Slower cars, more sidewalks on Girard Avenue block in Uptown

Girard Ave Redesign
A city graphic shows the plan for the block of Girard Avenue South between Lagoon Avenue and Lake Street. Submitted image

Minneapolis street designers are recommending a “slow street” model that maintains two-way auto traffic for the reconstruction of a block of Girard Avenue South in Uptown, which is scheduled for 2020.

The recommended concept was selected from five design options that were released in January for the block of Girard Avenue between Lake Street and Lagoon Avenue.

A slow street functions like a standard two-way street but has an improved pedestrian experience due to lower speeds and traffic volumes, designers say. For Girard Avenue, the design proposes expanding the west sidewalk from 8 feet to 18 feet and narrowing the traffic space from 30 feet to 20 feet. The slow street design means there will be a slight incline for vehicles entering the block, intended to slow traffic. The design calls for a “curbless street,” which means the sidewalk and road will all be on the same level.

Nathan Koster, a transportation planning manager with Minneapolis Public Works, said the curbless slow street design provides flexibility for the present and future. Right now, the curbless design will allow the street to be easily blocked off for local events and make it easier for businesses to receive deliveries. Down the road, it will allow the city, should it choose, to convert Girard Avenue into a “shared street” for pedestrians, bikers and drivers or else into a purely pedestrian street.

“We see a lot of benefits for not only deliveries but pedestrians,” Koster said.

The city conducted a study of the area that found the number of vehicles and pedestrians on the street to be roughly equal during daytime hours on weekdays, with pedestrians outnumbering cars in the evenings. On the weekend, pedestrians outnumber cars, particularly late in the evening, when around 200 pedestrians per hour were counted walking the block.

The average speed of vehicles on the block was 13.7 mph, the study found. The narrow street will naturally slow cars to more of a biking pace and should discourage drivers from trying to pass cyclists, Koster said. There would be a clear distinction between the sidewalk and the street area despite the curbless design. The narrowed street would not be stripped.

Public works is in the process of pitching the design to various neighborhood and civic groups, including the Lowry Hill East and South Uptown neighborhood associations. At the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) planning and zoning committee meeting on March 13, people asked designers to consider a more pedestrian-oriented path.

“Shared streets become car streets,” said Alex Bowen, co-chair of the LHENA zoning and planning committee.

There was a concern among the committee that the design is too deferential to local business needs.

Girard Ave Redesign
A city graphic shows how the block of Girard Avenue South between Lagoon Avenue and Lake Street would change under the proposed “slow street” design. Submitted image

Abigail Johnson, a co-chair of LHENA’s zoning and planning committee, said she likes the narrow street and wide sidewalk, but feels the proposed design doesn’t go far enough in providing safe pedestrian zones and reducing car use.

“They’re pushing the envelope a little bit, but they’re not pushing to where they want it to be in 20 years, which is how long it’s going to last,” Johnson said.

The committee expressed interest in using LHENA funds to help add plants and landscaping to the sidewalk to make it a more welcoming pedestrian zone.

Koster said more than 350 people responded to a survey about the street reconstruction and, in January, about 50 people attended an open house to learn and opine about the project’s five options. He said they try to weigh the project goals and input from as many people as possible when making designs, including those pushing for a total pedestrian space and those who want to maintain easy vehicle access.

“Throughout this project we were getting input from both ends of the spectrum,” Koster said.

Public works is still accepting comments on the design, which is scheduled to go before the City Council for approval this spring, with construction slated to begin in the spring of 2020. You can weigh in by visiting bit.ly/2Hxl1QJ.

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