Proposed redesign for 3rd Avenue generates debate

An illustration of a redesigned 3rd Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

A proposal for a redesigned 3rd Avenue South with four lanes of traffic and a new protected bike lane is moving ahead despite objections from biking and pedestrian advocates pushing for three lanes of traffic.

The City Council’s Transportation & Public Works Committee voted to forward along the proposed $3 million project without recommendation to the full Council for a vote on April 15.

As recommended by city staff, 3rd Avenue would be redesigned from 1st Street South to 16th Street South to accommodate four lanes of traffic and bike lanes in both directions. Landscaped medians would be removed for the redesign, but there are plans for new green space at various spots along the corridor.

City leaders have been working on adding another north-south protected bike lane for downtown since bike lanes won’t be part of the new Nicollet Mall redesign.

A motion offered by City Council Member Lisa Bender (Ward 10) to advance a three-lane configuration for the street failed. She pointed to research indicating that three-lane streets are safer and result in fewer crashes than four-lane streets.

As originally proposed, the 3rd Avenue redesign featured three lanes of traffic and a planter-protected bikeway — a bike lane lined with sidewalk planter boxes and plastic posts protecting bikers from traffic.

The original plan faced pushback from the business community who raised concerns about congestion and the impact on traffic trying to exit parking ramps onto the street.

Bender and City Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) argued that other city streets with considerably higher traffic volumes have had lane reductions without causing traffic problems.

If approved by the full Council, construction on the redesign is expected to start later this year and wrap up in 2017.