County approves major redesign for stretch of Washington

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December 18, 2013 // UPDATED 10:46 am - December 23, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
An illustration of a cycle track.
Sarah McKenzie

The Hennepin County Board approved a plan Tuesday to makeover Washington Avenue from Hennepin to 5th Street South — a redesign that includes a new protected bike lane and wider sidewalks.

Between 500 and 900 bicyclists ride on Washington each day, and many of those bikers ride on the sidewalks, according to city counts.

The redesign will feature a cycle track — a protected bike lane with a buffer area between cyclists and motorists.

Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said the group applauds the work of the county “for advancing a Washington Avenue plan that improves the street for everyone.”

“We’ve heard from thousands of people who are really excited about the prospect of improved biking and walking and a more attractive street overall,” he said.

Besides the new bike lane, the proposed redesign also calls for removing one lane of traffic (both east and west bound from 5th Avenue South to Interstate 35W). County engineers expect little impact on congestion because of a new access ramp to northbound 35W and improvements to the timing of traffic lights.

Currently that stretch of Washington has three lanes of traffic in each direction and after the redesign it would have two lanes in each direction.

Other highlights include a plan for wider sidewalks (as much as 35 percent in some locations) and easier and narrower street crossings for pedestrians.

Before detailed design work can start, the Minneapolis City Council needs to also sign off on the project.

More than 1,800 people have been involved in the public review process for the redesign by either taking part in meetings or filling out an online survey. Many people have been calling for a greener street that is easier for bikers and walkers to navigate.

Steve Cramer, the new president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council and Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, said he “enthusiastically supports Hennepin County’s plans to reconstruct Washington Avenue and transform it into a model urban artery designed for 21st Century Minneapolis.”

The Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan — a vision for growing downtown’s population and making the urban core more vibrant —  envisions a future Washington Avenue as a “tree-lined corridor that emphasizes transit, pedestrian and bicycle traffic” that better connects downtown to the University of Minnesota. 

City Council Member-elect Jacob Frey (3rd Ward) said: "Our downtown streets can’t just be routes to a destination. They must be destinations in and of themselves. Washington Avenue can be a beautiful urban boulevard, and I am encouraged that new redesign takes us closer to this end.”