Cyclists critical of MARQ2 changes
Sure, the design-forward light fixtures, real-time electronic bus schedules, heated shelters and tree plantings are all nice. But would a simple bike lane be too much to ask?
For all the luxuries, practical and cosmetic, promised by the recently completed MARQ2 Transit Project — the down-to-the-dirt reconfiguration of Marquette and 2nd Avenues that wrapped up last month, intended to ease commutes by ushering suburban express buses more quickly through downtown — city planners seem to have left one key group out of the equation: cyclists.
Bicycle commuters around the city have been loudly critical of the route changes, especially the removal of bike lanes on both Marquette and 2nd Avenues. City planners eliminated the lanes to make room for wider sidewalks and an additional bus lane for each street. The additional bus lanes allow busses to leapfrog around each other and speed up schedules, but weaving busses also make cycling on the streets more dangerous.
“The MARQ2 changes disregarded the needs of cyclists when we very easily could have been accommodated,” says Michael Jones, a cyclist who commutes daily to his job at Capella University on South 6th Street. He points out that no bicycle lanes have been added on adjacent streets, leaving the area between 1st Avenue and Portland Avenue devoid of dedicated bike lanes running north and south.
Jones has joined other cyclists in organizing the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, a group advocating for better Downtown biking.
With the bike lanes removed, however, the city has planned to re-open Nicollet Mall to cyclists, welcoming them 24 hours a day on roads that were previously off-limits to bikers, due to heavy pedestrian and bus traffic. Express bus traffic there is being rerouted to the Marquette and 2nd Avenue corridor, allegedly freeing up space on the roadways for cyclists. MARQ2 Project Manager Bill Fellows offers the newly opened Mall as a concession, albeit an imperfect one. He also notes that, at the cyclists’ request, an extra foot has been added to the general traffic curbside lanes on Marquette and Second, so as to allow cyclists to ride alongside cars.
But to Joe Reinemann, author of cycling blog SNAK SHAK, the Mall offer is a poor compromise.
“It’s a horrible, horrible ride,” he says. “Too slow, too pokey.” Only express bus traffic has been diverted from Nicollet, he says, leaving many city buses to still clog the road and create dangerous situations for cyclists.
“I don’t feel I need a dedicated bike lane everywhere I go,” he says. His real complaint is that the city “just didn’t reach out to cyclists at all during the process. For all the talk about making Minneapolis a bike-friendly city, most projects involve only recreational trails. They don’t accommodate downtown bike commuters at all. We do very much appreciate the City Bicycle Coordinator, but they just didn’t listen this time.”
Padilla Speer Beardsley CEO to chair Meet Minneapolis board
Meet Minneapolis, the city’s official convention and visitors association, tasked with promoting Minneapolis and its convention center as a destination for trade show, corporate meeting and leisure travel, has added some fresh marketing muscle for 2010, electing the head of one of the Twin Cities’ biggest public relations firms as chairwoman to its 42-member board. Four new board members have also been named.
Effective January 1st, Lynn Casey, chair and CEO of Padilla Speer Beardsley, takes over. She replaces former Meet Minneapolis chair Jay Novak, editor and publisher of Minneapolis-based MSP Communications. The Meet Minneapolis chairwomanship adds to a list of prominent associations that Casey is already active with, including the Minneapolis Foundation, Greater Twin Cities United Way and the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
The new board members, who will serve a three-year term, include Susan Mabry, General Manager of the W Hotel; Joann Neau, Vice President and Director of Marketing at RBC Wealth Management; Mark Andrew, founder of GreenMark, a company that provides green marketing to sports teams and venues; and Nancy Goldman, president of the Unite Here Local 17, which represents workers in the hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry and airport industries.
New leadership for troubled art space
Hoping to finally put to rest a year-and-a-half of controversy and crisis, the beleaguered Southern Theater welcomed Gary Petersen as its new executive director on Jan. 1. He replaces Patricia Speelman, who vacated the post in November 2009.
Petersen, a veteran Twin Cities arts administrator, previously served as executive director of the James Sewell ballet for 13 years, leaving there in 2008. His insider status in the local dance community might be enough to win back some of the Washington Avenue performance space’s estranged supporters, many of whom were baffled and outraged at the surprise ousting of the Southern’s founding artistic director Jeff Bartlett in 2008. Bartlett, a pillar in the dance community, had run the theater for over three decades, and his firing sparked the departure of several long-time dance companies that once called the theater their home, including Zenon Dance Company, Arena Dances and the Minnesota Dance Theater. (Bartlett has since landed at the Schubert as dance-community liaison.)
Mix in some substantial debt — the theater is still smarting from its 2006 deficit of $300,000 on a $1 million dollar annual budget — and sluggish ticket sales during the 2008/2009 season, and Petersen will for sure have his work cut out for him.
But Kate Nordstrom, director of external relations and music programming, voiced the general mood of optimism that has accompanied Petersen’s arrival. “I haven’t heard anything but cheers of support,” she said.
Recent ticket sales have been up — Nordstrom claims that many early shows in this current season have sold out — but time will tell how warranted the theater’s optimism might be.
Faith and business communities aim to help homeless find housing
Organizers from Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness and the Minneapolis Downtown Council are anxiously awaiting the final tallies of an aggressive, last-minute fundraising campaign hatched in the waning weeks of 2009. On Dec. 22, the two groups announced their collective intention to raise $350,000 by year’s end, leaving less than 10 days to amass the funds. A spokeswoman for the project said that the partners would continue to the $350,000 mark in January should the goal not be reached by the new year.
The money will be used to hire 10 new caseworkers who will each transition 15 homeless people out of the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities shelters on Currie Avenue. The goal of the Currie Avenue Partnership, as the project is called, is to find permanent housing for 150 local homeless people.
Although such a partnership between the downtown faith and business communities is largely unprecedented, said Rev. James Gertmenian of Plymouth Congregational Church, “it came about quite naturally because in this instance the right thing and the smart thing are the same thing. The partnership presents a concrete and effective way for our congregations and our companies to achieve a great social good.”
(Editor's note: This story has been revised to correct information about the time frame of opening Nicollet Mall to cyclists).