Hennepin and 1st avenue conversions lead to innovative changes for Downtown cyclists

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September 14, 2009 // UPDATED 9:52 am - September 14, 2009
By: Amanda Kushner
Amanda Kushner
Soon it is going to be easier to navigate through Downtown.

Hennepin and 1st avenues between 1st and 12th streets will become two-way streets starting in mid-October. But besides adding two-way traffic, bike lanes are going to look dramatically different. The conversion, a part of the 10-year transportation improvement plan, Access Minneapolis, is also a traffic-calming technique.

“It’ll improve the traffic circulation because you will have fewer around the block trips. You can go more directly to your destination on a two-way street typically than on a one-way street,” said Matt Laible, city spokesman. “It will also have the effect of calming traffic because two–way traffic tends to move a little more slowly and cautiously than one-way traffic.”

Project manager Jenifer Loritz said that the project is meant to improve circulation and provide access to Downtown.

“This project was initiated by the property owners along Hennepin Avenue through the Downtown action plan. They really wanted to improve the vitality of that corridor. So our challenge is to maintain traffic operations at a level of service as close as possible to what you get under one-way traffic,” she said.

Two blocks of Hawthorne Avenue between 10th and 12th streets have already been converted to a two-way street.

In preparation for the conversion, the intersection at 12th street and Hawthorne and the curb lines on Hawthorne between 8th and 9th streets were reconfigured, Loritz said.

In mid-August a seal coat was put on both roadways.

“The main purpose of doing the seal coat was to erase the old pavement markings on the road,” Loritz said. She said this caused some confusion, but the road was not repaved.

Orange delineators were added to prevent confusion, and the road will be restriped the night before the mid-October conversion, Loritz said.

Crews have started modifying the signal system on Hawthorne and 1st Avenue to accommodate two-way traffic, but Loritz said signal work will likely continue on Hennepin even after the conversion. Signal work is done in off-peak hours, and while there may be partial lane closures, there is little disruption to traffic, Lortiz said.

Curbside lanes, shared lanes and bike boxes

Minneapolis is adding two innovative bike features that are new to the city: curbside bicycle lanes and bike boxes.

The city was awarded $50,000 from the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project to conduct a study of the area. Steve Clark, walking and bicycling program manager for Transit for Livable Communities found through his own study that it was the No. 1 crash corridor of any place in Minneapolis where there were actually bike facilities in terms of the crash rate, he said. A consultant then confirmed his results under the city’s study, he said.

“I think people will find that if they are on a bicycle they will be able to move through Downtown faster than when they are in a car,” Clark said describing the upcoming changes.

The center bike lanes on Hennepin will be moved to 1st Avenue between the curb and a lane of parked cars. Then during rush hour the parking lane on 1st Avenue will be used for a driving lane. When parking is allowed cars will park next to bike lanes providing a row of protection.

“If we are going to actually continue to move enough autos on that street we were going to have to come up with a creative way of having enough lanes for moving traffic and lanes for parked cars,” said Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project program coordinator. “And the solution that we came up with was to do parking lanes that would sometimes be for parking and would sometimes be for moving lanes.”

Murphy said before it goes into effect the city plans to take extra measures to explain how it works including using overhead signs on 1st Avenue and different colored rock chips to make the seal coat a different color and a double white line on the pavement.

Bike boxes will be added where a bike lane intersects with another bike lane along Hennepin and 1st avenues. A bike box is a 10-foot box in between a crosswalk and the stop line. It allows bicyclists to make a left-handed turn by entering the box during a red phase of a stoplight, Murphy said.

The last change is that one lane on Hennepin Avenue will be a shared lane for buses, bikes and right-turning autos because their isn’t enough width to the road to add a dedicated bike lane, Murphy said.

Nick Mason, advocacy coordinator at Dero Bike Racks Company said that some bikers may be disappointed that there isn’t a bike-only lane on Hennepin Avenue.

“But I think you got to take a step back and say that this will to be the first time we have a shared bus bike lane, and we are going to have some really innovative treatment with the bike boxes,” he said. “They are going to make it one of the safest facilities we will have in the city.”

Night versus day

Dario Anselmo, president of the Warehouse District Business Association, said that the organization supports the conversion.

“We have heard that that sort of two-way traffic will help the feeling along Hennepin Avenue and make it a little more ironically pedestrian friendly by having traffic on both sides,” he said.

But he said a majority of the businesses are concerned about having a bike zone in the Warehouse District at night when there is extra traffic.

“It sounds like there is a pretty good lobby for the bikers that are Downtown to navigate their viewpoints. The bars or restaurants feel as though their view points weren’t really heard witnessing the fact that there are the bike zones out there,” Anselmo said.

Lt. Dave Hansen with the Minneapolis Police Department said as a Downtown supervisor at night he is nervous about the impact of the switch. He worries he will see more problems on weekends.

In mid-September the city will host public meetings to explain the changes, Loritz said. Also the city is creating photo renderings, a simulation of bike changes and a brochure to help others understand the changes before they happen in October.