Minneapolis would add bike lanes and widen the sidewalks along Hennepin Avenue from Lake Street to 36th Street next year as part of a proposed plan to reconstruct the corridor.
The proposed features are part of an effort to create a street that works for all users, city leaders and bike advocates say. But some business owners and longtime residents have expressed concern that the features are part of a trend of Uptown becoming less friendly toward small businesses and older residents.
“Nobody is thinking about the older people who can’t walk on icy sidewalks or streets,” said Carol Dines, a longtime resident of ECCO. “…The threat to businesses is huge.”
City staff counter that the proposal strikes a balance between parking and city policies that call for more pedestrian spaces. The proposal would keep intact about 60 percent of the approximately 230 parking spots between 31st and 36th streets, they point out, noting that the corridor’s parking spots are generally 50 to 75 percent filled.
“It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a road that works for all users,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who represents the corridor. “I always think it’s important to think big.”
The approximately $9.3-million project would include a full removal and replacement of the ¾-mile-long stretch of roadway, most of which hasn’t been renovated for about 60 years, according to project planner Simon Blenski. It would also include the installation of crosswalk markings, new traffic signals, pedestrian lighting and trees when feasible.
The city would significantly widen the sidewalks from Lake Street to 31st Street under the plan, resulting in the loss of the approximately 30 parking spots there. It would widen the pedestrian zone from 31st Street to 36th Street, eliminating parking on the west side of Hennepin Avenue in that stretch.
Bike lanes would run on both sides of Hennepin Avenue.
Business owners have expressed concern about the eight-month stretch during which the city would reconstruct the street. Some say the proposed construction period, April to November 2018, falls during what’s typically their busiest time of year, which could lead to a loss in revenue.
“The construction alone will take a really big toll,” said Allie Pohlad, who owns Truce, a juice shop on 32nd & Hennepin.
The proposal comes a year after the City Council voted to increase the city’s capital street-paving budget by $21.2 million annually for the next 20 years. The city was originally scheduled to reconstruct the corridor in 2021 before that plan passed, according to Blenski.
The reconstruction plan would result in narrower driving lanes for cars, which would encourage motorists to drive at slower speeds, according to Minneapolis Transportation Planning Manager Nathan Koster. Project proponents say slowing down cars would be a welcome change on a corridor that often sees drivers going too fast.
“It’s always seemed needlessly wide and dangerous to cross,” said ECCO board member Nathan Campeau, who crosses Hennepin Avenue to get to his bus stop. “Good design would make cars go the speed limit.”
Alex Cecchini, a former member of the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said he expects parking to get worse in ECCO and CARAG but that the proposed features would be worth the tradeoff. He said he appreciates that Bender has been taking a wholistic view of the area, noting her ordinance several years ago that allows accessory dwelling units.
PAC Vice Chair Julia Tabbut said she’s torn about the proposed reconstruction. She said she wishes the city would have explored more innovative features, such as potentially closing Hennepin between Lake and 31st streets to cars.
She said she’s excited to have wider sidewalks south of 31st Street and to have bicycle space on Hennepin Avenue, however.
Campeau and other residents in favor of the plan say they appreciate how the proposal places the needs of people over cars. But other residents question the practicality of that philosophy, especially when motorists make up such a large share of the corridor’s users.
Anywhere from 6,700 to 10,600 people drive on the corridor during an average weekday, according to the city, while just 250 to 3,400 walk in it. Even fewer people, approximately 50 to 200, bike in the corridor on an average weekday.
Some longtime residents question the wisdom of having people bike on such a highly used street like Hennepin Avenue, especially when there are other bikeways nearby. They suggest the city direct bicycle traffic to a less crowded street, such as Holmes Avenue.
The city does already have a dedicated bikeway on Bryant Avenue, which runs parallel to Hennepin between Lake and 36th streets. However, city staff say Bryant and Hennepin avenues serve different types of trips and provide access to different types of destinations.
They noted in their presentation that there is already demand for a bikeway on Hennepin Avenue.
Some residents also expressed concerns about the way the city would handle bus traffic under the new plan. The plan calls for passengers to board busses in the middle of the traffic lanes on Hennepin Avenue between 31st and 36th streets, something residents say doesn’t make sense.
“I can’t imagine that any traffic engineer thinks that is a good idea,” ECCO board member Gary Farland said.
Blenski counters that in-lane traffic stops would allow for more efficient bus service, noting that busses won’t have the delay of waiting to pull into traffic. He said that adding bus pullouts between 31st and 36th streets would require the city to remove additional parking and boulevard and sidewalk space.
Business owners ambivalent
Business owners appeared to have mixed feelings about the proposal, when talking about it beyond the potential impact of construction. Some said the lack of parking could be a huge challenge, while others said that’s a reality with which they already contend.
Tracy Schultz, Operations Manager of Amazing Thailand, which is between 31st and Lake streets, said the restaurant already gets frequent complaints about the lack of parking nearby. She said people could become more aware of the parking problem if those spots are gone.
There are two ramps near Amazing Thailand, the Calhoun Square parking ramp and MoZaic Art ramp, but each charges at least $6 for an hour of parking.
Business owners further down Hennepin Avenue, where free street parking is more abundant, appear to be more concerned about the plan. Dr. Julie Smith of The Uptown Veterinarian clinic, which is just south of 31st Street, said she worries about the ability of clients to get their animals in and out of her office.
She and her employees already park on the side streets around Hennepin Avenue, and Smith said she worries those streets will be even more inundated with employees of nearby businesses.
Pohlad said a majority of her customers drive to her juice shop as a destination. She said she felt frustrated that the city didn’t seem to collect a lot of input from business owners during the plan’s early stages.
Denny Magers, owner of Magers & Quinn, appeared to agree, saying he felt like the city already had its plan set before gathering feedback. He said he didn’t know what the plan would mean for his bookstore but that he couldn’t spend any more time worrying about it.
“To me it was a forgone conclusion they were going to do bike lanes,” he said. “… I think there’s some agenda going on here.”
Some ECCO residents who were against the plan pointed their criticism at Bender, who they say doesn’t appear interested in their feedback. They say she’s listening to younger residents but not older ones and hasn’t been accessible to them during this process.
“Lisa Bender’s only mission in life is to make the city better for biking, as far as I can tell,” longtime ECCO resident Jon Silverman said.
Bender said it was the city staff, not she, who redesigned the corridor. She said she understands there’s a real concern about parking in the area.
Other residents had no qualms about the city’s engagement process. Campeau noted the two open houses held by the city and its online survey. He said Bender or a city staff person has been at every single ECCO board meeting.
Longtime residents worry that the plan’s lack of parking would create a tough environment for small businesses, however. They say the area has already lost many of its small businesses and could lose its appeal as an urban shopping spot.
“Edina is much more inviting as a pedestrian shopping destination than Uptown is now,” said Dines, the longtime ECCO resident. “That’s because of what the business community, the developers and the (City) Council have done.”