En route to better biking

Public input on bicycling improvements planned for Bryant, Blaisdell and 1st avenues is due this month; roadwork could start this summer

After years of planning and months of public discussion, plans for adding 30 miles of federally funded bike routes and paths throughout the city are riding to reality.

In Southwest, the plans call for roughly eight miles of street to get a bike-friendly facelift. Major infrastructure changes are planned along sections of Bryant Avenue, which will be designated as a bike boulevard — a roadway fully shared by cars and bikes — and Blaisdell and 1st avenues are slated for bike-lane striping.

Public input on the plans is due April 9 for the $150,000 Blaisdell and 1st avenues project and April 15 for the $200,000 Bryant project. Both are scheduled for final approval this spring and roadwork should start late this summer or in early fall. At the same time, work will begin on an additional 22 miles of bikeways throughout the city.

All of the improvements are funded through the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Program, a federal effort to improve bicycling and walking that contributed roughly $22 million to selected communities for use over a four-year period. In Minneapolis, the program is known as Bike Walk Twin Cities.

 At the end of March, the city had received nearly 100 comments from community members on the Southwest routes and made changes to its plans as a result.

“The process has been very helpful because we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people and I think we have better projects proposed now because of things we’ve heard, rather than if we designed it in a vacuum,” said Shaun Murphy, Minneapolis’ non-motorized project coordinator.

A bike route for everybody

Bryant will be among 12 miles of roadway citywide with the bike boulevard designation. The others are the RiverLake Greenway (40th Street east of Interstate 35W); 22nd Avenue Northeast; 5th Street Northeast; the Southern Bike Connection (South 17th and 18th avenues); and Northeast Filmore, Polk and Tyler streets. The idea behind those routes, the first in Minneapolis, is to create a shared bikeway that is comfortable for cyclists of all ages and skill levels.   

“We’re trying to save the bike boulevard designation for places that don’t have many cars, so that people will know when they get on a bike boulevard that it’s a place that they generally don’t have to deal with a lot of auto traffic,” Murphy said.

The concept is not new and Minneapolis planners looked to other cities for inspiration and guidance. Berkley, Calif. and Portland were among those.

Portland has about 30 miles of bike boulevards, which have proven to be the preferred routes for cyclists, said Roger Geller, Portland’s bicycle coordinator.  

“Whereas you don’t too often see a lot of young kids riding independently or with their parents on busy streets with bike lanes, you see that all the time on the bike boulevards,” he said. “We find them to be tremendously effective at making bicycling an option for all sorts of people other than just sort of self identified cyclists.”

Murphy is hoping for that same success on Bryant. The road was already designated a bike route in the city’s master bicycle plan. It was later selected as a bike boulevard candidate primarily because of its low traffic counts, Murphy said. But the city had to come up with a plan to calm traffic further and make the route safer and more appealing to cyclists.

Community input was wide ranging and striking a balance was a challenge, Murphy said. In a plan draft released in late March, the changes included:

— Striping and sign improvements on and near the Loring Bikeway Bridge;

— A no-parking zone at the Loring Bikeway Bridge connection to Bryant, which would eliminate one parking space;

— A streetlight at the Bryant and Franklin avenues intersection;

— Curb bump-outs at 28th and 26th Streets, which would reduce parking by two spaces on 28th and a half a space on 26th;

— A raised pedestrian crosswalk and curb bump-outs at 29th Street, which would reduce parking by two spaces;

— Long green arrows, called sharrows, painted in the center of each lane to indicate a shared roadway between Lake and 36th streets and 49th and 50th streets; and

— Bike boulevard pavement markings and signs between the Loring Bikeway Bridge and Lake Street and 50th and 58th streets.

Changes to the intersection of Bryant and Franklin avenues were still being worked out, Murphy said. Bump-outs and a median were being considered there, but that could change.

The concept of a bike boulevard on Bryant has been largely well received. Of the 57 public comments received as of late March, 10 were largely positive, seven were largely negative and the rest were positive with recommendations, according to a city feedback summary. Among the concerns were crossings at busy intersections, winter maintenance issues, parking and general maintenance. Some people suggested Bryant was not an ideal street for a bike boulevard.

Donovan Hart, an East Harriet resident and regular bicycle commuter, agreed with the latter critique. He said Bryant’s additional use as a bus route is problematic and makes it less appealing to less experienced cyclists.

“It’s a tall order to ask because the road serves many different purposes,” said Hart, who noted Aldrich Avenue would be more suitable for cyclists.  

Kenny resident and daily cyclist Thatcher Imboden said he would like to see more traffic calming measures south of Lake Street.

“If the goal is to encourage riders who are a little less comfortable riding in traffic, I’m not sure that sharrows are going to do much to help that,” he said.

Both riders saw the plans as a move in the right direction, though, and thought bicycling would improve on Bryant after the changes.

Separating cars and bikes

Plans for Blaisdell and 1st avenues call for the clear separation of motorists and bicycles, rather than having them share the road. Because of the roads’ higher traffic counts, they are planned to be striped with bike lanes from 15th to 40th streets.

Other proposed changes include:

— Adding 24-hour parking on 1st Avenue from 33rd Street to 38th Street on the east side only;

— Reducing parking on 1st Avenue from 38th Street to 40th Street to Saturday and Sunday on the west side only;

— Adding 24-hour parking on 1st Avenue from 38th Street to 40th Street on the east side only;

— A reduction from three lanes to two lanes on 1st Avenue between 31st Street and Cecil Newman Lane; and

— A reduction from three lanes to two lanes on Blaisdell Avenue between 31st and 29th streets.

Of 41 comments about the project submitted to the city, almost all were supportive of the plans, according to a city feedback summary. Only one comment was not supportive.

Kim Couch, a daily bicyclist who frequently uses Blaisdell, said the plans are long overdue and will help make the road safer.

“I’m all in favor of this,” he said. “I don’t understand why it wasn’t done years ago.”

Couch praised the community process the project went through.

Jeremy Werst, founder of the Minneapolis Bike Love website and a member of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said he was impressed by the process for all of the city’s bike projects now moving forward and he expected them to do a lot for encouraging biking in the city.

 Murphy has the same expectations. He said the city would track the routes when they’re finished to see what works and what doesn’t and things could be tweaked in the future.

“We’d like to see results,” he said. “We want to understand what the change is when we put these things on the streets. For the dollar amount that the federal government invested, what did they get out of it? What did we all get out of it? I imagine we’ll see a lot of happy bikers out there.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]