The City Council will approve a final design for the redesign of 3rd Avenue on April 15, including the addition of a much-needed protected bikeway in downtown. While the protected bikeway thankfully is not in doubt, the details of the final design have brought forward a decision on the balance of greening, safety, and auto access. Here are some details and our position.
The City Council approves the final design of 3rd Avenue. They can take the staff recommendation or go a different direction. The Transportation and Public Works Committee will discuss the design on Tuesday, April 5 at 9:30am (City Hall 317). The full City Council votes on it Friday, April 15 at 9:30am. Community members are encouraged to attend, but testimony from the public is unlikely.
In October, the Public Works Department released an originally recommended design for 3rd Avenue that included protected bike lanes, 10% more greenspace, and a balancing of traffic demands. The proposal had two parts:
- north of 7th Street, where traffic is heavier, it includes 4 car traffic lanes, bollard protected bike lanes, and sidewalk area greening.
- south of 7th Street, where traffic is lighter, it includes 1 thru lane in each direction plus right- or left-turn lanes as appropriate, planter or bollard protected bike lanes, green medians, and sidewalk area greening.
April 1, Public Works publicly released a revised recommended design for 3rd Avenue. This is four days before City Council will consider it. Most of the changes are south of 7th Street where they eliminate green medians and planters along protected bike lanes to maintain a fourth traffic lane throughout. The change in recommended design came at the request of local building managers, who are concerned about traffic delays, and Council Member Goodman, who is supporting their input.
Summary of Differences in Pictures...
Original at 8th Street...
Revised at 8th would look more like this...
Full Differences Between the Proposals
Public Works has said that both the original and revised design are manageable and choice is between more greening (original) and more local traffic access (revised) between 7th Street and 16th Street. The original is also almost certainly the safer design because of inherent safety challenges of 4-lane undivided streets. Full differences:
Safety/Traffic. Original proposal has 1 thru lane in each direction with left- and right-turn lanes as appropriate between 7th Street and 16th Street. The revised proposal has 2 thru lanes in each direction with no turn lanes between 7th and 12th and 2 southbound lanes and 1 northbound lane between 12th and 16th.
- The Federal Highway Administration says that 4-lane undivided streets typically have 19 to 47% more crashes than a street with one thru lane in each direction and left turn lanes. In a downtown environment with lots of turning vehicles, the safety benefits of turn lanes are the greatest. Having fewer lanes to cross as a pedestrian is always better.
- It's unclear the traffic differences between the two proposals. Public Works has said that both would work. Their traffic analysis says "Maintaining the “center” medians and adding the protected bike lanes south of 8th Street is expected to operate at a reasonable level during normal weekdays. It should be noted, that maintaining exclusive left turn and/or right turn lanes to each one way cross-street in this segment is critical. Also, periods of block long queues are likely to form, this may have some limited impact to the east/west cross-street motorists turning onto 3rd Avenue; however, a system impact was not observed in the traffic operation analysis. The impact to parking ingress/egress may be the primary concern." Local building managers have told us that they don't trust that the analysis is accounting for traffic growth in the future.
Planter Protected Bike Lanes. Original proposal has 5 blocks with planter protected bike lanes (on all or part of the block). These would be the first planter protected bike lanes in Minnesota. The revised proposal has no planter protected bike lanes--only white flexible "bollards."
- Planter protected bike lanes are not only attractive and garner attention, but are also the most comfortable type of protected bike lane according to a recent Portland State University study.
- Planted Medians. Original proposal retains 4 planted medians between 16th and 8th Streets. The revised proposal eliminates these green medians.
Overall Greening. The original proposal includes a total of 28,136 square feet of greening between 16th and 7th Street. While a detailed count is not available, the revised proposal has at least 12,600 square feet less greening (45%) than the original proposal in that stretch. Nearly all of the existing and proposed greening from 7th Street and 12th Street is eliminated. The retained greening in the revised version is almost exclusively the sidewalk boulevard along the Convention Center from 12th to 16th.
- Business leaders have been working with private property owners to add greenspace on some of the private properties in this stretch instead. They will be sharing details of that soon and we will update this with that information, which we will be considering as well. We are conscious that business leaders did pay for the medians originally and those have said they'd prefer to take them out now.
We Support the Original Proposal
We have worked hard to build support for a north-south protected bikeway in the heart of downtown and we are glad to see that moving forward. We thank the Mayor, all City Council Members, and all the stakeholders who are supporting that addition. While we recognize that the revised proposal retains the protected bikeway, we believe the original proposal is the best proposal for downtown and we support it.
We support the original proposal because it:
- Is the safest option. 4-lane undivided streets should be avoided if possible for the sake of all street users (we would prefer not to have it north of 7th either, but recognize that Public Works said it was needed there for traffic).
- Would include the first planter protected bike lanes in the state--ones that would be among the best in the country and sure to get national attention. We should do the best we can.
- Offers a truly transformative opportunity for downtown. It would provide a greatly improved green connection to the Convention Center.
- Works for traffic. There is no doubt we have a vision for city with much more biking, walking, and transit use and less driving. But we also know that we need to balance that with the demands for driving and having a 3rd Avenue that "works" for cars is important not only for people driving, but also for the perception of biking. But the traffic analysis shows it can work, so why wouldn't we do it?
- Has no cost difference. The original proposal spends more money on adding greening; the revised on taking greening out. We prefer the former.
You can sign this petition (now with 450 names) from the Minneapolis Pedestrian Alliance to offer your support for the original proposal + needed walking/greening improvements along City Hall block as well. You can also email your Council Member.
Other positions on 3rd Avenue
The City's Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committees also have positions in support of the original design (while also asking for improvements at City Hall block). The Downtown Council and Building Owners and Managers Association have positions in support of the revised design. The Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association has not weighed in on the original vs. revised, but had previously supported the original proposal.
We are open to a test pilot
We always hope to find a common design solution that most stakeholders support. We thought the original proposal (already a compromise) could do that, but think the process around it stood in the way (people don't like being surprised about their street).
We are open to the idea of doing a test pilot of the original given the concerns on it "working" for traffic. Test out the layout for a year and see how it works then make it permanent or change if needed. Public Works has said that is feasible, although it may be better to just make a decision based on the facts available.
They did a not dissimilar test on Riverside Avenue in 2010 before it was reconstructed. It worked, so it is now a 3-lane street rather than the 4-lanes it was previously. (Riverside, incidentally, carries up to about 13,000 cars per day compared with the about 9,000 on 3rd Avenue south of 7th Street and saw more than twice as many bicyclists last year as 2009, the year before bike lanes were added.)
History/Process (If you want more background)
- A north-south protected bikeway in the heart of downtown has been a key bicycle priority for a number of years. The City landed on 3rd after Nicollet Mall, Marquette, and 2nd Ave S have all been ruled out and the Hennepin/1st Ave N corridor serves important, but different needs.
- Mayor Betsy Hodges proposed $3 million for a redesign of 3rd Ave (including protected bikeway and greening) in her 2016 budget last August. The City Council approved that in December.
- In spring/summer 2015, we and some at the Downtown Council urged the City to have some sort of public process around 3rd recognizing the complex balancing of traffic, greening, safety, and bike lanes.
- The City skipped upfront community engagement and in October 2015, released a recommended design for 3rd. We were told that we could accept or not the proposal and that Public Works thought it was the necessary balance of the competing needs. We offered 10 suggestions for things we thought could be improved--none of which have been considered meaningfully.
- A number of local building managers felt broadsided by the proposal when they didn't know it was in the works. They have consistently been concerned about building drop-off access and traffic flow. Initial opposition to the proposed bike lane has evolved to a general acceptance of the bike lane, but a desire to remove additional green medians to allow for 4 lanes of traffic through the whole project.
- Public Works (finally) released their traffic analysis in early 2016, although the delay in release certainly led to frustration from stakeholders and added to skepticism around the findings.
- Public Works visited the Bicycle Advisory Committee for a second time in February with an update that didn't include the revised proposal.
- In March, Public Works, at the urging of some business leaders and local CM Goodman, decided to offer the revised proposal. That was released publicly for the first time on April 1st, 4 days before first City Council vote. This version has not been vetted by the Pedestrian or Bicycle Advisory Committees or other stakeholder groups.
- Approval of the project is needed soon to avoid construction delays.