A public meeting for the reconstruction of Penn Avenue South will be held next Tuesday, March 6 at 6pm in the multi-purpose room of the Armatage Recreation Center. Please stop by if you live or bicycle in the area – this is your chance to let the City know that a good bicycle facility is important here. If you can’t make the meeting, you can contact project manager Jeff Handeland at (612) 673.2363 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Council Member Betsy Hodges at (612) 673-2213 or email@example.com.
The full reconstruction of Penn Avenue South spans from 50th Street to MN-62 and includes new pavement, curb and gutter, and coordinated utility work. This is a big opportunity to get bicycle facilities on this area of South Minneapolis where bicycle connections are lacking.
Sharrows vs “Cycletrack” or no bike facilities at all
At the City’s presentation to the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC), summarized on our blog, project engineer Jeff Handeland explained that the City planned to remove parking from one side of the street, expand the sidewalk and build larger boulevards to add trees. Given these priorities, it is not possible to get bicycle lanes in both directions. Instead, on-street facilities would have to be bike lanes in one direction and a sharrow in the other direction.
A sharrow would be frustrating for drivers and would not feel safe to many bicyclists on a street like Penn Avenue South, which has only one travel lane in each direction and relatively high levels of daily traffic. Because there is one lane in each direction, a bicyclist would have to hold down the lane and, during peak congestion, cars would not be able to easily pass. In short, a sharrow would not be much improvement over what is on Penn Avenue S for bicycling today – and many, many bicyclists do not feel comfortable in that situation.
The City explored the possibility of finding an alternative route for the northern part of this connection, but Minnehaha Creek and Armatage Park would create large detours that would make bicycling very inconvenient.
The option endorsed by the BAC, where I am the Ward 10 representative, looks like the best solution for all users. This is the option the City is calling the “Cycle Track Option.” It would create a 12’ area on one side of the street to accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians.
In this option, the key would be designing intersections to a higher level of safety for bicyclists. Bicycling on the sidewalk is actually the most dangerous position for bicyclists, because drivers don’t expect to see cyclists at intersections. This stretch has some “super blocks” so there are fewer intersections to worry about.
The City’s current rendering of this option distributed the space in a five foot sidewalk and a seven foot bi-directional bicycle path. This should be plenty of space for the user volumes, which are only about 100 bicyclists and day (though that would be expected to rise with better bicycle facilities). As traffic engineer and blogger Rueben pointed out, a shared use path might be a better distribution of that space in some ways.
It seems clear that, for the vast majority of bicyclists, the “Cycle Track Option” provides the most safe and convenient access. As the details are worked out, including how to treat stretches of residential vs commercial nodes, how to allocate bicycle and pedestrian space in a way that protects pedestrian and works for bicyclists, and how to make sure intersections are safe – we hope bicyclists will stay involved in the conversation.
This is a project where someone might say, “there just isn’t space to accommodate bicyclists.” Big kudos to the City, especially Jeff Handeland and Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Shaun Murphy for looking for options that are safe and accessible for all users.