City Hall update // Bicycling rule changes get warm reception from City Council

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November 5, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter

Minneapolis City Council members gave a warm reception to some changes to bicycling and traffic laws that they might ask the Minnesota Legislature to take up. 

Most notable of the proposed rule changes would be giving the city more flexibility to lower the 30 mph speed limit on residential streets.

Under current state law, a residential street, by default, has a 30 mph speed limit. Parkways are allowed a 25 mph limit and, if a city opts to place speed signs on residential streets, it can lower the speed limit to 25 miles per hour — which can get costly when lots of streets get them.  

Council Member Cam Gordon (Ward 2) said he wants even more flexibility, and mentioned that he’d support dropping the limit to 20 mph or even 15 mph in some circumstances. 

“New York City has done this where they create 20 mph neighborhood zones, so maybe there’d be a zone where we could do that,” Gordon said. “Or maybe there could be a bike boulevard model that we did so that we had certain streets where [there would be] limited car use.”

In a meeting Oct. 18, the City Council’s Committee of the Whole discussed the speed limit item as well as several other potential rule changes meant to make streets safer for bicycles and pedestrians. 

The city doesn’t have the power to change many traffic rules, but the list could support reforms at the state Legislature. 

The list, according to Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shaun Murphy, is the result of input from the city’s Public Works Department, Bicycle Advisory Committee and City Council offices. 

Current state law is fuzzy regarding who should yield between a bicyclist in a bike lane and a vehicle traveling the same direction that wants to turn across a bike lane, Murphy said. Clarifying in state law that the driver must yield would match the law with the Minnesota Driver’s Manual, Murphy said. 

The list asks for more state resources for bicycling and requests the state to conduct a study of the economic impact 

of bicycling. 

Most council members showed support for the changes, but they didn’t vote on the seven items that could be added to its 2013 legislative agenda for the Capitol. 

City may close river harbor early in effort to reduce barge traffic  

The city of Minneapolis is considering closing the Upper Harbor Terminal and reducing barge traffic in Minneapolis as early as next spring in an effort to prevent the spread of Asian carp and open up the North Minneapolis land to redevelopment. 

Closing the terminal early would cost the city between $2.1 million and $3.7 million. The sooner the closure, the more expensive, according to a staff report. 

The Upper Harbor Terminal receives fertilizer, coal, steel and twine from downriver. The site operator, River Services Inc., would have to eliminate all 13 employees at the site, said President Tim Pribil. 

Mayor R.T. Rybak said the 43-acre site presents a unique redevelopment opportunity to connect North Minneapolis with the river. 

“[To] anybody who says we are moving to fast on this, I say we’re a decade too slow,” Rybak said. “Barging is not a long-term industry in this city.”

Pribil said the declining barge traffic coming into Minneapolis is partially due to a stipulation in the city’s contract with RSI that allows the city to terminate the contract with a six-month warning. Because of that, RSI has had difficulty getting contracts because companies are unsure of the long-term future of the site. 

The city’s staff report says the closing of the terminal would help stop the spread of Asian carp. Many see the St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam as the last resort to keeping the carp out of northern Minnesota fisheries. The city has asked the U.S. Congress to shut the lock down, but a bill to do so hasn’t moved forward. 

The Upper Harbor Terminal is responsible for only a fraction of lock usage at St. Anthony Falls. The lock is also used by Aggregate Industries for gravel transportation and by Northern Metal. The lock is also heavily used by recreational boaters.  

Pribil estimated that the lock is only opened about 60 times per year for materials coming  to the Upper Harbor Terminal.