I thought streets.mn could use an update on what’s new with bike infrastructure in Near North Minneapolis and some thoughts on the status of biking in Near North from someone who lives and works in Willard-Hay and bikes to work year-round.
Glenwood Ave N
This three-year-old bike lane from downtown to Theodore Wirth Park is welcome, but people often park in the lane in front of the convenience stores at Glenwood and Newton/Morgan Ave N. The bike lane is also insufficiently plowed in the winter especially west of Penn. As with the Golden Valley bike lane, there was significant resistance to this bike lane: https://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2017/11/06/glenwood-avenue-bike-lanes/
Plymouth Ave N
It is hard to criticize the protected bike lane on Plymouth that extends from the river to the great separated bike path on Theo Wirth. However, it can be challenging to cross Penn Ave N with frequent car turns; also, the lane is not protected west of Penn.
Golden Valley Ave N
A new bike lane was painted in from Theodore Wirth Parkway to Girard Ave N on Golden Valley Road in late 2020. As on Glenwood and in other areas of North, poor plowing results in cars parking in the bike lane as the parking area is blocked by snow. There was a lot of grumbling by local residents in Facebook groups that I’m a member of complaining that their property rights are being violated as there is not enough parking now. I will discuss more about resistance to bike lanes in North below.
26th Ave N Bike Path
This path is wide and flat, separated from the road on the north side of 26th Avenue N from Theo Wirth to 2nd Avenue N. However, there is a serious issue with drivers on alleys and roads that cross the bike path not looking for bikers. I was nearly hit on 26th Ave N and Irving Ave N, probably the closest call I’ve had in years. The driver slammed on his brakes and they squealed. Both of us were terrified. People are used to basically pulling onto 26th before turning or crossing the road. I was going fast, coming back from a dental appointment and trying to get back home in time for a meeting. It is not fun or practical for a biker to slow down at every intersection of a bike path in case this happens. Part of the problem with the 26th Ave N bike path and bike paths in North in general is that they are lightly used, and so drivers are not used to looking for bikes in the infrastructure. I will discuss more on this later.
Lowry Ave N Bike Lane
This is another not-separated bike lane from Theo Wirth in the west to the Lowry bridge in the east. It is functional enough, but traffic can be fast on Lowry and people pull dangerous moves like passing in the bike lane when a car ahead is turning left. Biking this area in preparation for this article reminded me of how terrifying it is to bike here in the winter. I had to veer into traffic when the snow covered the bike lane and the car behind me didn’t slow down at all. Bikers should proceed with caution.
Theodore Wirth Parkway Bike Path
This wonderful, long separated bike path is scenic and well protected. It does get congested, especially around the new trailhead at Theo Wirth just south of Plymouth Ave, but in general, is a great bike path but not the most direct route to get anywhere.
Queen Ave Bike Boulevard
This new bike boulevard is being planned and is to be completed in 2021! There are some serious obstacles to this bike boulevard, however. My biggest concern is the crossing of Olsen Memorial Highway for both pedestrians and bikes. Olsen is a six lane separated highway with a speed limit of 40mph at Penn Ave N, and most cars coming East are driving even faster. There is not a long enough walk light to cross the entire highway as a pedestrian, so you have to wait in the median for a three minute light before finishing crossing. Cars turning left do not look for pedestrians. There needs to be a long, clear, bike and pedestrian crossing signal that starts before the car crossing signal. It’s impossible to cross Olsen safely in anything but a car right now.
Fremont/Emerson Ave N Bike Lanes
These wide bike lanes are pretty good! Direct and well separated by bollards. Drivers crossing the road often don’t look for bikes and there are the usual issues of people parking in the bike lane, but overall, pretty good.
Second Ave N Bike Lane
This mostly industrial road has a wide, not separated bike lane that is useful for getting from the pretty areas in the North Mississippi Regional Park/Victory Memorial area to Plymouth Ave N to go east/west or to downtown. This will be how the new Upper Harbor Terminal development, including a concert venue potentially, will be accessed by bike.
As mentioned above, there are some serious cultural barriers to North Minneapolis being a truly bike friendly area. I really appreciate the work the city and other organizations have put in to build the bike infrastructure we have. However, as someone who commutes to work year-round on bike, I really don’t see a lot of other bikers out on any of these roads except for Plymouth Ave, which seems to be popular with more intense long commute bikers coming from the Western suburbs. Although organizations like the Venture North bike shop and coffee shop on Glenwood in the Harrison neighborhood are working to make biking more accessible to the community, biking doesn’t seem to be popular means of transportation among North Minneapolis residents. It seems that those who can, drive, and everyone else walks to the bus. As a physician who lives and works on the Northside, it’s frustrating that this affordable, healthy option to get around is not more popular. I’ve attended meetings with Councilmember Jerimiah Ellison in which Black community members have expressed that bike lanes are a gentrifying force. I understand this sentiment and can’t speak to the Black experience on the North side. I do know that biking is good for personal and global health, and find it frustrating to not have community support for what I believe to be good, safe infrastructure changes.
I am white and could be considered a gentrifier by some. I try to mitigate this by choosing to live and work in my community as well as participate in community activism and support local Black voices. I’m looking forward to attending upcoming meetings about the new Queen Ave bike boulevard and do what I can to promote the idea of biking in Willard-Hay.
The other bike path resistance comes from mostly white homeowners in North who gripe on Facebook about how bike lanes are plowed before roads and how bike lanes take away their precious parking. We have all dealt with these folks I’m sure, but they are vocal in local politics and often have more resources to resist change.
As part of my work at NorthPoint Health and Wellness I actively encourage my patients to bike and walk for transportation, give out free helmets at health fairs, and help at our annual Fit for Fun that coincides with Open Streets West Broadway. I’m not sure that “if we build it, bikers will come” is working in North and I’m not sure what we could be being to help with this. I appreciate any input and feedback!