Transportation roundup

Midtown Greenway sees increase in bike traffic

The Midtown Greenway bike path has long been popular among bike enthusiasts and commuters, however, a new city study has found the number of cyclists has spiked recently.

The most recent city tally found that the number of bikes on the greenway has jumped 30 percent from 2007. The study attributed the increase in gas prices, among other things, to the increase in bicycle traffic.

Comparing April through June, bikers using the greenway climbed from 13,470 in 2007 to 17,466 in 2008, according to city numbers. Electronic counters recorded bikes at three locations: Hennepin Avenue, Cedar Avenue and West River Parkway.

The location with the highest count was at Hennepin Avenue, with an average of 3,620 bicyclists per day (or more than 150 an hour) in June — an all-time monthly high and a 35 percent increase over last year’s June average of 2,680.

On June 1, 5,536 cyclists passed Hennepin Avenue on the greenway, eclipsing last year’s highest number by more than 500.

The Midtown Greenway is a 5.5-mile walking and biking trail that crosses the city from the chain of lakes in the west to the Mississippi River in the east. Funded in part with federal transportation dollars, the greenway operates as a partnership involving Minneapolis and Hennepin County.

The greenway is now one of the most used trails in the state and rivals some of the busiest bike trails in the country, according to the city, which suggested recently that the success of the greenway bike trails means more could be in the works.

Currently, there are more than 80 miles of off-street bike trails in Minneapolis and 40 miles of bike lanes. Four new bike trails and some 33 miles of new bike lanes are in the planning stages, including the addition of a bike lane along 54th Street from Upton Avenue to Xerxes Avenue. The majority of the work on that lane should be finished by October 2008.

Next to Portland, Ore., the Twin Cities has the second most bike commuters per capita, with 2.5 percent of commuters biking to work.

Minneapolis has received a number of federal grants through the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program (NTP), including $200,000 for bike racks, $900,000 for the Bicycle/Pedestrian Ambassador Program and nearly $2 million to improve bike lane striping.

Council Committee eyes ‘pedicabs’

They whiz by pedestrians in nearly every major city in the world. Their variations range as greatly as their names. And members of the City Council’s Public Safety and Regulatory Services (PSRS) Committee think they might be more prevalent in Minneapolis, as long as they stay out of the way during Downtown rush hour.

Pedicabs, or pedal-powered personal taxis, are currently allowed in the city but are stuck with a narrow window of hours of operation. Only one licensed pedicab company exists in Minneapolis, however, it is now delinquent, said Ricardo Cervantes, the city’s director of Licenses and Consumer Services.

At the July 16 PSRS meeting, a number of Council Members agreed that pedicabs should be given more leeway as to promote the environmentally friendly, but sometimes scary mode of transit.

“These pedicabs are a green industry,” said Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward), who brought the motion. “Ironically, we allow them in Minneapolis, but the rules are so restrictive no one’s been able to make a living.”

Schiff proposed extending the evening hours of pedicabs but was overruled when a majority of PSRS members voted 5-1 to hold the recommendation for two Council cycles (or Aug. 13). However, Schiff said recently the action could come before PSRS as early as July 30. Schiff previously took issue with city staff, expressing “extreme frustration” because staff had not completed a report on pedicabs or posted anything online by the committee meeting, despite having weeks to do so.

Currently, pedicabs are restricted to operate from 9 a.m.–4 p.m. and 6–10 p.m. Under the proposed revision to city code, pedicabs would be able to operate as late as 3 a.m., Schiff said. However, they would still be prohibited from operating in the Downtown Business District between 4 and 6 p.m.

Schiff said he expects pedicabs to flourish in Uptown and Downtown.

Council Member Paul Ostrow (1st Ward) said that he would want to keep pedicabs off major bus routes, such as Nicollet Mall.

“I can see pedicabs becoming more popular in the city; I think it’s a great opportunity,” Ostrow said. “It’s one more way we can encourage people to get out of cars and on their bikes, but the danger aspects are very real.”

Crosstown construction update

Dirt piles tower hundreds of feet into the air as summer work continues along the portion of highway that once resembled the Crosstown Commons. Workzone woes will likely continue for residents in a number of locations and lanes along Interstate 35W through mid-August, according to a Minnesota Department of Transportation update.

Northbound and southbound lanes along I-35W between 47th Street and 44th Street will experience backfilling of retaining walls.

Southbound lanes between 45th Street and 47th Street will also undergo further excavation and hauling.

Backfilling of retaining walls will also occur between 49th Street and Minnehaha Creek along southbound I-35W lanes during this time period.

Excavation and hauling will take place through the end of the month along westbound Highway 62 between Nicollet Avenue and the railroad, the report said.

Reconstruction of the Crosstown Commons, which connects Highway 62 and I-35W along the Minneapolis-Richfield border, is expected to be complete in 2010.

For more information on the Crosstown reconstruction project, go to MnDOT’s website — www.dot.state.mn.us.

Transportation roundup

Council lowers towing fees

The City Council lowered vehicle towing and storage fees at its June 20 meeting.

However, getting your vehicle out of the city impound lot will still cost you more than nearly anywhere else in the United States.

The Council voted 9-3 to cap towing charges at $207 and storage fees at $27 per day, which is still more expensive than Manhattan and one of the highest in the nation, said Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward). Tow-truck operators are also required to accept major credit cards.

The changes to the towing city code come on the heels of a Council decision June 6 to nearly ban the practice of “booting” cars. Booting occurs when a vehicle is illegally parked and is promptly immobilized by an attendant who places a large metal lock over a wheel well. Council Members cited the inordinate amount of time city enforcement staff has spent keeping an eye on shifty, sometimes violent, booters as a reason to end the practice. Vehicles can now only be booted in places a tow truck cannot access.

As a corollary, Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) said the booting ban would provide a windfall to tow truck operators. A tow still costs nearly three times the $73 booting fee.

Three Southwest alleys to be paved

Three Southwest alleys in bad shape could soon receive some new concrete as part of a targeted effort to repave 10 city alleys. The alleys will be resurfaced with a with a bituminous overlay — about 2 inches of concrete.

The Southwest alleys targeted for repair work include:

• An “L” shaped alley behind the Super America at 2501 Hennepin Avenue.

• A “T” shaped alley running along residential properties from Lyndale Avenue South to Garfield Avenue and to West 51st Street to a “T” alley between West Minnehaha Parkway and West 51st Street.

• An alley running along residential properties from East 57th Street to West 56th Street between Wentworth and Blaisdell avenues.

The repairs to 10 alleys throughout the city is expected to cost nearly $190,000 — more than $140,000 of which will be paid by the city. The remainder will be assessed to individual owners’ property taxes.

A public hearing on the project is scheduled for July 29. Construction could start as early as August.