MNDoT, City, County Break Another Promise

Or, A Park and Portland Update.

If you’re someone who bikes in south Minneapolis, you’ve probably noticed that the bike lanes on Park and Portland have not been restriped back to include the buffer zone. This goes against all of the city’s goals, and it is completely predictable.
Let me back up a few decades and give a brief overview of these streets.

1895: Park and Portland existed, were named, and were paved with macadam and sheet asphalt, respectively. (Source: https://gettingaroundmpls.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/1895-paving-map/)
1892: Some parts began to be paved with asphalt, beginning the trend toward accommodation of cars over all other modes. (Source: August 5, 2009, Page AA2 – North Extra – NO. Star Tribune. Access the Strib archives through your Hennepin County Library login!)
1940s: City council studied making the streets one-ways, and shortly after, it came to pass. This was needed to accommodate car traffic, prior to the construction of the freeway. (Source: ibid.)
1950s: The streets were widened from 35’ to 56’. “Some date neighborhood deterioration to that decision.” (Source: ibid.)
Summer 1996: Extended bike lanes from downtown to Minnehaha parkway. It looks like there were 3 lanes of car traffic, 2 lanes of subsidized on-street storage of rolling luggage (colloquially referred to as parking lanes), and one 5’ bike lane, at that time. Classic high-stress bikeway, but typical for 1996. (Source: Whereatt, Robert. “FYI; After Taste.” Star Tribune [Minneapolis, MN], 9 July 1996, p. 01B. General OneFile, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A62632386/ITOF?u=hennepin&sid=ITOF&xid=15a16905. Accessed 25 May 2019.)
2009: Some residents call for a return to two-way streets. (Source: Aug 5, 2009 Strib article referenced above.)

"I have personally witnessed numerous occasions where drivers appear to threat these streets as their own personal extension of the freeway." quote from Portland Av. resident Maren Christenson

A quote from the article. Me too.

Spring 2012: There was a mill-and-overlay project in the works for this street pair. Cyclists agitated, including the org now known as Our Streets, for safety upgrades to the bikeway. (Source: https://streets.mn/2012/05/10/an-alternative-design-for-park-and-portland/)
Fall 2012: Mill-and-overlay completed. Two car travel lanes, one buffered bike lane, and at least one lane of subsidized on-street storage of rolling luggage, upgrading the bikeway to a low/moderate-stress bikeway through the southeast of the city.
Summer 2018: MNDoT restriped the streets for a car detour away from 35W. Removed painted buffers, bike lane narrowed, bus and off-peak car travel lane added (high-stress bikeway). Mostly resembles the 1996-2012 configuration. You may remember my 2018 article (https://streets.mn/2018/05/07/park-and-portland-restriping/) where I criticized the lack of outreach and the lack of commitment to reducing traffic deaths.


Let’s pick up from where I left off.

Many reached out to me right after that post to assure me that the restripe was only temporary, that we could only see this for a few months, potentially restriping as soon as fall 2018, as soon as the buses go back on the freeway, but certainly no later than spring ‘19 as soon as it thawed enough so they could get the paint to stick to the street. I received these assurances from MNDoT in-person at informational events —- the restripe of this corridor is not a project that they deign to provide updates on their website for. (Why? is an exercise I leave to the reader.)

Over the summer, I showed my closed wontfix 311 tickets of trucks parked in the bike lanes to the right people, and I started seeing changes to the patterns of which trucks would park in the lanes. I was hopeful they’d be able to restripe before the close of the year, and I devoured each 35W@94 update email passionately. Will they restripe? Will they put the buses back on the freeway and make my rides to see my friends and loved ones safer this week?

As fall turned to winter, I lost hope for the swift resolution to my woes. Well, they tried, I reasoned with myself. It’s going to be a rough winter but nothing to be done about it now. At least the trucks had stopped parking in the bike lanes (sometimes).

A truck is parked 2.5 feet into the current bike lane. The former bike lane would have been fine.

An illustration of the problem, taken sometime in early winter.

Over the winter, I noticed the bus-only-lane signs disappear from the left-hand lanes, even as the snow built up under the rolling-luggage-storage lane and pushed the cars into the 5’ bike lane. My choices became (1) take the whole right-hand car lane or (2) take the bus. I chose (2) often, and (1) more often than anyone should ever be expected to, but it was that or not bike at all, since I lived between the two impacted streets. I had hope, even as I rode much less in the moment, that this would all be straightened out in the spring.

Then the spring thaw kicked in for real. I started asking around if anyone knew when the un-re-stripe would happen. I looked forward to it as much as I look forward to seeing the first buds on a maple tree open, with hope and with expectation. “We’re working on it, no date yet.” Asked again a couple weeks later. “No, we’re not installing bollards. Still don’t know when we’re striping the lane back.”

As spring turns to summer, I asked again yesterday. During a brief chat with the info@35w94 rep, Kristin, who has been nothing but responsive and helpful, passed along some news which made me very upset. She let me know they had had a meeting about it with the city just that morning. The city wants to study, based on traffic counts, whether they should put the stripes back where they were a year ago, taking the corridor back to 2 lanes of car traffic, an on-street buffered bike lane, and the same amount of rolling luggage storage as usual. I asked if the buses were still using the lane, to potentially make this make sense to myself. She said no, but cars are still restricted from using some ramps to the freeway, and the concern is that the overflow cars will use more residential streets as overflow if the number of car lanes on Portland is reduced in the afternoons.
So, we’ve turned a lower-stress bikeway into a bus lane (defensible, on the surface), then from a bus lane into a car lane (by removing some signs and hoping no one would notice), in 2019.

I have some questions about this:

  • Where was the study to make the original change to the bikeway?
  • Where was the community outreach when we decided to add more car traffic to our city streets?
  • How does this fit our complete streets policy, which says cars should come last on the priority pyramid?
  • How does this fit vision zero, which calls on us to reduce the risk of traffic deaths?
  • Why are these highly-populated streets not considered residential?

I hope we don’t have to conduct a traffic study on a cyclist’s dead body to find the answer to the question of ”which is more important: the protection of vulnerable road users, or car-commuter throughput for 15 hours a week?” in 2019.
Let’s reach out to our electeds and let them know that we care, that we are tired of the city’s constant prioritization of suburban commuters over the residents of the city, and that the time has come for a protected bikeway on these streets. Responsible electeds include Alondra Cano, alondra.cano@minneapolismn.gov, Abdi Warsame, abdi.warsame@minneapolismn.gov, and Angela Conley angela.conley@hennepin.us.

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41 Responses to MNDoT, City, County Break Another Promise

  1. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele May 29, 2019 at 9:25 am #

    I’ve been bugging my CM and the MnDOT project team about this numerous times. The “bus lanes” were a flop even back in 2018 when the express buses were using Park and Portland. Additionally, this added capacity has induced demand for driving on other streets in South Minneapolis as freeway alternatives. For example, I would be curious to study if traffic volumes on Cedar south of 46th St drop when these lanes are removed. This added capacity has a negative ripple effect beyond just Park and Portland.

    I give a slight amount of credit to the City for experimenting on bus lanes, but there are numerous critical mistakes made as part of this change: 1. Adding bus lanes in a way that add car capacity, increase speed, and induce demand for the majority of the day. 2. Violating the modal priority framework. 3. Poor/no enforcement of bus-only lanes. 4. Not quickly redesigning this once it was clear it wasn’t working as intended.

    I have emails from people in the city documenting that there was no public outreach or process for this change to be made. It’s shocking how easily one of our best bike facilities was destroyed in the interest of adding freeway-alternative vehicle lanes and high speed traffic through residential neighborhoods.

  2. Rosa May 29, 2019 at 9:27 am #

    This is terrible! That was my commute route for six years before the bigger lanes were put in, and the speeds were high, there were lots of car accidents, and it made biking super stressful and dangerous. And in general there’s no good alternate north-south route for bikes.

    Thank you for the update – who do we call about this?

    • Rosa May 29, 2019 at 9:28 am #

      I mean, aside from Alondra Cano (for me). Is it only the city council that has any input at this point?

      • Nicole Salica
        Nicole Salica May 29, 2019 at 9:54 am #

        As it’s a county road, I’d imagine our county rep Angela Conley has some voice here. Kristin especially recommended the city council for outreach though.

        • Rosa May 30, 2019 at 9:26 am #

          oooh I love Angela I will call her office too. I’m gonna go ride that stretch tonight (my current commute is east, not toward downtown) so i can comment from direct experience.

  3. Tom Reynen May 29, 2019 at 9:43 am #

    Check out this article and video on bike lanes in Vancouver.

    https://www.businessinsider.com/vancouver-car-free-2016-12?fbclid=IwAR3vD8P6amz4ZYyfevMqh04mMF6o6HTtV1DTLyywbyq_grNfDs25dRvuVyk

  4. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary May 29, 2019 at 10:24 am #

    “How does this fit our complete streets policy, which says cars should come last on the priority pyramid?”

    It does not. It is clear that cars are still on top of the real pyramid — not just with this street, but also with 3rd Ave downtown, 8th St downtown, and E 38th St.

    As someone who bikes and drives on Park and Portland, I am sympathetic to the need for some extra capacity during the 35W closures. But that doesn’t have to be 100% at the expense of people biking. What if they did a short-term overlay of the gutter pan and removed the right-side parking? They could have 3 lanes and a similar-quality bike lane. Parked cars could divert to local streets (or the left side parking lane), which would be far preferable to commuters diverting to local streets.

    Laying asphalt would cost some money, but in the scope of a $300 million 35W project, it’s almost nothing.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller May 29, 2019 at 10:56 am #

      Except capacity on Park and Portland is not the issue. To the extent there are backups, it’s because of over-taxing the capacity on the streets drivers use to get from there to or across the freeway.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele May 29, 2019 at 11:25 am #

      It seems there’s a misconception this third lane was justified for car capacity. It was not. The justification was ostensibly to provide a dedicated lane for buses to get between downtown and 31st St which never really happened. Also a side note, those buses were removed from Park and Portland in late 2018.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary May 29, 2019 at 11:31 am #

        I understand that. I am referring to the current concerns of spillover onto minor/local streets from non-bus auto traffic.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller May 29, 2019 at 12:44 pm #

          It’s actually a little hard to spill over because you need to know which streets have bridges over the the freeway trench, don’t dead end at a park or hospital and have a light to cross Lake. I’ve seen some spillover onto Oakland south of 28th but not much as that doesn’t really get you anywhere.

  5. Julia May 29, 2019 at 11:01 am #

    This angers me so deeply. What are those buildings I’m passing when I walk on Park and Portland? Why, I think they’re apartments and homes! I mean, I get that is renters aren’t full people within the culture of the City of Minneapolis, but surely they could with enough of us they could call the streets we live on in greatest densities (like Park/Portland) “residential streets” too.

    Good god. The excuse for keeping untenably dangerous and toxic private vehicle speeds and volumes is essentially that the people living directly adjacent to these streets aren’t really people?!?

    • Rosa May 30, 2019 at 9:29 am #

      Amen. When i used to bike commute that way there were always kids on the corners waiting for the school bus. “Drive like your children live here”, right?

  6. Andrew Evans May 29, 2019 at 12:37 pm #

    Brings up a larger point in that the city seems to lack interest in painting side parking lines, or in this case bike path lines. Commenters here have complained about West River Road north of Plymouth and Broadway, which could be helped by parking lines or shoulder lines (or whatever they are called). Lyndale Ave North between Lowry and Broadway would be less of a freeforall with those lines. University is terrible too in spots.

    Unless they decided to take the bike lanes out, which is another thought. I’m sure enough of a study was done to implement them, and enough of a study will be done to remove them.

    Ideally though they would put some more money into traffic law enforcement, that would go a longer way to making our streets safer for everyone than some paint defining a bike lane.

  7. Andy Singer
    Andy Singer May 29, 2019 at 12:57 pm #

    This is how MnDOT operates— unilaterally. Even when there’s an agreed plan, they simply ignore it— https://streets.mn/2016/02/29/why-i-will-never-attend-another-mndot-meeting/ i’m Not sure how to stop this but voters should restrict the agency’s money supply until there’s some accountability. I’m glad the gas tax increase went down to defeat.

  8. Dan May 29, 2019 at 2:59 pm #

    This is a really disappointing regression in priorities for some of the most important corridors in south Minneapolis. Cynically, this exact chain of events would be a clever way of giving priority to car-driving suburban commuters over actual Minneapolis residents, while minimizing the public input that could stop that regressive change if it happened all at once. It’s bad enough for pedestrians and cyclists that Portland and Park are still fast-moving one-ways, and rolling back the most basic improvements for vulnerable road users is totally unacceptable.

    • Monte Castleman May 29, 2019 at 3:33 pm #

      Would be interesting to do an origin-destination study to see how many of the people driving on Portland / Park are car driving suburban commuters and how many are car driving city residents.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary May 30, 2019 at 10:43 am #

        I’d be curious as well. There is a lot of traffic jamming up the SB 46th St access to 35W, so presumably almost none of those people are Minneapolis residents (nobody’s putting up with that level of congestion just to get off at Diamond Lake Road or 60th).

        However, there is obviously a lot more traffic on the 2600 block than the 4000 block — somewhere, people are dropping off, and they’re not getting on the freeway anywhere between downtown and 46th.

        • Rosa May 31, 2019 at 12:56 pm #

          are they cutting over to Cedar or 55?

          In general, before the construction, the blocks going south to turn right onto the highway access were the worst congestion north of Lake during evening rush hour.

  9. Scott May 29, 2019 at 4:04 pm #

    The Complete Streets Policy is a joke! It’s laughable to think pedestrians and bicyclists are considered the top priority. Empty words. Moving and storing cars remains the top priority for traffic engineers. Seems political leaders are too timid or not committed to push back.

  10. Sarah May 29, 2019 at 4:45 pm #

    I drive these streets every day due to lack of good alternatives to reach my south Minneapolis destination, and as a car driver I would also strongly argue for removing the “temporary” third lane.

    Every evening, traffic backs up on Portland when the third lane drops south of Lake Street. The most frustrating, congested part of my commute is now on the 2-lane portion of the route between Lake and 38th on Portland. So in my experience the induced demand from that 3rd lane ultimately does not serve drivers, either.

    • Sarah May 29, 2019 at 4:47 pm #

      (Also due to 35W reconstruction, my best bus route alternative to driving (#133) has been rerouted and runs several blocks away from my destination.)

  11. Matt Steele
    Matt May 30, 2019 at 8:59 am #

    I have to ask, where is Our Streets (formerly the Bicycle Coalition) in all of this? As much as some conspiracy theorists on Mpls E-Democracy like to think of Our Streets as an all-powerful shadow government, I feel like I don’t see their work on street issues/advocacy like I did ~5 years ago. I ask only because I have so much respect for what they’ve done in our city.

    • Nicole Salica
      Nicole Salica May 30, 2019 at 10:10 am #

      My actual answer to this is that they’re stretched a bit thin. They’ve been advocating for a bunch of important stuff lately (improvements to other corridors, winter sidewalks) and haven’t had the capacity to worry about this as well – it was supposed to be temporary, after all.
      Also the leftover disappointment from not getting the bollards on here they wanted and advocated for in the 2012 mill-and-overlay.

      • janne May 31, 2019 at 10:30 am #

        Our Streets advocated for concrete-planter-protected bikeways, and for moving parking to the other side of the planters. A significant number of residents on Park and Portland did, too.

        Thanks for highlighting the stretched-thin nature of Our Streets these days. They’ve prioritized racial justice transportation issues which are harder to get people to turn out for, and the activities get less visibility. For example, they have a big program focused on supporting new riders in low-income communities and communities of color.

        If you want to see more presence from them, support their work with a financial contribution!

        https://www.ourstreetsmpls.org/donate

  12. Jenny Werness
    Jenny Werness May 31, 2019 at 11:03 am #

    A couple of comments have been deleted for not following the comment policy.

    https://streets.mn/about/comment-policy/

    Comments will be immediately removed that are:
    spam;
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    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary May 31, 2019 at 11:25 am #

      Just to put a finer point on it: the deleted comments contained a fake email address, and used multiple fake names.

      Criticism and debate are healthy, but please use your real name, or at least a consistent identity. Stand by your ideas.

      • Julie Kosbab May 31, 2019 at 2:41 pm #

        There were also a couple using a combo of fake name + email to flame, which is absolutely not tolerated.

  13. Murray May 31, 2019 at 12:11 pm #

    I receieved this from A. Cano’s office:
    “The city is committed to safe and committed bike lanes on these major thoroughfares. This is only temporary as traffic flows are diverted to offset the pressures from 35w construction. WHEN the two lane system w/ buffered bike lanes returns to both Portland and Park is the question, something we are all paying attention to. I don’t want to get hopes up as to the timeline, but we are confident this will be soon, and I can follow up early next week.

    Construction timelines in the city, as you are acutely aware, are often flexible, sometimes accelerated, and sometimes they extend beyond expected completion dates. In this they are being realistic that the three lane system cannot be removed from these streets until the worst of traffic pressures across the system are lessened.”

    • Patrick May 31, 2019 at 5:54 pm #

      What about the safety pressures on vulnerable users of this roadway? Someone is going to die. “Traffic pressures” is not a justification that’s acceptable from a Minneapolis councilperson. Period.

    • Christa Moseng
      Christa Moseng June 1, 2019 at 11:14 am #

      Yeah, this is still a moved goalpost. The lane was specifically to accommodate mass transit. Now it is for “Traffic pressures”

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller June 2, 2019 at 8:29 am #

        Also, the “worst” of the “traffic pressures” subsided after the first few weeks. Today is nothing like that.

  14. Paul Nelson June 1, 2019 at 5:32 pm #

    Why not make parking protected bike lanes on Park and Portland? It appears that would work much better for both roads.

    • Monte Castleman June 2, 2019 at 6:40 pm #

      Can someone explain why parking protected lanes are so great? I haven’t been brave enough to actually try one but it sees you still run the risk of a door opening in front you, it would be hard for motorists to see bicyclists and vice versa, and any protection disappears if no one happens to be parked there. Or is it just one of the things you can do if you don’t have space or money to do it better?

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary June 2, 2019 at 8:52 pm #

        Since like 80-90% of cars are driven by one person, your risk of getting doored is naturally a lot lower being on the passenger side than the driver side.

        But in general, I do not like them for street-level bicycle lanes. On 26th around Nicollet, I find it very difficult to see cars when biking, and to see bikes when driving. It just seems overly confusing.

        I’ve been extremely satisfied with the wide buffered lanes on Park and Portland. They feel safe at any speed, and the sight lines are far better than almost any protected lane. The only reason I wouldn’t realistically suggest putting them more places is how much space they take up — 14′. But where we already have a super-wide roadway, I think they are terrific.

      • Christa Moseng
        Christa Moseng June 2, 2019 at 8:53 pm #

        Physical separation is better than no physical separation. If you have to have parking, using the parking as a physical barrier is, effectively, a cheap substitute for a curb or other, safer, physical barrier.

        There is still a risk of getting doored, but lower, because passenger doors open less often. Together with reducing the conflict of cars crossing the travel lane to enter/exit the parking lane, and you get a much safer, lower stress bike facility.

        Long story short, it’s cheap and accommodates parking.

    • Paul Nelson June 3, 2019 at 1:02 am #

      Somewhere online I saw a cross sectional image of Park or Portland with a bike lane buffered on both sides and located between the park space and the traffic lane. I have not seen these two streets for awhile and I have not measured them, but based on the discussion here wondered if a parking protected bike lane would be better. There are many benefits and advantages that the parking protected bike lane provides; a much easier space to maintain and clear int the winter compared to a “door zone” bike lane, and the a much safer space separated from the movement of motor vehicles. There are some images as follows: https://www.google.com/search?q=parking+protected+bike+lanes&tbm=isch&source=hp&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiogcLfz8ziAhUDC6wKHWqhAg8QsAR6BAgDEAE&biw=1366&bih=625

      The best design should have a buffered space between the parked car and the bike lane or “cycle track”. This buffered space provides room for unloading of the parked car and if it is circa 3 feet wide than that will be adequate clearance for the opening of most car doors without encroaching on the bike lane space. I have a better image I was unable to post here. Thank you.

  15. Joe Klein June 12, 2019 at 11:48 am #

    I emailed Angela Conley’s office about this and she said the city “committed that restriping of the bike lanes will be happening by the end of June.”

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke June 12, 2019 at 12:29 pm #

      I think you mean “county” but yeah good to hear.

      • Joe Klein June 12, 2019 at 1:30 pm #

        It was definitely city. That surprised me since they’re county roads, but CM Conley said today that MPLS staff were the ones that committed to (and I assume will actually implement) the buffered lane.

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