Hennepin Avenue: A Parable of Road Design in America

It’s possible you’ve heard this joke before:

A motorist, a pedestrian, and a bicyclist are sitting at a table that has a dozen cookies on it. The motorist grabs 11 of the cookies and when the other two are reaching for what they each assumed was their cookie, the motorist exclaims: “Watch out! The bicyclist is trying to steal your cookie!”

This sentiment is common in American transportation discourse, and is still apparent in the upcoming reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. On March 4, I attended the digital open house and was flabbergasted to learn in the Q&A portion that planting trees in the median was only practical in Option 2 (the option with pavement for storing private vehicles, but no space for safe bicycle movement). I’m appalled that green transportation is pitted in a tradeoff against literal plants and greening instead of simply removing space for cars.

Screenshot from the Q&A portion of the March 4 digital open house. Source: City of Minneapolis

The more I look at the proposal, the more I believe the above proverb to be ever more applicable. Option 1 has a raised cycle track, but for some reason also has left turn lanes for cars at 24th Street and 26th Street – an addition that would make the cycle track much more dangerous to use. Option 2 has no bike facilities whatsoever, but also doesn’t have left turns at the same intersections. The dissonance is baffling.

Slide to compare Option 1 (left) and Option 2 (right) at 24th Street. Source: City of Minneapolis

Let me be clear – we need to support Option 1 as it is the only inclusive choice – but I view this as a “Yes, and” situation. Option 1 is the preferred layout, and it can still be better.

  • We must support Option 1 because it is the only choice that includes bike facilities, and would set an inexcusable precedent if the City of Minneapolis decides to ignore the goals of their own Transportation Action Plan, on one of the few City-controlled commercial corridors in the City.
  • We must support Option 1 to show Hennepin County and MnDOT our values regarding Vision Zero and Complete Streets and expect them to follow suit when it’s time for right-of-way under their control to be reconstructed.
  • We must support Option 1 to support the wellbeing of future generations in a post-fossil fuel future where street trees are abundant and people talking and laughing and eating outside is the urban standard instead of noisy streets with the screeching of tires, the polluting roar of engines, and toxic brake dust blowing in the wind.

It is possible to have good things without compromise – imagine if your favorite restaurant still had a smoking section! Car dependency is a massive, 100-year-old ship that makes it extremely difficult to steer away from, but take a look at what Paris is doing about their similarly long, very well known 1.2 mile corridor. This is an opportunity for Minneapolis to follow its own policies, have a vision and stick to it, and create a space truly special and functional for everyone.

You can leave comments on an interactive map and an online survey hosted by Minneapolis until April 16, and also be sure to head over to Hennepin For People for more engagement opportunities.

Fred Kreider

About Fred Kreider

Fred is a car-free, smartphone-free Millennial who lives in a 120-year-old NOAH duplex in Downtown Longfellow. A connoisseur of the built environment, they find it unacceptable for transportation to be deadly and believe housing is a right, not an investment. A member of the Streets.MN Climate Committee.

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28 thoughts on “Hennepin Avenue: A Parable of Road Design in America

  1. Dave Carlson

    Why isn’t there an option for one-way cycle tracks on both sides of the roadway, similar to the design on Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis? I know a lot of folks (mostly casual riders, not necessarily commuter or serious recreational bicyclists) like the two way “bike trails” along side a road, but I believe they are more dangerous with left turning traffic and heavy traffic along this corridor. Plus, it puts bikes very close to oncoming traffic, and at night you get headlights right in your eyes.

    1. John Holton

      Dave, couldn’t agree more. The city is planning s similar design on Bryant Ave South. I had an opportunity during this warmup to experience a 2-way bike path facility on 28th Avenue North while cycling East to West. The paved path is on the North side of the street. Driveways, alleys, and curb cuts exist everywhere, coupled with buildings and retaining walls creating a very obstructed field of view. You’re in constant mental overload scanning for dangers. I was so intent looking for cars, I blew by one stop sign. Going West to East would be even more fraught as a cyclist is now traveling counter to normal traffic flow. I really wanted to get off and just use the street, but I didn’t want to risk road rage on a cyclist who is now impeding them in the dedicated automobile space. IMO, these two-way designs only work when there are minimal curb cuts like Minnehaha, River Road, Theo Wirth Parkway – maximum one curb cut for every two city blocks. It could be improved with raised pathways when crossing streets, but the presence of so many other curb cuts still make two-ways dangerous for the transportation-oriented cyclist.

      1. Jeremy HopJeremy

        I agree regarding the two way cycletracks. The 18th Avenue “Great Northern” has many driveways, alleys and street crossings. I’m a swivel head along here due to the constant interactions along the stretch between Jonhson and Monroe. I feel like this is where the cities are moving toward as Johnson St is also getting this same treatment and others around town.

        1. Trademark

          I feel like it would be a lot safer if there was at least a bike crossing both ways sign. on the cross streets. Something to remind people what’s there.

    2. Monte Castleman

      Yes, I can’t speak from the point of view of a “commuter” or “serious” cyclist, but as a “casual rider” I prefer “bike trails”. I tried the Washington Ave cycletracks when they were first put in and I was terrified and never want to repeat the experience.

  2. Christa MChrista Moseng

    Thanks for writing this, this is a great summary of what’s at stake and also really helpfully illustrates how even the best option can still be significantly improved.

  3. Trademark

    Hot take time.

    Option 1 is a great option. And the only realistic one. There is no way the local business community would ever accept a further reduction to drive up business. No parking on hennepin is huge. This is a giant win and if this becomes the standard in more areas we will have a greater modal shift with the shift to transit from bus lanes then will ever happen from bike lanes.

    2 lanes plus a turn lane is a huge reduction from 4 lanes. And a strict 2 lane road would be more dangerous as when there are cars backed up behind other cars people will drive unsafe trying to get around the car that is waiting for the yellow light to make their turn. This will result in the bus lane getting clogged and cars trying to fit into tighter windows endangering both cars pedestrians and bikes.

    I didnt see this corridor as a priority for bikes. Humboldt avenue and bryant avenue would be good alternatives. But the fact that they were able to fit the cycle track in is impressive and has my support.

    Also yes trees are good. But there is no scenerio where getting rid of auto traffic would be feasible here. And sacrificing people taking climate friendly transportation methods like bikes or transit for a few trees doesn’t make sense.

    Feel free to argue with me. I won’t take it personal. Good discourse is important m

    1. Ange

      Not going to argue. I agree with almost everything you said.

      In my mind the City got most of the important stuff by reducing to two lanes, adding dedicated bus lanes, and adding the median. The next most important thing would be reducing the number of curb cuts. Personally, I’d like to see all curb cuts off side streets or Emerson, Fremont, Dupont etc. to force all turns to occur at the intersections.
      Everything beyond that is a bonus. More trees, green infrastructure, and maybe space for outdoor seating and things like that would be better than either the parking or the cycle track in my opinion, but I’ll be happy with whatever they choose because it will be a huge improvement. Like you I don’t see Hennepin as a priority for bike lanes, although the City does and that might be all that matters. Even if they were installed I would still likely use Humboldt and Bryant because they are quieter streets with less worry of turning vehicles, and I won’t have to deal with traffic lights, although the city could help with that by timing them for bikes. The added distance by taking the 2 legs vs the hypotenuse is a non-issue for me.

      I am not a business owner so I don’t know if the parking is needed. It seems like the business owners are being a little overly dramatic but I also understand that most people have less tolerance for walking than I do, and I don’t doubt that some people may choose not to go somewhere else if they had to park two blocks away, even if that were an irrational decision. I think due diligence needs to be done in regards to the parking. Without knowing everyone who uses the businesses (how much is local? how much is from outside the neighborhood? how do they get there?) I think having some parking is probably more important than the cycle track right now based on what they are doing south of Lake St. The parking could always be removed in the future to regain boulevard space, but it can’t really be added with the cycle track there.

      Changing society’s mindset towards driving will take a generation at least. I think the strategy needs to be to make driving a little more expensive or a little more inconvenient, and other modes more convenient, and safer with every project, law, tax etc. The worst thing that can happen is to go too far too soon and cause backlash against what it is we are working for. I don’t know if eliminating most parking on Hennepin is going too far but without knowing more about those businesses I would vote for the parking over the cycle track.

      1. Trademark

        Yes and this is why I support the cycle track since they were able to fit it in. But a bike can take bryant or humboldt to 25th or 24th to get to hennepin and lock up their bike. A bus cannot fit on humboldt. And we don’t want excess cars on the residential streets either.

  4. Monte Castleman

    So you have all sorts of people that need to use Hennepin- people on foot, people in cars, people on buses, and people on bicycles. If we go with Option 1, as presented, we can accommodate them all without stealing anyone’s cookies. If some street trees have to go, then that’s what should go as they’re non-sentient objects and not people.

    It’s not obvious to me why there’s left turn lanes on one option but not another. The idea that we should ban left turns here for no other reason besides that there a conflict between left turning motorists and bicyclists / pedestrians doesn’t seem compelling. There’s thousands of other city intersections where left turns are allowed, the motorist that won’t make a left turn across the bicycle path and crosswalk on 24th is just going to make the same left turn at some other intersection instead, and there’s way to mitigate this issue, such as using flashing yellow arrows rather the much more dangerous “yield on green”. Or even running a protected only cycle if there’s a ped call, something the city of Bloomington is doing with their new FYA installations, something that can be done if you have dedicated turn lanes.

    Speaking of signals, exclusive pedestrian phasing might be something to think about, because although it tends to increase delays to both motorists and pedestrians, it mitigates a specific major problem with outside bus lanes that will happen here- a motorist yielding to bicyclists and pedestrians crossing needs to stop in the right turn / bus lane. This then blocks it for buses, possibly through most of the green cycle.

  5. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

    I bike through the corridor pretty frequently and have no desire to use Hennepin. Why would I want to risk my life when there are plenty of parallel local streets with little or no traffic that are faster and safer? Think of all the delays at red lights, which don’t exist on the side streets. The priority on Hennepin should be buses, not bikes.

      1. Trademark

        Humboldt is parallel south of 25th street and north of it people and north of 24th bryant is within 2 blocks of hennepin.

        Priorities need to be made when constructing sections and due to the alternatives. Bicycle right of way is preferred and option 1 is a great solution. But that doesn’t mean that there should be protected lanes over here. If people feel unsafe on the cycle track they can take bryant or humboldt or dupont.

  6. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Thanks for writing this, as I was wondering if I’d be able to muster the motivation to write something.

    I’m torn on Option 1. The two-way cycle track with conflicts with turning cars is a less than ideal design from a safety perspective. But it saves a few feet of of right of way over safer one-way cycle tracks on one side. Given these two choices, there’s no question, but public works needs to understand that Option 1 is, itself, a compromise we should only agree to reluctantly. The turn conflicts mean that someone is going to get hurt, perhaps even badly or fatally, when the inevitable crashes happen.

    Option 2 conflict’s the the city’s states modal priority policy. I don’t even understand how it is being proposed. It is unacceptable.

  7. Brian

    For businesses along Hennepin that need to draw from the entire metro area to survive parking is going to be a big issue for them. Someone from Burnsville isn’t going to really have an option besides driving. I suppose a customer could park somewhere and take a bus into Minneapolis, but how many drivers do you know that would do that?

    For those businesses on Hennepin that draw from the immediate area the changes are less likely to reduce business, and might actually increase it a bit.

    1. John Holtan

      Maybe if you’re a business that needs to draw from the entire metro, Hennepin is a rather poor choice for a location. In a very dense environment, should we be catering to these types of businesses? Let’s say I am in the unique pet fish business – probably best to locate somewhere less dense, cheap/easy parking, and very connected to the highway grid.

      When I look at the local businesses around my quasi-dense neighborhood, customers largely walk or bike there.

      1. Monte Castleman

        I think the Uptown businesses that attempted to draw from the entire metro have already closed up (like North Face and Famous Dave’s) due to how hard it is to drive and park there. It seems there’s three prototypes for regional businesses-

        Free surface parking, near a freeway exit, nice expensive building (Gabberts);
        Free surface parking, near freeway exit, cheap dumpy building;
        Small cute independent stores in cute little buildings like Majers and Quinn. ease of driving and parking not required.

        So whether we include on-street parking on Hennepin isn’t going to make a difference for any of them. I’ll also note a substantial amount of suburbanites, including myself, don’t know how to parallel park so wouldn’t be able to utilize on-street parking anyway.

        1. Monte Castleman

          MicroCenter being the prototypical “near a freeway exit, cheap. easy free parking, dumpy building” example. There’s been speculation of that area being redeveloped with mixed use for like a decade now. MicroCenter will want no part in a development where rent is higher and driving and parking are harder, they’ll just find another dumpy strip mall with plenty of surface parking near a freeway exit to relocate to.

          1. Trademark

            Hopefully not. I was just talking to my friend about how nice it’ll be to take the train to Microcenter

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          The idea that decades old retail brands close because of the difficultly of parking is amusing. No, brands just come and go. There’s no Circuit City any more either.

          1. Monte Castleman

            There’s multiple North Face locations open, unlike the Uptown location all with free, abundant parking. There’s multiple Famous Dave’s open, unlike the Uptown location all with free, abundant parking. The idea that it’s not a problem if regional businesses are tedious and / or expensive to get to from the mode choice that the overwhelming number of people in the region utilize is amusing.

  8. John Holtan

    Great set of comments here, I think my mind is changed a bit! From a cycling perspective, if I frame this design as a ‘final block connector’ and not an end-to-end route from Uptown to Downtown then option #1 makes more sense. Bryant is a much better cycling experience today to serve this other purpose. From a driving perspective turn lanes make sense, but absolutely NO left turn on green or right turn on red through the bikeway.

  9. TJ

    Option 1 is plainly the right choice here, although I do share the general opinion of not being a big fan of the two-way cycle track. There are places in the city where I think one would be the better option, but generally as a biker I prefer to be moving in the direction of traffic. Obviously, though, the top priority is to ensure that we’re rebuilding our streets to accommodate all of our transit options, which one design does and the other doesn’t.

  10. Keith

    Does this mean we’ll finally get more bike parking on Hennepin? The entire block of businesses on the east side of 25th starting with the balloon store has zero bike racks. Nico’s and Namaste share a wheel locking rack if you want to donate to your local bike thief. The strip mall with SoHo Cafe has no bike racks. And so on. It seems like the city should install these, because business owners are very hit or miss on whether they care about bike parking.

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