New lanes will be improved and expanded next year, mayor announced
Mayor Betsy Hodges and several City Council members joined a pack of cyclists who Thursday afternoon celebrated the new protected bicycle lanes on 3rd Avenue by pedaling from City Hall to the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Hodges said the official opening of a new north-south route through downtown made for “a big and auspicious day,” noting the ongoing reconstruction of Nicollet Avenue meant cyclists had fewer options for riding in the city center. She said protected bike lanes make drivers take notice of cyclists, leading to fewer accidents.
“This is about safety,” Hodges said. “There will be fewer collisions.”
The protected bike lanes run on 3rd Avenue between South 1st and East 16th streets, and include both striping and a row of plastic bollards dividing motorized and un-motorized traffic. Not all of the southbound lane is currently open; construction on the east side of the U.S. Bank Plaza block meant the mayor and the rest of the cyclists had to “take the lane” and briefly ride with cars and trucks between 5th and 6th streets.
Hodges announced Thursday that the city and the Minnesota Department of Transportation were planning to extend the new protected bike lanes across the Mississippi River on the 3rd Avenue Bridge in 2017, creating a connection to University Avenue. Other upgrades to the existing lanes are planned for next year, too, including new striping, additional bollards and new trees and plantings all along the avenue.
City Council Member Kevin Reich (Ward 1), chair of the council’s Transportation of Public Works Committee, said whenever the system of bicycle lanes is expanded in Minneapolis, “the system calls out for more.” Reich listed new connections to the University of Minnesota and the Northeast Arts District to the north and Eat Street to the south as top priorities.
City Council Member Jacob Frey (Ward 3) said the enhanced safety and visibility of protected bicycle lanes encourages a wider range of people to become regular riders or even bike commuters — including, recently, his wife.
Ethan Fawley, executive director of the nonprofit Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said a protected north-south bicycle route was “urgently needed” in downtown.
“We know that there’s no comfortable way to bike through the heart of downtown,” Fawley said, adding that was “doubly true” during the Nicollet Avenue closure. He said he’d heard from cyclists who said the new protected lanes changed the way they commute into downtown.
Hodges included funds for the $3-million 3rd Avenue redesign project in her 2016 budget. In April, the City Council voted to approve a redesign of 3rd Avenue that added the protected bicycle lanes while maintaining four lanes of motor-vehicle traffic, two in each direction.
Some cycling advocates, including Fawley, argued that a three-lane design — one lane in each direction plus a center turn lane — would have had a minimal impact on motorized traffic flow while making the street safer for both cyclists and pedestrians. City staff ultimately recommended keeping all four lanes, a decision influenced by input from the downtown business community. But that meant removing a center median planted with trees and flowers.
Fawley said there are trade-offs to so-called “road diets,” noting that he’d heard about backups during the evening rush hour on Blaisdell Avenue since a protected bike lane was added this summer between 29th and 40th streets.
The one-way avenue previously included two southbound lanes for motor vehicles and a narrow bicycle lane. The bicycle lane was expanded to include a wide buffer between bikes and motorized traffic, reducing the driving lanes from two to one.
“Over time, people realize the (benefits) the rest of the day,” Fawley said, arguing brief periods of congestion are outweighed by the safety benefits, reduced speeding and improved livability for those who live on the street.