"What’s more important, the bikes or the parking?"

As SW neighborhood leaders try to extend bike lanes into neighborhoods, they’re meeting resistance from business owners and residents

Call this case Cars v. Bikes. To promote bike riding, the city and cycling advocates dedicated bike lanes on neighborhood streets. Such lanes provide a safer way to get from residential areas to the main bike thoroughfares like the Midtown Greenway, the Chain of Lakes or Kenilworth Trail.

People generally like bike lanes. However, new bike lanes mean less on-street parking — so many residents and business owners urge the amenity to go somewhere else.

The East Harriet and CARAG neighborhoods are currently trying to find ways to accommodate bikes and on-street neighborhood parking.

Bike plan: a brief history

The city has developed dedicated bike lanes on main routes, such as Park and Portland avenues, said Donald Pflaum, city transportation engineer. Those lanes grew out of a big city push to get people to bike to work in the 1990s.

The next step was to plan neighborhood routes. Pflaum sent 67 letters to neighborhood organizations across the city, explaining the goal of the bike project and including maps for people to plot their preferred neighborhood bike routes. He got a mixed response.

Some neighborhoods gave very specific route preferences, while others were more vague. Some didn’t respond at all.

Citywide meetings followed, including neighborhood people and city and park board representatives, to form a bike route consensus. Those bike plans, now reaching neighborhood groups, are meeting with heavy opposition from those who would lose parking to bike lanes.

River-Lake Greenway

Although many East Harriet residents and business owners say they favor a bike path, they adamantly oppose a proposed stretch from Lyndale to Bryant avenues on West 40th Street because of reduced parking.

Kingfield Neighborhood Association president Steve Jevning presented his neighborhood’s plan, called the River-Lake Greenway, to East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association (EHFNA) in August.

The project runs from Lake Harriet to the Mississippi River, following 40th Street most of the way. Going west on 40th, the Greenway enters East Harriet at Lyndale, taking a left (south) on Kings Highway, and eventually links up to Lake Harriet Parkway.

Kathy Lawrow, owner of Larue’s, 3952 Lyndale Ave. S., said there’s too little parking already and she must preserve what she has.

"It would have a horrible impact on our business," she said. "Our customers aren’t going to go three to four blocks away to park."

Bruce Thomson, owner of East Harriet’s Triangle Printing Company, 710 W. 40th St., and a Kingfield resident, said he has a petition on his counter so interested residents can oppose the bike lanes.

His business already has limited parking and other businesses and high-density apartment buildings need on-street parking, he said. He suggests putting a skinnier bike lane in that would still allow parking.

Gail Van Bargen, EHFNA vice chair, said their transportation committee is working to plan an alternate route, addressing neighborhood concerns between Lyndale and Bryant Avenues. She said although they’re working with the city and park board, nothing has been decided yet.

CARAG’s Bryant Avenue conundrum

While the River-Lake Greenway should begin construction this fall, the CARAG neighborhood (Lake Street to West 36th Street, Lyndale to Hennepin avenues) has just started to plan for a bike route along Bryant Avenue.

CARAG president Allan Bernard said in August the board voted to spend $10,000 for a consultant to better define a neighborhood bike route and get community feedback. Although the neighborhood hasn’t gotten far yet, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if some residents have the same parking concerns as the East Harriet neighborhood.

"Everyone thinks they have a right to park in front of their house," Bernard said. "Anytime you try to take that away, people will complain."

But he’s optimistic about the project because there are already many parking restrictions along Bryant, so the future parking changes might not seem so drastic. "Everything can be negotiated and worked out," he said.

CARAG resident Karen Nelson, who lives on Bryant, said she has joined the neighborhood transportation team and is enthusiastic about the project. "There should be bikes on every street," she said.

Nelson, an avid bus rider and cyclist, said because she only has one car, any parking loss wouldn’t bother her much. She said she’d like it if no cars were parked in front of her house.

Another Bryant resident, Joe Metzler, said the proposed bike route has potential, but he wants to see a more complete study before lending support. "The bikeway has the potential to improve the street," he said, as a more attractive streetscape.

Metzler said parking is an issue that definitely needs to be resolved before the project can be implemented. "There have been times when parking has been difficult for me," he said.

Possible resolutions

Neighborhoods such as Kingfield have fought these same battles and found solutions.

Jevning said Kingfield neighbors had similar reservations surrounding River-Lake’s parking restrictions — one reason the project took five years to be approved by the neighborhood.

He said most of the five years was used to get residents to focus on the project as a small sacrifice for the greater good. Jevning said he and fellow River-Lake supporters also tried alternatives such as reduced speeds and varied designs to solve some concerns.

"We were trying to balance the needs of all of the residents," Jevning said of their efforts.

Jevning said there are alternatives to the current plan that would allow the project to continue on its projected route. He echoed Thomson’s idea: a one-striped bike lane on the street-side of parked cars, which would narrow the traffic lanes but extend the River-Lake Greenway without eliminating parking.

Pflaum said the resolution of the parking problems might have to come down to people asking themselves, "What’s more important, the bikes or the parking?"