Sunday on the Southern Connector

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July 1, 2014
By: Hilary Reeves
Hilary Reeves

Thousands of bicyclists know that the Bryant Avenue Bicycle Boulevard is a great north-south route in southwest Minneapolis, near Lakes Calhoun and Harriet. Now, southeast Minneapolis bicyclists have a north-south route of their own. The newly finished 17th Avenue & 12th Avenue Bicycle Boulevard runs 4.75 miles from the Phillips neighborhood to Richfield, near Lake Nokomis.

In its planning stages, this route was called The Southern Connector, almost as if it was a new highway. Perhaps that’s because it provides a route over the Crosstown (aka Hwy 62) or because it provides a flat, bicycle-optimized route from the south metro — Richfield and Bloomington — to downtown Minneapolis.

If bicycles are to be a convenient form of transportation, a network of routes to connect neighborhoods and get across the cities really helps. Building an on-street network of bike lanes and bicycle boulevards was one of the chief goals of the federal Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program, locally known as Bike Walk Twin Cities. The program is winding up, as the last projects such as the Southern Connector are completed. Overall, since 2007, the pilot added more than 100 miles of new bikeways and sidewalks, including 65.5 miles of bike lanes and 27.8 miles of bicycle boulevards.

A recent Sunday ride on the 17th  & 12th Avenue Bicycle Boulevard (as the Southern Connector is now known) proves that a pleasant north-south bike route is attractive for recreational and commuter riding.

Phillips Neighborhood to Lake Street 

On the north end, the route begins at East 24th Street, across from East Phillips Park. Bike lanes were added to East 24th as part of the Southern Connector project. This east-west route passes through East African and Latino neighborhoods. On a Sunday afternoon, there were many people on the sidewalks and East Phillips Park was busy.

Turning onto 17th Avenue, it’s a few short blocks to the ramp to the Midtown Greenway. Along the route, there also are improvements for people walking, such as new curb bump-outs at East 26th and East 28th streets. When the route hits Lake Street, there is an easily accessible button for cyclists to push to get a green light. On Lake Street, the Heart of the Beast Theater is just a few blocks west, while a few blocks east is the busy Hiawatha-Lake intersection, with a Blue Line LRT stop, Minneapolis Community Education GED and English classes, and the Midtown Farmers Market. Access to Hi-Lake by bicycle is arguably best via the Midtown Greenway and Hiawatha LRT Trail.

Lake Street to Minnehaha Parkway  

Along the bicycle boulevard south of Lake Street, there are several residential traffic circles, which tend to slow down motorized traffic and make it possible for people on bicycles to keep moving without having to come to a full stop. On the Sunday of my ride, a few guys were playing pickup basketball while a bicyclist looked on. Given the lack of a hoop, their game was mostly dribbling and defense, but the ability to play in the street is an indication that 17th Avenue is a low-traffic street, good for cycling.

A few blocks farther south, a family of five was out for a ride, dad with trailer carrying a toddler, mom watching two older kids on bicycles. Together, they rode through the median at 42nd Street. The median keeps cars from using 17th Avenue as a through-street and it provides a place for people walking or on bikes to wait mid-crossing for traffic to clear.

Minnehaha Parkway to Richfield and beyond 

At Minnehaha Parkway, a new curb cut provides easy access to the off-road bike path along Minnehaha Creek that is part of the Grand Rounds. Take the path a few blocks east to Lake Nokomis. Take it a few blocks west to 12th Avenue South, where the bicycle boulevard continues south to Richfield. On my Sunday ride, part of the bike path was flooded but westbound it was easy to ride a few blocks on Minnehaha Parkway to pick up another entrance to the off-road bike path. And plenty of cyclists were out for a Sunday ride.

Heading south, the bikeway passes Hale School and Our Lady of Peace Church and School. These are just two of several schools and churches along the 17th and 12th Avenue Bicycle Boulevard, including Bethlehem Lutheran Church & Jacob’s Well, Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Lake Nokomis Presbyterian. Other schools on or near the route include South High (just south of Lake Street) and El Colegio Charter School, a Spanish-English high school.

At East 60th Street, the route turns east for a few blocks (sharrows mark the route), before turning on Bloomington Avenue South, which crosses over Hwy 62. As I rode by Taft Park, I could hear the announcer for a baseball game. There were a lot more cars than bikes at Taft Park, suggesting that this new north-south route has yet to be discovered by everyone. Yet, I saw cyclists on every segment of the route. In Richfield, bike lanes (also funded through BWTC) continue on Bloomington Avenue South to Diagonal Boulevard to East 73rd Street and south along 12th Avenue to East 76th Street.

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.