures, I noted in particular a dad pulling his daughter on a third wheel, a mom with two kids on the back of a cargo bike, and another cargo bike with multiple helmets in it parked in front of the theater. When I went by this morning I noted at least two bikes parked at Fireroast and another in front of Mother Earth along with a handful of people out and about on bikes.

                  This is already a pretty heavily used spot for bikers. It’s deeply disappointing that we can’t formalize that with actual bike facilities because of parking.

            2. Rosa

              and that argument is mostly being made by the drivers who make it dangerous, seems like.

              Just now, I was crossing Minnehaha in the crosswalk and a big truck courteously and legally waited to turn until I was past. The car behind him honked at him. Because having to wait 10 seconds to allow someone else to use the street is a horrible burden, or something.

              I am just over it.

            3. Jake MohanJake M.

              I was at he meeting, and I’m wondering if anyone else who was there can clarify one thing.

              At one point, the owner of MEG read bike-crash statistics for 38th over the last 15(?) yrs, and pointed out that they were in the single digits and none were fatal.

              I may be misreading this, but was she implying that because there weren’t ENOUGH crashes, and none were fatal, then bike lanes aren’t necessary? If so, that’s ghoulish. I really hope I misinterpreted.

          2. Aaron Berger

            And I would also add that social media lets you get to know a certain side of people that is usually not their best side. There is something profoundly psychologically damaging about arguing with somebody you cannot see and don’t know. People often ascribe only the worst motivations to those on the other side of an argument. I do it too.

            We have more democracy and less understanding than ever because hardly anybody engages in these face to face interactions. I had a great conversation with a guy sitting next to me at the meeting. He didn’t know why bikers would even want to ride on 38th Street. After all 37th is so much more pleasant! I explained that when I commute I seek out major streets with stop lights instead of residential streets with stop signs every other block, because they facilitate faster and easier travel. At the end of the conversation I understood why he felt the way he did and he understood that stop signs and major cross-streets are a barrier for bicycling.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

              Your call for civility is needed, so thanks. Personally, I have to remind myself that those who are afraid of new bike facilities don’t realize that they’re making the exact same arguments that are made against every proposal. To them, it’s all new and different even if it sounds tired to me because I’ve watched it happen over and over again.

            2. Rosa

              eh, it’s easier to discuss with them then than when they’re buzzing past you, honking at you because you’re in the way of their right turn at a red light, or throwing cans and bottles out the car window at you (that used to happen to me on the regular on Washington Ave after football and baseball games.)

              1. Aaron Berger

                I could not agree more. There are major parallels between road rage and internet comments. In both cases human to human interactions are buffered by distance and technology. I am not denying that the worst abuses are directed at the less powerful group, and some (probably most) disagreements will not be solved by dialogue.

  6. Keith Morris

    Why would cyclists even bother with bike lanes if as a rule they all allowed parking in them every half dozen blocks? There’s no point in even striping them at that point. We have uninterrupted bike lanes on much busier streets, so 38th isn’t going to fall apart. If businesses on 38th want to foot the bill for a bunch of speed humps and other bike boulevard treatment then give them the option.

  7. MplsCougar

    Adam, I hope you don’t mind, but I cut and pasted this entire article into my comment for 38thStBikeway[at]minneapolismn.gov along with, I’m a neighbor, I bike here all the time and I support bike lanes WITHOUT parking in them.

      1. Daniel Zachman

        I think it is also worth giving Jennifer Haggar and Nathan Coster a call, they were the two people at the meeting representing Public Works.

        Jennifer Haggar: 612-673-3625
        Nathan Coster: 612-673-3638

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