The new proposed layout for Hennepin Avenue is similar to this street where sidewalks are buffered by a protected bike lane and transit stops are placed between the bike lane and motorized traffic. Photo by Adam Coppola Photography.

The new proposed layout for Hennepin Avenue is similar to this street where sidewalks are buffered by a protected bike lane and transit stops are placed between the bike lane and motorized traffic. Photo by Adam Coppola Photography.

Reimagining Hennepin Avenue

Updated: April 22, 2016 - 2:27 pm

When you picture Hennepin Avenue, what words come to mind?

This is a question Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition volunteer Galen Ryan recently asked 519 Minneapolis residents through a survey focusing on the street. The most popular descriptors included: chaotic, hectic and unsafe, but people’s imaginations were not limited by current conditions. They used words like: vibrant, safe, friendly and accessible to describe their future vision of the street.

If you have a vision for this street, now is the time to make your voice heard. Hennepin Avenue is slated for reconstruction, and Public Works is in the process of developing a new design for the section of the street between Washington Avenue and 12th Street.

Central Library, planners will present a recommended concept and seek feedback from the public Monday, April 25. A presentation will be made at 4 p.m. and repeated at 5 p.m. The focus is on agreeing to a high-level concept, i.e. the number of lanes for motorized traffic, space allocated to pedestrians, cyclists and transit.

Although construction on Hennepin will not take place until 2020, the plan is being developed now so the city can apply for federal funding to help cover project costs, which are estimated to total $15.625 million. Public Works will seek City Council approval of the new configuration in early June before submitting the application for federal funding. This means there is some urgency to the current process.

Hennepin has been identified in city plans as a mixed-use corridor where pedestrians, protected bike lanes and transit are all meant to have priority. At the same time, the street is still expected to move a lot of car traffic and is key in getting people in and out of downtown.

The city has undertaken a traffic analysis to understand the opportunity for improving conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and transit users on this street. The recommended configuration includes four lanes of motorized traffic, a protected bike lane, enhanced transit stops and slightly-reduced sidewalk space.

Proposed changes include removing left-hand turn lanes, except at 3rd and Washington Avenue North. Adding raised protected bike lanes (to be level with sidewalks) and routing bike lanes behind transit stops. Transit stops would be placed on islands in between motorized traffic and bike lanes. Currently there are no built raised protected bike lanes in Minneapolis through they are planned on Washington Avenue. Raised protected bike lanes go a step beyond the current iteration of protected bike lanes most commonly seen in Minneapolis, which feature paint and white plastic poles.

It’s possible that these types of bike lanes could make winter cycling easier. Raising the lanes slightly could make it easier to avoid the situation where snow gets plowed into bike lanes. Even better would be planning maintenance operations so sidewalks and protected bike lane are cleared at the same time. Further, raised protected bike lanes will also be built on Washington Avenue when it is reconstructed next year, which could set the stage for a protected intersection at Washington and Hennepin. It’s too early to confirm these types of details, but it’s not too early to put the ideas forth.

“We really would appreciate feedback from the public on this, even if there are specific comments not related to this phase of design work,” city transportation planner Simon Blenski said.

The current recommended configuration reduces sidewalks from 20 to 18 feet in most places. It may be possible, however, that sidewalks can be maintained at 20 feet with slightly narrower lane widths in line with what has been done on some other Minneapolis streets and is commonplace in downtowns across the country.

Blenski said reconstructing the street will provide an opportunity to reclaim sidewalk space through clearing out haphazardly placed benches, newspaper boxes, light poles and designing a more consistent and potentially space-saving order for these types of furnishings. He also noted that placing the bike lane next to the sidewalk adds a buffer between pedestrians and motorized traffic, which could make walking more enjoyable and also reduce crossing distance. Indeed, respondents to Ryan’s survey indicated the best streets are full of people and offer the opportunity for people watching.

Even with a narrower road and projected increase in traffic over time, it is estimated cars traveling from the river to 16th Street would experience 8.4 seconds of additional delay at most during evening rush hour. This delay would still allow the street to flow at an “acceptable” level according to standards set by traffic engineers.

“To successfully redesign Hennepin to meet the needs of transit riders, cyclists, pedestrians, businesses and cars will require even the most experienced of engineers and planners to carefully listen to the lived experienced of those who travel and conduct business along Hennepin Avenue,” said Joan Bennett, outreach and program coordinator at the Downtown Minnneapolis Neighborhood Association.

Hennepin Avenue is home to the county’s flagship public library, the heart of the theater district, dozens of restaurants, plus hotels, housing, office space and more. If you use Hennepin Avenue, don’t miss this chance to help shape the street into a place that is welcoming to all people, no matter how they choose to travel.

Annie Van Cleve is a freelance writer, blogger and volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.