The bicycling community had a major win this month: there are now bike lanes on Franklin Avenue from the river to Minnehaha Ave, as my friend Nicolas demonstrates.
This is fantastic. It's a definite improvement. But there's more to this story - history, some design details that bear exploration, and some plans for the future.
First the history. I wasn't around last time Hennepin County repaved this section of Franklin, in the Seward neighborhood, but I've heard stories from Seward residents. It's pretty clear that the neighborhood asked about bike lanes back in the 90s, and were told that there simply wasn't room. At that time, the County added lines marking the outside of the parking bays, but that was it.
This time around, the conversation was completely different, for many reasons. Traffic engineers at the County and City had already come up with a way to fit bike lanes, travel lanes and all of the existing parking into the current road width from Minnehaha to 29th. Seward Neighborhood Group and the local community development corporation, Seward Redesign, have done detailed planning and community organizing work around making Franklin bike and pedestrian friendly.The Bicycle Coalition had made bike lanes on this stretch of Franklin a key goal for 2011. The Non-Motorized Transportation pilot had funded a design for bike lanes from Riverside to the east side of the Franklin bridge, including removing some parking, and staff and the Council Member had brought that idea to the community and gotten their blessing. The Council Member of the area is very supportive of biking (I can vouch for that - I'm his staff). Bike lanes have been installed on the Franklin bridge over the Mississippi by a County project last year, along with the County's first-ever bike boxes.
So when the County chose to renovate (or "mill and overlay") Franklin this year, this section was ready to go. Staff brought a good plan to the community for input, and the community made suggestions to make it better. Unlike what happened on nearby 26th Ave S, bike lanes were included in the baseline project, rather than having to be added in later. It's a great success story - community, engineers and policymakers in cooperation to make Franklin Avenue in Seward a great place to ride a bike.
Now for some of the details. There are a couple of tough sections of Franklin: the block to the east of Minnehaha, the half block to the west of 26th, the area around Riverside/29th, and the west end of the bridge over the river.
Near Minnehaha, Franklin goes from a 2-lane to a 4-lane configuration, which doesn't leave room for bike lanes in both directions. In that stretch, sharrows have been added to the rightmost westbound travel lane, at the community's suggestion.
The community also suggested a sharrow in the middle of this eastbound lane at 26th, where the necessity of a left-turn lane squeezes out the bike lane. It's not there yet. I'm hoping that the spray-painted arrow on the pavement is a guideline for where one will be installed...
And then there's Riverside, which is being reconstructed. The location of the curbs is changing, and for that reason only the eastbound bike lane has been finished. The westbound lane drops out at 30th. I'm hoping this will be resolved after the Riverside project's first phase is complete.
There's at least one more suggestion from the neighborhood that doesn't seem to have made it into the project. Residents asked that these strange gaps in the bike lanes corresponding to the driveways for the Holiday station at 22nd - not even dashed areas, just missing chunks - be filled in. That hasn't happened.
And then there's a missing link that I happen to know well, as it impacts me personally every time I try to take the Franklin bridge to my house. At the west end of the bridge, there is no good connection for folks going westbound to turn south onto Seabury or the West River Parkway. There are several options, none of them good: cross the bridge in the middle and get up on the south sidewalk, bike in the opposing bike lane, take an illegal u-turn near 31st, go blocks out of your way down 31st, go down the on-ramp to the parkway (and climb back up a similar distance), or do like Nicolas and walk across.
We've got to fix this. I know that some folks within the City have come up with workable solutions that didn't fit the budget or timeline of this project. A bicycle-only left-turn lane would work, if we put some curb cuts in that median - seems like a chance to try something innovative.
But more importantly, we've got to bring these bike lanes further down Franklin, all the way from Minnehaha to Lyndale. The Bicycle Coalition, the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee, Seward Redesign, NACDI and others are working on it. We won't be able to get bike lanes included in this year's mill and overlay, but we're laying the same sort of groundwork that enabled this section to be a success.