Non-separated bike lane on a two lane road, snow blocks some of the bike lane, red bike/coffee shop to the left of the photo.

The Status of Biking in North Minneapolis in 2021

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.

East/West

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/

Non-separated bike lane on a two lane road, snow blocks some of the bike lane, red bike/coffee shop to the left of the photo.
Glenwood Ave N bike lane headed east; Venture North Bike and Coffee shop on the right

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.

Clear bike lane separated from traffic by cement and plastic bollards, sunny day late evening, snow on the ground
Plymouth Ave N bike lane headed west. source: author
Bike lane with no bollards, cars parked close to bike lane.
Plymouth Ave N bike lane west of Penn Ave N, bollards disappear. source: author

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.

Bike lane partially covered by snow.
Golden Valley Road bike lane facing east, partially covered by snow. Source: author

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.

Large sidewalk with painted bike lane on the left side. Bike lane half covered with now. Intersection with one way street.
26th Ave N bike trail at the intersection with Fremont Ave N, looking west. Source: author

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.

Unprotected bike lane covered with snow at an intersection, two cars right in front of photographer.
Bike path on Lowry Ave N headed east near the intersection of Penn Ave N. The bike lane is completely blocked with snow forcing the rider into traffic at a busy intersection. source: author

North/South

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.

separated bike path with lanes for pedestrians and bikes. Bike path says "10 MPH". Snow on either side of the path.
Bike path along Theodore Wirth Parkway, just north of the intersection with Plymouth Ave N. Source: author

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.

source: Minneapolis Public Works http://www2.minneapolismn.gov/cip/queen

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.

A bike lane on the left side of a one way street, with a snow bank between the road and the bike lane.
Fremont Ave N bike lane headed south, separated by plastic bollards and a nice bank of snow. Source: author

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.

Nonseparated bike lane with warehouses on either side. Minneapolis skyline in the distance.
2nd Ave N bike lane, facing South, with Mpls skyline in the distance. Source: author

Reflections

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!

Nelli Thomas

About Nelli Thomas

I'm a family physician currently working at NorthPoint Health and Wellness. I have particular interest in racial justice, environmental justice, addiction medicine, primary care for all genders, prenatal care, and preventive and acute care for all ages and walks of life.

Articles near this location

10 thoughts on “The Status of Biking in North Minneapolis in 2021

  1. John Holton

    This is a really great summary of cycling routes on the Northwest Minneapolis. Reflecting on Theo-wirth vs. 26th – they are actually similar in design, but with very different experiences. The key to Theo Wirth being nice is there are no curb cuts or intersections and a wide right-of-way. As a bicyclist, I imagine 26th can be a bit nerve-racking as you come up to the alley/street/driveway intersections which can be blind from bushes, fences and garages. I cannot imagine going much over 10MPH on this design. I think it would be safer if they put the green strip between the sidewalk and bike path to improve lines of sight, better separate (pet) walkers, and provide better visibility to motorists (to mitigate hooking dangers). Curious of your thoughts on how this could be improved.

  2. Matt

    I live in North Minneapolis. You are correct that essentially none of us who were already here, have had, have, or will ever have much interest in South Minneapolis people forcing South Minneapolis plans for colonization on us over here.

  3. Old Chef

    Until the gentrification is well underway or complete, the bike lanes in N Mpls will continue to go largely unused.

  4. David

    As an avid biker and long-time northside resident, I must say that this article provides an accurate summary of the status of bike corridors in this part of town. It is true that there isn’t much of a bike culture here compared to the south side, and the fear of being “colonized” by “bike imperialists” from other parts of town is a common sentiment. Yes, there is resistance on the part of those who are inconvenienced and will never use such an amenity. Also, the resistance by those opposed to anything that signifies the “G” word is a difficult cultural barrier to overcome. In general, the northside is a pretty parochial and insular place, where people, due their past negative experiences, don’t like things imposed upon them, even if it might be to their own benefit. How to get people to take ownership of their own healthful habits remains a huge challenge in a community where health disparities are so significant.

  5. Theo

    As a Northsider whose bike is his car I agree. I also don’t think the city and bicycling community has gotten buy in from the community. I don’t feel like there should be much additional bike infrastructure until they get this buy in. The only place I see other cyclists is Theo Wirth and Plymouth. I take 26th daily and it is terrific. But, I have yet to see another cyclist in 2 weeks commuting on it. Reckless drivers are honestly are more of a concern. Which also might be why people don’t bike, so e are afraid to drive let alone bike in this era of no traffic enforcement.

  6. Scott

    I moved to Harrison within the last year, and it’s been an eye opening experience. I’ve biked in the cities for years, and northside is the only place I’ve consistently legitimately feared for my life while biking (or driving for that matter). The blatant disregard for any traffic laws by some drivers makes it generally a hostile place to get around (although the bus service is fantastic). It’s pretty exhausting having to quadruple check every intersection before crossing on bike, foot, or driving because of the number of drivers blowing through stop signs/stoplights at 45+ mph I’ve witnessed. My closest calls in my decade of living in St Paul/other parts of Minneapolis are a daily occurrence in north.

    Harrison itself is a little more comfortable, and I feel okay biking on Glenwood (which is a pretty low traffic street) and connecting up with Theo. However, as you have said, Theo isn’t really a direct connection to anything.

    I’d also say the topography of the central north neighborhoods would be a barrier to increasing biking in north. From Broadway to Lowry it’s basically a constant incline that would cause major sweating for a daily rider. Most people don’t want to have to change their clothes at work or wherever their destination is. I think it’s only a certain kind of white, middle/upper class person who feels comfortable doing that.

    I think investing in better transit and traffic calming measures like they did on Penn are the most worthwhile investments in transportation for north. Increased walking and making parks safer/more accessible for residents might be a more fruitful health initiative than biking.

  7. Jordan B

    Thank you for this round-up. I live a bit farther north in Webber-Camden, and I would add the east-west route along 42nd. Very convenient route, but painted lanes and similar issues you describe on Glenwood: high car speeds and occasional bike lane blockages. I’d love to see a curb-separated lane similar to Plymouth here. It is such a wide road, it is almost hard to NOT drive fast.

    The other key route to mention farther north is Victory Memorial Parkway. It’s definitely the safest feeling on the Northside and I’ll usually try to work it into my route as much as possible. The parkway is by far where I see the most other bikers in North.

    i think a key thing with all of these routes is that no matter how good lanes or infrastructure are, they can totally be torpedoed by bad connections/crossings/intersections. As mentioned in the article, the good north-south routes still have to cross Olson highway, Broadway, Lowry, and Dowling at points, which can be tricky. 42nd and Lyndale N. is another example that I have to brave regularly. It is near Webber and North Mississippi parks, connects to the bridge over the river to Northeast, and so multiple trails and bike lanes can plop bikers into this intersection, but it is very scary. As we think about barriers to more users, I think one scary experience can certainly turn somebody off to biking regularly.

  8. Jason Goray

    Before COVID interrupted my daily commute, the Plymouth Ave bike lane between Washington and Lyndale (crossing 94) semi-frequently had enough broken glass in it that I either needed to cross the bollards and go into the car lane or assume that it would be bad and take the sidewalk before getting onto the bridge.

    This was especially the case on the north side of the street. It could often take a week or more for glass to get cleaned up, even with calls to 311.

  9. Matt

    A key point of community resistance is the Park Department and City redefining North Minneapolis parkland as open for residential and commercial development, by redefining North Minneapolis parkland to also mean new fully built out and developed neighborhood, but with a bike lane. The new park near Dowling was sold to the community as a 50 acre park. The official plan is now to build 30 acres of new buildings and residential towers in the park, with the remainder of the land to be lawns for the new buildings, roads etc…but with a bike lane. The east/west portion of Victory Memorial was also shown as a fully built out neighborhood in the 2040 plan last time I checked…But with a bike lane.

  10. Bridget R Froehle

    I’m a northsider who doesn’t bike and am not happy with all the bike lanes. I live on Queen and not happy about becoming bike Blvd. I drive for Metrotransit and I rarely see people using the bike lanes on the Northside. Cars and police park in them all the time. And you’re totally right they don’t get plowed properly. My experience with most bikers especially on Nicollet Mall is not good. Most do not respect traffic laws, cut and dodge in between buses and don’t understand the blind spots large vehicles have to deal with. If the city offered the regular low to middle income Northside folks, meaning not all the mostly white suburbanites moving into Northside free bikes, then I’d be all for bike lanes and boulevards. However I think biking in the winter in snow is damn crazy. I’ve seen so many bikers wipe out in the street and nearly get run over.

Comments are closed.