Hennepin County engineers discuss bikes/upcoming projects


Yesterday, five representatives from the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition met with three key Hennepin County engineers (Jim Grube, Tom Johnson, and Bob Byers) and several members of the Hennepin County Bicycle Advisory Committee at a meeting hosted by Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and his aide Katie Hatt. Here are a few takeaways…

  • Upcoming projects. The County is in various stages of planning and discussions on eight future or potential bicycle-related projects in Minneapolis:

1)    Marshall Ave. / Main St. NE. The County is working with the Minneapolis Park Board on a potential off-road trail adjacent to Boom Island Park (running from about 3rd to 8th Avenues. They are also looking into options for a bike lane or other facility along Marshall north of 8th Avenue, and some discussions have already happened with the local businesses and neighborhood group.

2)    Hennepin Ave. / 1st Ave. NE. The County and the City have been discussing a bike lane on the Hennepin Avenue bridge (note: after much great local organizing by local bicyclists Michael Rainville and Kevin Upton) and seem close to a solution that would extend bike lanes to the Central Avenue intersection. The County deserves credit for evaluating the traffic at the Hennepin and University Intersection, and recognizing that it doesn’t require a double right turn lane (which if kept would make a bike lane there nearly impossible). There are some lingering concerns from City staff about this area as a future streetcar route; we hope the County will take leadership and get the bike lanes added now as we don’t know if or when streetcar will be reality on this stretch. Additionally, the City has been discussing converting Hennepin and 1st Avenue back to two-way streets, which is another issue to be finalized and addressed before bicycle lanes can be added.

3)    Glenwood Ave. The County and City continue discussions here on a bicycle connection from Downtown to Theodore Wirth Park. The sticking point for us will be whether they will include bike lanes on the entire length, which requires narrower lanes (which are supported by a growing body of national research) through an 8-block stretch to accommodate bike lanes the entire length. We strongly feel that the County should use this stretch as a pilot project for narrow car and parking lane widths while adding bike lanes—as has been done to good effect in Chicago, Madison, and elsewhere. In addition to allowing a continuous bike lane, narrower lanes have been shown to help reduce speeding, improve safety for everyone, and make the street more walkable.

4)    Washington Ave. The County and City continue discussions on how to best make a bike connection between the U of M Seven Corners area and downtown. To date, unfortunately, these discussions have stalled related to Washington Avenue. We hope that the County will push forward with leadership on this important issue—we need to better connect the U of M and Downtown! Both sides have had a little more progress in discussions to link in 19th Avenue as a bikeway connection between Washington and Riverside Avenues. We hope that gets finalized this year as well.

5)    Franklin Ave. The County is planning to connect bike lanes from their excellent re-do of the Franklin Avenue bridge to Minnehaha Avenue. This is certainly an important improvement that will also tie into the City’s upcoming reconstruction of Riverside Avenue. We encouraged the County to extend the bike lanes all the way to the Hiawatha LRT station to make a better connection (via the stairs or elevator) to the train and the Hiawatha Trail. They seemed receptive to that idea.

6)    26th Ave. South. The County will add bike lanes on the missing segment of 26thAvenue South from the Midtown Greenway to Franklin Ave. To their credit, they have recognized and apologized for the omission of the bike lane during last year’s resurfacing project and are remedying that gap this year. Good work to local bike advocate Joshua Houdek for helping raise the profile of this project.

7)    46th St. South. The County is working with the City to explore ways that they can make a bicycle connection to the new 46th Street Bus Rapid Transit station from the bike lanes on Portland and Park and eventually on the west side as well to the future bike lanes on Nicollet. This seems like a smart project to maximize the value of the transit station and the existing and planned bike lanes in the area.

8)    Portland Ave. South. The County has been in discussions with the Minneapolis Park Board and local neighborhood groups about a potential extension of the Portland Ave. bike route south of Minnehaha Creek to the Richfield. There is a potential connection to work being done at Pearl Park.

  • Making Complete Streets work. We spent a lot of time discussing the meaning of Complete Streets, and how it can be implemented. We said that we think that Complete Streets means full consideration of bicycle accommodations on every road project AND a default assumption that a bike lane or other facility would be included in each project unless there is a compelling reason not to do so (even if that road is not listed in the bike plan). There seems to be some significant lingering concern about that default position, especially for resurfacing projects (which typically are done without as much engineering as a full reconstruction of a road, which makes it harder to navigate the various processes to make happen).

We see resurfacing projects as essential for adding bike lanes because they happen much more frequently than full road reconstructions (about every 15-20 years versus every 60-80 years). While we don’t know the process solution for updating the engineering black box to include a default of bike lanes, we encouraged the smart County folks who know how this works to make it happen for implementation of Complete Streets. They have promised to keep engaging on this topic and to post a list of resurfacing projects as it becomes ready–an important and encouraging step. They continue to work toward making Complete Streets happen.

  • The County and City will talk about bikes! We are encouraged that County staff will be meeting with City staff soon for a comprehensive discussion about bike projects and opportunities. With good political leadership, this staff interaction can only lead to a more bicycle friendly city and a more efficient process for everyone. The County will also be looking to the newly re-formed Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition to help better understand the needs and priorities of bicyclists. It will be important that us bike advocates make sure to engage City and County staff when engaging neighborhoods on potential projects.

  • Some kudos. We greatly appreciate Commissioner McLaughlin’s leadership on bicycling, the County engineers for the good conversation, and Katie Hatt in Commissioner McLaughlin’s office for suggesting and arranging the meeting. We look forward to continued discussions.

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