City gathering input on bike boulevards

A group of more than 25 bicyclists bundled up and took to Bryant Avenue Nov. 14 to voice their concerns about the route and brainstorm ideas for making it safer and more comfortable for cyclists.

Bryant, along with four other corridors in Minneapolis, has been selected as a preliminary bike boulevard. The creation of bike boulevards is part of the ongoing Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program, a federal source of funding that grants $21.5 million to Minneapolis government agencies for the improvement of bicycling and walking routes in the city and surrounding areas. Other preliminary sites include the RiverLake Greenway (40th Street east of 35W), 22nd Avenue NE, 5th Street NE, and Filmore Street NE.

A bike boulevard is a street where bicyclists are encouraged to ride in the road along with cars, not in a separate bike lane. This can be achieved on streets that are alternative routes to busy streets, where automobile traffic is not as heavy. Shaun Murphy, the Non-Motorized Pilot coordinator, noted that one of the city’s goals is to get more people riding bikes and he feels that bike boulevards are a step in the right direction.

“The goal is to make people more comfortable on their bicycles,” he said. “We know that not everyone wants to be on a busy street because they’re worried about their safety. They don’t want to get hit by a car.”

While bike lanes along busier streets are comfortable for some cyclists, bike boulevards would offer another option, appealing to varying degrees of bikers from seasoned riders to families.

Murphy said the bike boulevard on Bryant would function as a safer and more efficient alternative to nearby Lyndale Avenue, which was home to two of the four biggest bicycle crash sites in the years of 2003–2005. In addition, he said, Bryant already has significant bike traffic with approximately 1,200 bikers crossing the intersection at Lake Street every day.

A range of cyclists, from casual riders to those who use bikes as their primary method of transportation, attended the boulevard planning tour, which functioned as a forum for public feedback and idea generation. The group rode the Bryant corridor, stopping at several intersections and problem areas to discuss improvements that could be made to the route.

Some concerns expressed by the group included a lack of sufficient signs for bike routes and the bike bridge and poor visibility at intersections due to parked cars. Murphy said the Franklin Avenue Intersection is one of the most challenging obstacles for riders since cars seem to come from all directions there. The cyclists also shared an overall concern with how motorists on the route act toward them.

“Too many cars are going too fast,” said Gregg Severson, a resident of the area who bikes the route 4–5 times per week.

As the pilot coordinator, Murphy noted all of the riders concerns as well as their suggestions for improvements, but said he has to keep in mind the project’s $150,000 budget.

“Additional signing and pavement markings are going to be the easiest [changes] to fit in the budget,” he said.

The pavement markings, called “sharrows”, were painted on the route years ago, but have since faded into near-extinction. The markings this time around are expected to make a much stronger statement.

“They should be huge and right up in your face,” Severson said, echoing Murphy’s earlier pitch to double the size of preexisting markings. “It’s not saying that cars can’t go here, it’s just saying that this is a primary bike route and you should expect them to be here.”

Severson also said he’d like to see certain traffic calming measures, such as small traffic circles, implemented for the purpose of slowing cars down closer to the speed of a bike. As the project plan is still on the drawing board, Murphy could not commit to these measures, but said a variety of progressive changes would be proposed.

“This may be a corridor that gets something innovative because of the high amount of interest in improving it,” Murphy said.

The project is scheduled for construction and completion in 2010. After gathering ideas, the next step is a public meeting that Murphy said would take place sometime this winter. Community members will be encouraged to come take a look at the plans and give their feedback before they are submitted to the state and federal government for approval.

Comments or questions about the bike boulevard project are encouraged and can be directed to Shaun Murphy at shaun.murphy@ci.minneapolis.mn.us or 333-2450.