Summer ride on the boulevards

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June 3, 2014
By: Hilary Reeves
Hilary Reeves

By now bicycle boulevards probably are familiar to many readers. Quieter streets, often residential, are souped up for bicycle use in ways that calm motor vehicle traffic and make it more pleasant for people walking. According to a 2009 guidebook, “Fundamentals of Bicycle Boulevard Planning & Design,” these are the characteristics of a bicycle boulevard (with notes about how they are achieved):

  • low motor vehicle volumes and speed. (Medians, speed bumps, or diverters discourage non-local traffic.)
  • logical, direct, and continuous routes that are well marked and signed. (Bike boulevards work well in cities designed on traditional grids.)
  • convenient access to desired destinations. (Bike boulevards often run parallel to busy commercial streets.)
  • minimal bicyclist delay. (This is achieved by turning stop signs so they stop cross traffic or by replacing stop signs with traffic circles.) 
  • comfortable and safe crossings for cyclists at intersections. (Medians in the middle of the street provide a place to wait for traffic to clear.) 

Research (noted in the guidebook) indicates that cyclists like bicycle boulevards over many other kinds of bicycle facilities. This is in part because “there are few motor vehicles and those on the road travel at low speeds reducing pressure on cyclists to hug the edge of the roadway.” For these reasons, bicycle boulevards usually do not include bike lanes, except perhaps in busier stretches. On the RiverLake Greenway in south Minneapolis, motorized traffic is quiet, making it possible for cyclists to ride next to each other or for families to ride in small groups.

Bicycle boulevards are “a key tool for attracting new cyclists who are typically less comfortable riding in traffic,” quoting the guidebook. In recent years, however, enthusiasm is building around protected bikeways as the solution to getting more people to bicycle. Protected bikeways provide physical buffers between bicyclists and passing cars. A coalition, Bikeways or Everyone (bikewaysforeveryone.org), is advocating for the City of Minneapolis to add twenty miles of protected bikeways in the next six years. A preliminary plan for a network of routes is due this fall.

While those plans take shape, it’s a good time to provide a refresher on the already existing options for riding bicycle boulevards. Especially because those options are expanding this summer.

Minneapolis is putting the final touches on two north-south bicycle boulevards for which construction began last fall —the Stone Arch/Presidents’ Bike Boulevard in Northeast Minneapolis and the Southern Connector.

Around the same time that the Green Line LRT line opens, St. Paul will finish construction of the Charles Avenue bikeway, which runs parallel to the line, a few blocks north of University Avenue. Two more St. Paul bicycle boulevards should finish construction by September: the Griggs bikeway, a north-south route between Summit Avenue and Minnehaha Avenue, and the Jefferson bikeway, an east-west route from Shepard Road to Mississippi River Boulevard.

Combine these new routes with the bicycle boulevards that opened in recent years and a network of quiet rides comes together, one that would satisfy a family interested in a spin around the neighborhood or a distance-style rider looking for an in-town challenge, as well as shopping or other trips to nearby commercial streets. 

Here’s a quick roster of complete or near-complete bicycle boulevards, based on information from the Bike Walk Twin Cities federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, administered by Transit for Livable Communities. 

Charles Avenue Bikeway, St. Paul. Opening June 2014. Length: 3.37 miles from Aldine to Park Street near the Capitol. Runs parallel to and just north of University Avenue. Cost: $723,400

Southern Connector. Opening June 2014. Length:  4.75 miles in Minneapolis from East 24th Street to East 60th, parallel to Cedar Avenue. Cost: $530,000

Stone Arch & Presidents’ Bike Boulevards. Opening June 2014. 3.6 miles through Northeast Minneapolis, from the Stone Arch Bridge to St. Anthony Parkway, running parallel to Central Avenue. Cost: $452,500

22nd Ave NE. Opened 2012. Length:  2 miles. Runs east-west, connecting Marshall Avenue near the Mississippi River to the Quarry and the Diagonal Trail to the east. Costs not separately broken out.

5th Street NE. Opened 2012. Length: 3 miles, a north-south from Marcy Holmes and St. Anthony East neighborhoods near the U of M, through Northeast to St. Anthony Parkway. Runs parallel to Central Avenue. Features the region’s first bicycle traffic light at Broadway. Costs not separately broken out.

Bryant Avenue. Opened 2012. Length: 4.5 miles, from Loring Park to 58th Street, parallel to Lyndale Avenue South. Parallel to Lyndale Avenue. Costs not separately broken out.

RiverLake Greenway. Opened 2011 (the region’s first bicycle boulevard). Length: 5 miles, running east-west from Lake Harriet to the Mississippi River along East 40th and 42nd Streets. Cost: $270,648

Griggs and Jefferson bikeways in Saint Paul will open in the fall.

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.