The heart of downtown Minneapolis is challenging to get to and through on bike. Can Marquette and 2nd Ave South provide the answer?
The current situation
Most people (average of about 1,300 people biking a day) use Nicollet Mall as their north-south bike route in heart of downtown. But the Mall leaves much to be desired for biking. We hear two very common complaints: 1) it's slow with slow-moving buses and poorly timed stoplights and 2) the buses make an uncomfortable place to ride, especially in rush hour. (We certainly also hear from some people who love riding Nicollet Mall.)
Nicollet Mall will be reconstructed in 2015-16 and while some effort is being made to make it a little easier to pass buses, it will be basically the same as today for biking (until streetcar tracks are added in the future).
Many people also use Hennepin and 3rd Avenue S to access the heart of downtown. Both streets are poor for biking and serve only very confident bicyclists. We hope to see a protected bikeway on Hennepin or greatly improved 1st Avenue N in the future to serve that part of downtown.
Can Marquette and 2nd Ave S serve as great north-south route through the heart of downtown?
Marquette and 2nd Ave S were among the most popular bike routes downtown before they were converted to express bus streets in 2009. The change was great for buses, but not for biking. But could they be made great for biking?
It's pretty easy to imagine Marquette and 2nd forming a slick connection from Whittier and points south through the heart of downtown to Northeast. A southbound route (the red line in the map below) could run from Central Avenue NE/3rd Avenue bridge to 2nd Avenue South to LaSalle/Blaisdell. The northbound pair (blue line) would run on 1st Avenue S to Marquette to Central/3rd Avenue bridge.
The question becomes: can we fit a comfortable protected bikeway?
We've thought of two options: a tight one-way protected bike lane on each street or a two-way protected bikeway on one street.
Option 1: One-way protected bike lanes on each
This option offers a tight one-way protected bike lane on each street while maintaining all existing bus and car traffic lanes. That would look like:
This option is a little tight overall. The buses and bikes are giving a little (10-foot and narrower car lanes are commonplace in downtown environments in most of the rest of the country). Typically we'd want at least 8 feet total for a protected bike lane. This is just 7 feet. Metro Transit will say they want 2 more feet than they get in this. We'd say that maybe the City could go to 9.5-foot car lanes so the buses could have another foot (9-foot lanes are not uncommon in downtown environments).
We walked the corridors this week to evaluate whether we thought 7 feet for the protected bike lane could work well. The consensus of our group is that it could because of two important factors: 1) this is a recently and well constructed street with basically no gutter area seam to worry (see picture below) about meaning that bicyclists should be able to comfortably bike close to the curb, and
2) winter maintenance is top notch here--all the snow is removed off these streets. It would be a bit tight. Passing a bicyclist may require hoping out of the protected bike lane and into traffic. That's not ideal, but it should still be a comfortable place for many more people to bike than any downtown bike lanes right now if done correctly. We weren't comfortable going narrower than 7 feet for a protected bike lane. And we think having a protected bike lane is important here.
It would look pretty close to this only slightly narrower and without parked cars (picture from Active Transportation Alliance in Chicago).
Option 2: Two-way protected bikeway on one street
Another option we are considering is the potential for a two-way protected bike lane on one of the streets. This may seem more valuable if narrowering bus lanes proves too difficult. 2nd Avenue South seemed more likely because of less traffic than Marquette. Such an option would look like this with just the flexible post barriers (planters could be added in future with slightly narrower driving lanes).
We thought that this configuration would be more comfortable fpr people biking. It gives more space for bicyclists and room to pass (assuming you have a break in oncoming bike traffic). Intersection design would be important, but there wouldn't be left turns across the protected bike lane (except from highly trained bus drivers at a couple spots), which eliminates the biggest safety concern.
It would look almost exactly like this picture from 15th Street in Washington D.C. (picture from People for Bikes). Incidently, this protected bike lane spurred a more than 200% increase in biking on the street in the first year.
The biggest barrier to a two-way option is afternoon rush hour traffic. There is little traffic the rest of the day on 2nd Avenue S, but afternoon rush hour is busy and going down to one traffic lane would require traffic patterns to change some to accomodate.
What do you think? Do you like the idea of protected bike lanes on Marquette and/or 2nd Avenue South? Would you prefer a tight one-way protected bike lane on each street or a two-way protected bikeway on one street? What questions do you have?