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Major makeover proposed for Minnehaha Avenue

Posted on 26 June 2013 by robwas66


Larry Foss of The Fix Studio is excited for the reconstruction of Minnehaha Ave. It was part of the reason he and his wife Sophie St-Jacques chose to locate their studio on the street.

“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s gonna mean I don’t have a foot of water outside my door each time it rains. People won’t have to jump across a lake.”

Space2Burn’s Jon Wittman said having a road without potholes is “extremely desirable.” Others just want to be able to cross the street.

Plumbing, potholes and pedestrian fixes are part of a major makeover planned for Minnehaha Ave. Now slated for 2015-16, the road redo is meant to correct drainage problems and a crumbling surface. But it’s also being viewed as an opportunity to enhance the neighborhood by creating a more livable, walkable, and bikeable street.

Hennepin County has developed two layouts for the roadway, both of which would bring big changes for the corridor by realigning angled cross streets, narrowing driving lanes, adding turn lanes, and including curbed sidewalk extensions, or “bumpouts,” at major intersections.

Not everyone embraces the proposed changes. Robert Nelson, owner of Nelson Electric, has a corner lot that houses his and six other businesses. Bumpouts would mean loss of parking.

“Parking is already horrendous,” he said. “I’m landlocked. I don’t have a parking lot.” He wonders where snow is going to go in winter and whether bumpouts are truly needed. He said the county is trying to make Minnehaha less a thoroughfare, “but it always has been. This is a business area first.”

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said bumpouts are a safety improvement.

“If you look at how far the trip is across the street as you march south from Lake St., the distance… is being cut back significantly,” said McLaughlin. “It’s a friendlier road and a better place for pedestrians to be.” Near the post office the road will shrink from 80 to 40 feet wide.

City Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy said they need to look at every intersection to balance pedestrian safety against loss of parking. She said she generally favors bumpouts, because “the best way to make pedestrians safer is to shorten the amount of space they’re out in front of vehicles that could be moving.”

One resident who asked not to be named and lives adjacent to Minnehaha Ave. said with drivers avoiding Hiawatha Ave., there’s increasingly more traffic, and the traffic is faster. She said anything that slows traffic would be good.

While having no opinion on the bumpouts, Foss said drivers doing 50 mph have no intention of stopping on Minnehaha and sees slowing traffic as an improvement. He acknowledged his situation at The Fix Studio is unique, in that he has a parking lot next door.

Type of Bikeway

What separates the county’s two concepts is what type of bikeway will be used. One layout puts bike lanes on each side of the road, as they are now, but with a one-foot buffer between the lane and traffic. The other installs a two-way separated bikeway, or “cycle track,” on the west side of Minnehaha.

County staff have recommended, and city staff have accepted, the bike lane concept as their preferred design.

“The on-road bike lane concept directly addresses safety issues by providing good visibility between motorists and bicyclists as bicyclists are traveling in the roadway adjacent to motorists,” wrote Hennepin County Project Engineer Kristy Morter in an email.

She pointed to a recent bike-motorist crash report (Messenger, Mar. 2013) that shows Minnehaha as having the third lowest crash rate of 28 arterials analyzed in Minneapolis, making it one of the safer roadways in town. The one-foot striped buffer is expected to improve the comfort and safety of the bicycle facility, she said.

Whether the buffer is enough to attract more riders — a major goal of the city — is a big question. Jill Chamberlain, Longfellow Community Council Transportation & Environment Committee co-chair, said she is not comfortable riding on Minnehaha.

“There are people who are going to ride no matter what. We don’t need to build for them,” she said. “But there’s this whole pocket of people inclined to bike. For a mom with a toddler in a Burley, you open this connector between a major park in the city and the Midtown Greenway.”

The Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) and Pedestrian Advisory Committee support the cycle track option. A memorandum submitted to Commissioner McLaughlin and city council members shares data showing cycle tracks as both the safest and the safest-feeling type of bikeway. One study cited found that cycle tracks provide a 28% lower rate of injury than on-street riding, and that 2.5 times more people use cycle tracks than standard streets.

“One thing we know is people strongly prefer protected facilities,” said Nick Mason, chair and Ward 12 representative of the BAC. “When we do them, more people come, and when they’re out there, we have data that shows they’re safer for bicyclists, and a lot of times they’re safer for everybody.”

McLaughlin said running a two-way cycle track on one side of a two-way street with skewed intersections creates “significant safety issues.”

“Safety’s a pretty high, high bar,” he said. “I’m not going to put a biking facility out there that is less safe than what we’ve got right now… but I’m listening still on that.”

Foss doesn’t think traffic will look both ways approaching intersections, putting riders at risk.

The BAC memorandum states the research is “highly relevant” to Minnehaha Ave. in that four of the six bikeways studied were two-way cycle tracks on one side of a two-way street.

Colvin Roy said she’s “very open” to cycle tracks but has asked the county if more than just paint can be used if bike lanes are adopted instead. McLaughlin said there are options, like making the whole lane either a different color or different surface, and that they need to examine that closely.

On its website, the county suggested that 50 more trees and 50 more parking spaces would be lost with the cycle track concept. This is disputed by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.

“There is little doubt that more can be done to add a cycle track while preserving more trees and parking than in the County proposal,” coalition members posted in their blog in May. They suggest the county is out of line with its own and national design standards, and slight modifications to bus stop unloading zones can nearly eliminate added tree loss. McLaughlin said he has asked staff for a rationale for each of the trees that would be removed.

Mason views a cycle track as a long-term investment that will encourage the kinds of business we want to have and people who want to come spend money and live along the corridor. The BAC memorandum reports that some stores along a protected bikeway in New York saw a 49% increase in sales, compared to an average of 3% for Manhattan as a whole over the same period.

“It’ll make it a really livable place,” said Mason. “And be a great fun place to visit.”

For More Information:

Hennepin County Project Page

Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition

Hiawatha-Minnehaha Community Works

Hennepin County Complete Streets

St. Paul Ballet

Hennepin Energy Assistance

Little Brothers

U of M Brain Study