A redesign plan for the downtown stretch of 3rd Avenue featuring four lanes of traffic and new bike lanes passed the City Council on Friday despite concerns from the biking community who favored a three-lane layout for a portion of the street with a planter-protected bike lane.
Business leaders had expressed concerns about the impact a three-lane configuration would have on traffic flow.
The 3rd Avenue corridor will be redesigned to feature four-lanes of traffic and bike lanes in both directions from 1st Street South to 16th Street South. Planted medians in the middle of the street will be removed, but talks are underway to identify other areas for green space along the avenue.
Construction on the $3 million project is expected to start later this year and be completed in 2017. The bike lanes on the street will feature plastic posts (bollards) separating bikers from cars.
Before the final vote, a motion offered by City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) that called for three lanes of traffic on 3rd Avenue south of 8th Street along with the planter-protected bike lane failed 6-7.
Bender, who commutes by bike along 3rd Avenue, highlighted studies indicating three-lane streets are safer than four-lane streets. She said biking along the street can be “pretty terrifying in some spots.”
“It is a safer road for literally everyone, including drivers,” she said of the three-lane configuration.
Her favored design would have also saved planted medians in the middle of the street paid for by downtown businesses and championed by City Council Member Lisa Goodman (Ward 7).
She also argued that moving ahead with a three-lane configuration would have minimal impacts on traffic flow.
City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3), who also frequently bikes on 3rd Avenue, also spoke in support of Bender’s motion. He said he’s spent time monitoring traffic flow on the street and has seen very little difference between traffic speeds on three and four-lane stretches of the avenue.
He said the three-lane configuration with the planter-lined bike lanes would better align with the vision of a greener downtown.
“The bollards in many cases don’t quite cut the mustard in terms of a visual. The planter protection is significantly better,” he said.
Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said the coalition is disappointed the Council didn’t go with the “safer, greener” proposal for the street, which would have featured the city’s first planter-protected bikeway.
However, he’s pleased to see wide support for the new bike route.
“This is a critical biking connection for the whole city,” he said. “We’re very excited to have that connection.”
Bike lanes on 3rd Avenue will fill a gap for bikers downtown since there aren’t any protected north-south routes on downtown’s east side. The new Nicollet Mall, once complete, won’t feature protected bike lanes.
Council Member Cam Gordon also offered a motion to test out the three-lane configuration for a year, but it failed 5-8.
In a post on her blog, Mayor Betsy Hodges celebrated the news that the 3rd Avenue redesign is moving forward.
“In my 2016 Budget, I proposed the Third Avenue Redesign Project to include pedestrian-oriented greening and protected bicycle lanes. Today, after much discussion, the City Council approved a final design that will improve safety for everyone who uses downtown,” she wrote. “This is great news — and it was a long time in coming.”
In coming weeks city leaders will also be reviewing plans for the reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue between Washington and 12th Street in 2020.
There is discussion about moving the protected bike lanes on 1st Avenue to Hennepin Avenue, Fawley said.
People make about 48,000 trips per day on Hennepin, according to a city fact sheet, including 8,100 transit, 7,600 pedestrian and 1,300 bicycle trips.