A transportation makeover

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October 12, 2009 // UPDATED 10:34 am - October 12, 2009
By: Amanda Kushner
Amanda Kushner

// Downtown is in the midst of major changes to traffic patterns //

Before the reconstruction of Marquette and 2nd avenues, this was a typical scene: A passenger would be standing on a cramped sidewalk next to a long line of slow-moving buses belching out exhaust fumes.

But as a part of Access Minneapolis, a 10-year transportation improvement action plan, the scene on Marquette and 2nd will soon be different. Access Minneapolis is a dramatic reworking of how buses come to the city, making a more pedestrian friendly Nicollet Mall, adding innovative bike changes and reconstructing streets.

“This is the most sweeping rethinking of the way we move around possibly in the city’s history,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak.

The goal of Access Minneapolis is to make it easier to move around the city and make transit a more reliable, comfortable choice, said City Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward).

Access Minneapolis will create “more opportunities for those who want to bike in Minneapolis, so they provide their own locomotion and better fits between our transportation uses including cars as well as all the facilities that they need, and the people who walk around Downtown Minneapolis,” she said.

Rybak said that every street in Minneapolis is a destination, and all the streets would be one-way streets if the only purpose were to push cars through the city.

“Lessening congestion is part of our goal, but making great streets that are lively 24 hours a day is also part of that goal,” he said.

When former public works director Klara Fabry started her job she was surprised to learn there wasn’t a citywide transportation plan, Colvin Roy said.

“She convinced me that we wouldn’t be able to manage the growth coming into Minneapolis … unless we looked far out in the future at what we would need and then worked backward into a plan for how to get there,” she said.

A group including business and neighborhood representatives worked through the process of completing the plan by balancing competing needs. Also a Downtown transportation study from 2000 was used to create the plan, Colvin Roy said.

The plan was approved in June 2007 by Rybak and the City Council.

Access Minneapolis is a 10-year plan, but when federal funding became available, having a plan ready helped Minneapolis secure funds and push up the projects.

The plan made it possible for the city, Metro Transit and Mn/DOT to quickly respond to a federal RFP for the urban partnership agreement, Colvin Roy said. This is a primary funding source for the Marquette and 2nd avenues reconstruction. Minneapolis is one of six cities nationwide to receive that funding, she said.

“If we hadn’t been ready with our downtown piece and been able to say this is what will work. This is what we want and we have information to back it up, we would have never met the deadline,” Colvin Roy said. “We never would have gotten that money.”

City Council Member Lisa Goodman noted that all of the projects work together as part of a larger strategy to improve traffic flow.

“It is important to note that all of the pieces — Marquette and second, the Hennepin and 1st two-way conversion, the buses off Nicollet Mall except for hybrids, bikes on mall, are part of a comprehensive strategy, and they need to work together,” she said. “Downtown transportation and transit is part of a larger system of moving 150,000-plus people in and out of Downtown everyday.”






Hennepin and 1st avenues two-way conversion
Starting the weekend of Oct. 10, Hennepin and 1st avenues between 1st and 12th streets were converted from one-way to two-way streets. The conversion will reduce around the block trips and serve as a traffic-calming technique, said city spokesman Matt Laible.

A new seal coat was added in mid-August to erase old pavement markings, said Project Engineer Jenifer Lortiz. With the conversion, new innovative bike features were added Downtown.

The center bike lanes on Hennepin were moved to 1st avenue between a lane of parked cars and the curbside. That parked lane of cars on 1st avenue will then be utilized as a driving lane during rush hour, said Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project program coordinator.

Where bike lanes intersect with another bike lane along Hennepin and 1st avenues, 10-foot bike box, in between the stop line and crosswalk, will provide bicyclists with a space to take left-handed turns before the cars accelerate. Also a lane on Hennepin Avenue is now a shared lane for bikes, buses and right-turning autos because the width of the road doesn’t allow an additional bike lane, Murphy said.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: $3.6 million
State funding: 
$2.3 million
City funding: $1.3 million
City funding is from net debt bonds. State funding is from a gas tax. No property assessments are involved in paying for this project.


Marquette and 2nd avenues reconstruction

Marquette and 2nd avenues are the two principle express bus streets downtown, and transit will return beginning on Dec. 14.

The reconstruction between 1st and 12th streets will triple the carrying capacity of the two streets and will shorten the trip time through Downtown by as much as 10 minutes, Bob Gibbons, customer service with Metro Transit said. Expect 700 bus trips daily on each street, Gibbons said.

In the past the slowest bus has set the fastest speed, but with two lanes buses will be able to pass one another, he said. Also routes serving the two streets will only stop every other block, and every route serving the two streets will have a letter designation.

Each block will have two bus stops at the front and back of the street with parking spaces for two buses. There will also be additional shelters with real-time information signs that use global positioning satellites to translate to an arrival time, Gibbons said.

General traffic lanes opened in September and Project Engineer Bill Fellows said he hopes Marquette will be fully open by the end of October. All of the lighting is done and most of the traffic signal work is complete, he said. Before the project the roadway was in poor condition because of heavy bus traffic, so it was replaced with 9 inches of reinforced concrete, he said.

The tree planting, streetscape, real-time display messages and the transit shelter still need to be added. A prototype shelter is on display, but still needs tweaks, Fellows said.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: $34 million
Other funding: $30.6 million through 
Urban Partnership Agreement grant


Nicollet Mall
Beginning in March 2010, the express buses running along Nicollet Mall will relocate to Marquette and 2nd avenues, leaving only local buses, Gibbons said.

Also a ride along Nicollet Mall costs 50 cents, but a bus marked free will travel along Nicollet Mall every 10 minutes during the business day.

Beginning in 2011 only hybrid buses will run along Nicollet Mall. The 30 new buses will produce 90 percent less emissions from the buses they will replace and are quieter, therefore improving the environment on the mall, Gibbons said.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: $15.9 million
Federal funding: $14.31 million
Other funding: $1.59 million from the metropolitan council
Thirty hybrid-electric buses will be purchased. A hybrid-electric bus costs and additional $179,000, but federal funding will contribute 90 percent of the purchase price of a hybrid bus and 80 percent of the cost of a clean-diesel bus.


3rd Avenue North reconstruction

Third Avenue North between Washington and 5th Street is being fully reconstructed as part of the five-year capital improvement program.

The roadway pavement surface has reached the end of its useful life, Loritz said. Part of the project was built in 1932, and part of it was worked on in 1991, she said.

The reconstruction involves a complete removal and replacement of the pavement, curb, gutters and sidewalk. The roadway will be narrowed, but the two traffic lanes and on-street parking will remain.

Also the sidewalks will be 11 feet wide, and the new sidewalk will be ADA compliant, unlike what was previously on the street, Loritz said. The roadway will be complete at the end of November. Currently crews are removing the existing roadway on the freeway side, doing utility work and moving the catch basins.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: About 
$1 million
Net debt bonds and assessments bonds are funding the project.


Better Bicycle Access

LRT Bicycle Trail

The Hiawatha extension will begin in the Downtown East neighborhood between 11th Avenue South and Norm McGrew Place, Murphy said.

This route carries 2,000 bicycle trips everyday, he said. The trail ends near the Metrodome, and the purpose of the expansion is to connect cyclists to the heart of Downtown, which will be possible with the extension by using 3rd and 4th streets, he said.

The funding and design details are being finalized. A funding shortfall has opened questions about the design and if all of the pieces to the design are needed, Murphy said. The city plans to begin construction in 2010.

Cedar Lake Bicycle Trail

The Cedar Lake Trail extension will start at Royalston Bridge and Glenwood Avenue and continue to West River Parkway.

It will run north and south along the railroad trench, which runs underneath Target Field and Washington Avenue and goes through the Warehouse District, Murphy said.

The goal of the project is to get people to the river without needing to travel on the street, he said.

There are about 1,000 trips on the trail everyday, he said.

The city and the ballpark authority have agreed on the right of way acquisitions and are finalizing the paperwork, said Principal Engineer Jack Yuzna.

Plans and specifications have been submitted to Mn/DOT. Once the right of way is approved the city will submit a certification for Mn/DOT’s approval, which will then go to the Federal Highway Administration.

Cost breakdown

Total cost: About 
$9 million

Bike share

The bike share program Nice Ride, which Murphy said is the largest bike share program he knows about in the country, is expected to open in spring 2010.

The city is getting a historical review from the state and working to determine kiosk locations, Murphy said.

The locations are being determined through a planning study that was done by Alta Planning, which looked at destinations and populations that would be dense enough for bicycle use.

Downtown, Uptown and the University of Minnesota are the main areas selected for the 75 kiosks, which will hold 1,000 bicycles, he said.

Also the city is working to gain the remainder of the project’s funding, Murphy said.

The nonprofit Nice Ride will operate the project, which will be contracted through the city, Murphy said.


Rail Service

Southwest Transitway
The proposed Southwest Transitway would link Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Edina, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis neighborhoods and Downtown.

The technical advisory committee recently suggested route 3A, which travels along the Kenilworth Corridor between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles and runs next to the Cedar Lake Trail, said Project Manager Katie Walker.

It would operate on 5th Street through Downtown and the ridership forecast assumes it would interline with the Central Corridor, Walker said. On Oct. 14 Walker expects the policy group to take action on the recommendation, which will be forwarded to the Hennepin County Rail Authority.

On Oct. 20 a public hearing from 4–7 p.m. on the 24th floor of the government center will allow attendees up to three minutes to speak about the route.

The rail authority is anticipated to act on Nov. 3, Walker said. The decision would then be forwarded to the Met Council, who is anticipated to take action before the end of the year, she said. Construction is expected to be in 2014 to 2016, Walker said.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: $1.2 billion
Federal funding: $600 million
State funding: $1.2 million
Other funding: 30 percent county  transit improvement board  sales tax 10 percent regional rail authroity

Northstar Commuter Rail and Hiawatha Extension

The Northstar Commuter Rail will launch Nov. 16 and the Hiawatha extension will begin Nov. 14.

This project was envisioned more than 12 years ago and was advanced by the counties, cities and townships along the corridor, Gibbons said.

The primary purpose of the project is to relieve congestion along Highway 10, which parallels the Northstar for a portion of the trip.

The Northstar will travel during rush hour only because that is when the congestion is at its worst, Gibbons said.

Thirty additional trips outside of the schedule are also contracted and will be available for events, he said.

Passengers will be allowed to use the route beginning at the Nov. 14 community celebration, Gibbons said.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: $317 million
Federal funding: $162 million
State funding: $100 million
Other funding: $55 million from Hennepin, Anoka and Sherburne counties and the Met Council.

Central Corridor

The Central Corridor has been in the works since the early 1980s to connect Downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul and ease congestion, Laura Baennan said.

Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority handled the draft environmental impact statement, then in late 2006 it was turned over to the Metropolitan Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the community, which works with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) when implementing a light rail line, Baennan said.

The FTA approved the final environmental impact statement, and the rail applied for permission to enter final design. Once the final design is complete Baennan said the project is waiting to receive a full-funding grant agreement from the FTA. Then construction could begin.

The 11-mile light-rail linking the Twin Cities by traveling along University and Washington avenues will travel the last mile on the existing Hiawatha LRT tracks and will end at the new Target Field Station.

For more information visit centralcorridor.org.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: $941 million
Federal funding: $470.5 million
State funding: $65.9 million
These numbers are part of the proposed budget. In addition 30 percent from the new Counties Transit Improvement Board, 7 percent from Ramsey County and 3 percent from Hennepin County.


13th Street Pedestrian Gateway

The 13th Street Pedestrian Gateway will serve as a connection between the Convention Center and will link to existing transit patterns, said Project Engineer Chris Engelmann.

Since there is not a lot of automobile traffic, the initial concept was to increase pedestrian flow from Nicollet Mall to the Convention Center, he said.

The gateway is meant to be appealing to pedestrians and is a way finding opportunity to provide understanding of how to get to the Convention Center, Nicollet Mall, the Loring Greenway, Eat Street and additional Downtown destinations.

The gateway will utilize the existing geometry of 13th street. Sidewalks will be improved, realigned, straightened out, and sidewalks in the park in front of the Convention Center will be expanded, he said. The sidewalk through the Convention Center plaza was widened to be more of a straight line with the existing 13th street sidewalk.

Planters and trees including Japanese tree lilacs and skyline honey locusts will be added, he said.

Public art will serve as an eye catch to identify entrances and exits to the convention center and Nicollet Mall therefore creating a recognizable path, Engelmann said.

The public art includes cast bronze cap pieces above two kiosks of a wolf and another of a sturgeon, which the city is currently in the process of contracting with Foster Willey. In addition there will be a monument. The plans are being tweaked, and the city is preparing to put the project out for bid at the beginning of November, said Engelmann. Construction will begin in spring 2010.

Cost breakdown
Total cost: 
About $1.3 million