Street conversion still controversial

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August 16, 2010
By: Brent Renneke
Brent Renneke
// Many cyclists love the new 1st Avenue; some motorists and businesses aren’t as excited //

The city declared it a success, but not everyone is on board with recent changes to 1st Avenue.

Part of the Two-Way Conversion Project, the road was converted to a two-way street with the addition of an unconventional bike lane along the curb that pushed parking six feet into the street.

The changes limit 1st Avenue to one lane of traffic in either direction. During peak traffic hours between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., on-street parking is no longer available on 1st Avenue to allow for the increased traffic.

The Minneapolis Department of Public Works recently came out with an evaluation report that deemed the project a success so far with bicycle ridership up and traffic efficiency maintained.

“We had a project with a lot of planning and a lot of stakeholders that for the most part has been very successful,” said Steve Mosing, downtown traffic manager for Minneapolis.

For bicyclists, who are one of the major stakeholders in the project, it has for the most part been a success.

Previously having no cyclist presence, 1st Avenue has seen about 600 bikers daily since the addition of the bike lane, according to the evaluation report.

Peter Rusk, a Downtown biker since attending high school in the Minneapolis area, said the bike lane on 1st Avenue made it safer to bike on the road. Previously, the fast-moving traffic of a one-way street combined with the absence of a bike lane made 1st Avenue an unsafe ride, Rusk said.

“It is nice to now have a layer of cars insulating you from traffic,” he said. “It is definitely a great improvement.”

But one motorist failing to recognize the unorthodox on-street parking can ruin the improved biking experience by blocking the bike lane with their parked vehicle, Rusk said.

To better make the delineation between parking and bike lanes, Mosing said a two-foot buffer zone and orange posts were added between the bike lane and on-street parking, further widening the bike lane to eight feet.

Randall Dietel, who has used bicycling as his primary form of transportation for nearly two years, said the changes were necessary to accomplish the goal of making 1st Avenue safe and enjoyable to bike.

Since the changes over the summer, Dietel said he now uses the street as his preferred route Downtown, which he rides on a daily basis.

“Anybody who wants to ride a bike Downtown should now feel safe doing so,” Dietel said.

 Even with the changes over the summer, there is another major stakeholder in the project still unhappy with the addition of the bike lane on 1st Avenue.

Some businesses, including The Loon Café, have felt a financial blow from the disappearance of on-street parking between
4 p.m. and 6 p.m., when many bars and restaurants have their happy hour specials.

Previously there were 117 on-street parking spaces between 2nd and 8th streets; after the conversion, the number of spaces shrunk to seven during peak traffic periods.

Because of this, Tim Mahoney, owner of The Loon Café, said customers who typically stopped by after work for a cheap drink or appetizer are now faced with the decision to park in an expensive parking lot or go home.

Mahoney said the unconventional on-street parking combined with the increased presence of signage also creates an unpleasant experience for people new to the area; an issue he worried may prevent them from coming back.

“Our biggest goal should be to create a very comfortable and rewarding experience for people to come down here,” Mahoney said.

Liam Kearns, who typically parks Downtown a couple times a week for his job, said the 1st Avenue parking situation might just take some getting used to, but he no longer comes Downtown during peak hours because of it.

“It can get pretty rough,” Kearns said. “Unless I want to walk a long ways, I don’t expect to find on-street parking after 4 p.m.”

To help with the concerns of both motorists and restaurant owners, Mosing said parking was made available on the northbound direction of 1st Avenue during all times of day, a change made possible by the lack of traffic in the direction.

Dario Anselmo, owner of the Fine Line Music Café and president of the Warehouse District Business Association, said the added northbound parking spots are a good thing.

But he said with bike lanes already on Nicollet and Hennepin avenues, even more consideration should be given to the thousands of vehicles that travel 1st Avenue daily.

“It is a great thing to try to be a bicycle city,” Anselmo said. “However, it would be better if they did not do it in a way that egregiously inconveniences the customers, who are the cash players of this city.”