Hennepin and 1st avenues look completely different than they did at the beginning of October. And sometimes with change comes frustration.
While Project Engineer Jenifer Loritz said the city feels that overall the conversion is going well, others are yet to adjust to the switch. The conversion includes bike boxes, bike lanes between a lane of parked cars and the curbside, and a shared lane designated for buses, cyclists and right-turning autos.
Commuters have varying views on the switch to two-way traffic.
Marty Mathis, who bikes to his business in the Northstar Center three times a week from Edina, is frustrated with the changes, and said he thought the city had the bike lanes right before the conversion. Although he doesn’t plan to alter his route, he has to have a “heightened awareness” while biking.
“You had good room and good allowance between you and the vehicles, and now that allowance is gone,” Mathis said. “So I’ll just have to be a little more careful and look over my left shoulder more often.”
Cyclist Nick Mason, who works at Dero Bike Racks, said he won’t make a final judgment on the conversion until the spring because until additional transportation improvement projects are complete there is additional bus traffic on Hennepin. Mason, who was involved in the project, expects the signs on the ground to have a huge impact, and he said traffic delineators have helped people know to park farther from the bike lanes on 1st Avenue.
“Some of the bike community isn’t thrilled yet, but I think when it is ready we are going to get the facilities we were hoping we would get out of this project,” he said.
Shaun Murphy, Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot Project program coordinator, said he has heard complaints from cyclists that worry about passenger doors opening into the lane.
Mat Cigan bikes to work at Alchemy Sound and Vision on Hennepin each morning, and since the conversion he has altered his route to also include 1st Avenue.
“On 1st Avenue you have to be really defensive, and I’ve been really good at being able to do that, but the thing that I’ve had a problem with is you now need to contend with both the driver and the passenger on 1st Avenue,” Cigan said.
Although he doesn’t always feel as safe, it is easier to get around by bicycling Downtown, he said.
Gene Oberpriller, owner of One On One Bicycle Studio, has heard mixed reactions in the store that are pretty evenly split regarding the conversion. He said Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are challenging for cyclists when there is added bar traffic. He called 1st Avenue chaos on a Friday night.
Come this spring cyclists will also have the option of using Nicollet Avenue, Murphy said.
“None of them are picture perfect, but I think it is an improvement that we are widening out the corridors, that bicyclists are welcome on,” Murphy said.
Drivers are also frustrated with the conversion.
Andrea Christenson, second vice president at Colliers Turley Martin Tucker, said she wanted the project to work beforehand but is now critical of the change.
“It has traffic so bottlenecked and backed up it is ridiculous,” she said.
Speaking from a retailer’s point of view she said, “we want people to park and be able to get out of their cars as quickly as possible. That’s when they spend money.”
The conversion is also an adjustment for cab drivers.
The Hennepin Avenue curbside lane is a no stopping lane, but on 1st avenue vehicles can pull into parking spaces then plug the meters, Loritz said. Cab stands were moved to cross streets, she said.
Joe Quinn, driver for Red & White Airway Cab, said when he drives down the two-way streets he can either pull into a parking space, which are usually taken, or block traffic to pick someone up. Quinn will take alternate routes to the destination if possible.
Traffic and Parking Services Division staff have monitored the conversion at various times during the day, rush hour, non-rush hour, during events and on weekends, Loritz said. Over the next few weeks staff will monitor traffic volumes, turning movement counts and gather data to analyze the transformation, she said.
“I think that with this magnitude of change we can’t expect that people are going to get it right away,” she said. “And it takes time for traffic to settle into new patterns, and so we anticipated it would take a good month for that to happen, which is why we marked that as our first (benchmark) to take some data and assess the situation as far as what adjustments can be made.”