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.