38th Street Bike Lane project tests Public Works commitment to Complete Streets

38th St PresentationLast night the Longfellow Community Council hosted a community meeting to bring together business owners, City of Minneapolis Public Works staff, and neighbors to discuss the proposed bike lane on 38th Street E between Minnehaha Avenue and West River Parkway. The Longfellow neighborhood currently has the largest gap between bikeways of anywhere in the entire city (no dedicated bikeway between the Midtown Greenway and Minnehaha Park - 42nd St is mostly sharrows, which do nothing for safety). Bike lanes on 38th Street can change that. The route is included on the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan, and is scheduled to be resurfaced next year, so this is a great opportunity to add bike lane striping as part of that larger project.

Panelists at the meeting included a representative from Public Works, a member of the Longfellow Community Council’s Neighborhood Development and Transportation Committee, a business representative there to represent the businesses at the 42nd Ave node (Mother Earth Gardens, Riverview Theater, and Riverview coffee shop specifically), a resident and cyclist who lives on 38th St, and a Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition representative. There was a lot of neighborhood interest in the meeting, with over 60 people in attendance in the audience.

"Compromise" design replaces the bike lane with 8' parking lanes, forcing bikes to merge in and out of traffic. (click for bigger)

Public Works staff began by offering what they called a "compromise" solution, which would restore parking in sections of the route near businesses by cutting off the bike lane and forcing cyclists to merge back in to traffic for a half block. Public Works staff met with business owners before the public meeting, and changed the project based on business desire to maintain parking in specific areas on the route.

Staff admitted that the design was “not ideal” for bicyclists, but felt that they had to balance business parking desires with the safety of a non-interrupted bikeway. A non-continuous design that forces bikes to weave in and out of a general traffic lane to avoid parked cars is inherently unsafe, and puts the safety of people on bikes on the line in exchange for a few extra short-term parking spots.

In many ways, this project is one of the first tests of Minneapolis’ new Complete Streets policy, and unfortunately Public Works is failing that test. They started the meeting by bringing a “compromise” design that puts bicyclists and pedestrians at risk in order to preserve a small amount of on-street parking for a few vocal businesses. The initial design of continuous bike lanes was not presented as an option, and it appears that this revised design is what Public Works staff hope to move forward with.

The strongest opposition to the bike lanes have come from a handful of local businesses on the route who are facing reduced parking to accommodate the bicycle facilities. The business representative on the panel and another in the audience all professed to love bikes and considered themselves very bike-friendly businesses, however they preferred to keep safe bike facilities off of their street and instead wanted them shifted to neighboring streets, such as 42nd Avenue, 4 blocks away. Even after being presented with compromise designs by Public Works that put in 4 parking spots by the coffee shop on the street and 11 more at the 42nd Ave node, the business representatives were still opposed to the idea of bicycle facilities on 38th Street.

Blue bars represent parking demand on 38th St. throughout the day, black line is on adjacent side streets. (click for bigger)

The City did do a parking study on the corridor in advance of the design being pulled together, finding that on most blocks parking utilization was less than 20% on average (blue bar lines on "Parking Considerations" chart shown). Given that parking is currently only allowed on the south side of the street for much of the route, that is a very small number of cars being parked on average. The biggest parking concerns from businesses included a local coffee shop that wanted to accommodate “grab and go” coffee runs (and felt that side street parking was inadequate), and the businesses at the 42nd Ave node that were concerned about truck deliveries and overflow parking if there was a large event at the Riverview Theater.

We certainly recognize the importance of local small businesses and want them to be successful. In other places where parking is scarce, we have compromised to find a balance. But here, parking isn't scarce. We would support a different parking arrangement like providing short-term parking spots on streets adjacent to businesses like the coffee shop at 37th Ave. But it's hard to feel that business opposition is anything more than fear of change given the regular availability of parking in the area. We are especially frustrated that they have even opposed this "compromise" that maintains all parking near businesses and pushed for an alternate route. That opposition clearly calls into question their consideration of other community benefits like safety and access. The City, however, has responsibility to consider those benefits.

In the end, there are many things to like about this project. Improved pedestrian infrastructure with high-visibility crosswalks will be put in at a number of intersections, particularly around Howe School. The bike lane will connect a Blue Line LRT stop across Hiawatha Ave all the way to the river, providing an important connection for bicyclists. And the project overall should help calm traffic, making 38th a safer street for all users. But at this point we are not supportive of a "compromise" design, and find it unacceptable that Public Works would propose a design that goes against the directives of the Minneapolis Complete Streets policy, against best practices for bike facilities, and puts the lives of bicyclists and pedestrians at risk in order to preserve a small number of parking spots. It is disappointing that Public Works modified the initial design before bringing it to the community based on a small number of vocal businesses, and are now presenting the community with this considerably less than ideal option. The safety of all road users has to be taken into account when we are designing our streets, and this current proposal fails to do so.

There is still time to be heard on this! If you have feedback on the project, please send it directly to Council Member Andrew Johnson, who will be making the final decision on this street project. You can also send your feedback to the Public Works staff working on this project, and fill out a survey by the Longfellow Community Council on your preferred design.

Showing 5 reactions

  • John Stevenson
    Oh it’s just refreshing to see you guys called out on your heavily biased articles! Finally!

    It’s amazing how you don’t get your way and cry foul at their complete streets policy – here’s a tip, it doesn’t necessarily work everywhere in this city.

    It’s interesting how you look at the street width as some sort of end all be all for whether a bike lane will work. Instead of saying it’s too narrow for both cars and bikes, how about examining the traffic rate on streets and correlating that to this weaving you mentioned?

    I’ve always found it interesting why bikes need to be on the same roads as vehicles. Yes, it’s your legal right to ride down the street. Is that a good idea? Depends. It’s also my legal right to carry a firearm in front of the police station. Is that a good idea? Again, it depends but probably not.

    It seems that no one has tried to think critically about solving both issues – a nice balance of cars and bikes. It doesn’t seem logical to eliminate vehicle lanes for bike lanes as it may lead to more congestion on our roads. Is this a good thing? Well, if we consider climate change, distracted driving, accidents, etc, we could argue all day.

    The point I’m asking about is why does it have to be 38th or Portland or whatever arbitrary street you want a lane on next that geslts you going N/S or E/W? Why not use a street that has less traffic (which one could argue is wasted glance it gets 10 vehicles a day) and try to eliminate some congestion?

    I can understand there are crossing issues and perhaps more than a few problems with my idea. But that’s a problem with every idea, it’s needs work. The first plane wasn’t flawless. Hell, we lost astronauts before we got to the moon.

    If we look at this from an efficiency standpoint, bike lanes are effectively useless when compared to vehicle traffic on the same street (take the ratio of cars to bikes). How does this solve congestion (look at blaisdell now) when we eliminate a lane?

    I moved here 4 years ago for a job and regret it. I carry about 500 pounds of gear (involved in a few fields of engineering) for work and am in and out of downtown/dinkytown/uptown all day. I hate traffic here and it’s like I’m sorry bad guy because I’m trying to get from job site to job site. I was told by a council member that it’s my choose to work here – it’s also my bosses choice to have an office in Minneapolis and pay the taxes?

    There needs to be some compromise to these bike lanes so we both can get from A to B safely. And before anyone says it, there are bad driver and bad bikers, I will not deny this. However, car vs car is generally less bloody than bike vs car. Taking lanes away from vehicles doesn’t seem to be the best answer and I’m sure there’s a viable solution to keep everyone safe (models bikers because there are some drivers going fast enough and a collision would basically be a deer hitting a semi on 35W).
  • Karen Oconnor
    Thanks for the email, Ethan and Alex. You were right in correcting me when I said 38th was one of the few streets not wide enough to accommodate parking and biking. I meant, and should have been more clear, that there are other streets that run east-west where parking on at least one side can be preserved. Since we have been in communication, I have measured all the relevant streets in Longfellow. The two streets that can accommodate parking on at least one side of the street AND bike lanes are 34th Street (not a through street) and 42nd Street (crosses Hiawatha and connects to Pkwy), both 40 feet wide curb to curb. 38th Street is 35 feet wide curb to curb. The other residential streets, including 32nd Street (crosses Hiawatha and connects to Pkwy), are 32 feet wide curb to curb.
    So if the goal is to have an east-west route, then 32nd Street or 42nd Street are great options, neither of which has business nodes except at Minnehaha Pkwy. 42nd Street has a school, but since parking can be preserved on one side of this wider street, this shouldn’t be a problem. 32nd Street is not wide enough to accommodate parking, but is primarily residential. These are two great east-west routes to explore. From the City’s website: “In 2001 the Minneapolis City Council, Mayor, and Park & Recreation Board approved the Bicycle Master Plan Map. The 2001 Bicycle Master Plan Map has served as a guide for new bikeway development in Minneapolis.” It does not say it is a foregone conclusion; it sounds like it was meant as a a working document.
    I know that the resurfacing presents an opportunity, but it is not prudent to demand this change without allowing for full public dialog, and for a parking study that looks at the year in total.
    Also – you mentioned events at the Riverview Theater. Those events happen every weekend, they are not isolated to big things like the special political screenings, parties, or Lord of the Rings Trilogy. So if by events, you mean weekend movies, I think people would definitely notice.
    I think all of the things we are talking about here are important for everyone to discuss so we can find the right way forward for our neighborhood, our current (and future) cycling community and people who use our other modes of transport. Thanks for being open to communication. Karen
  • Alex Tsatsoulis
    Thank you for your comments! We emailed our response, but wanted to share them on the blog as a comment as well:

    • Street width/alternative routes. You say “38th Street is one of the few east/west streets in Longfellow that is not wide enough to accommodate both parking and bike lanes.” This is simply untrue. Most streets in Longfellow are narrower than 38th Street. There isn’t one east-west street that we are aware of where bike lanes could be accommodated without removing parking or car traffic lanes. What street(s) are you thinking of where we would be mistaken? It seems you want a bicycle boulevard as alternative, but there isn’t budget for a bike blvd in the area and there are no streets that connect to the Parkway trail and across Hiawatha Ave between 32nd St and 42nd Street. That means that there really aren’t any good alternatives anyway. That is shown that the City’s Bicycle Master Plan has only identified 32nd, 38th, and 42nd Streets as east-west routes in Longfellow. For those reasons, we do not support an alternative to 38th Street.

    • Deliveries. It seems the crux of your concern is about deliveries. We understand that deliveries are important for any business. While we would be interested to see if there are alternatives to drop offs in the bike lanes and it is certainly not our preference, we have helped negotiate and supported delivery periods where trucks stop in bike lanes if that is the only viable option. We would do the same with 38th Street. We would certainly rather have bike lanes most of the time than no bike lanes at all.

    • Riverview parking. We recognize that the Riverview Theater leads to parking on 38th Street filling up during events. But the parking on 38th Street is far from meeting demand in those times already. People are walking from blocks at times to park and go to the theater. Removing a few spots on 38th Street only changes that picture a little bit since most people are walking a fair distance already. We think most people wouldn’t even notice the difference for those types of events and that tradeoff is worth improved bike safety and access, which could lead to more people biking to the theater instead of driving.

    • Emergency vehicles. The reality is that it is easier for emergency vehicles to get through if there are bike lanes instead of parking lanes since bike lanes can be used for cars/bikes to get over and let emergency vehicles through while a parked car would make that harder/impossible.
  • Jeff Fisher
    This is not an accurate characterization of how the meeting went and would like to address that. What I loved most about the meeting was that so many people in the neighborhood that shed light to the various needs and wants of the community that are important. 38th street has a unique pocket of homes that are locked in and don’t have an avenue nearby. Those residents expressed the desire to preserve the parking they need in front of their house and the economic impact to their home value or resale challenges should they lose that parking. Several residents were afraid of losing access to the shops businesses they enjoy in their neighborhood because they are elderly and even a half a block walk down the street would bar them from patronizing should convenience access be removed. When access is removed, it affects everyone. There were so many people from the neighborhood that wanted bike lanes to be implemented on a different street. Unfortunately, the meeting wasn’t open to that discussion, it was only open to the current plan on 38th street.

    As a small business owner, I have made several financial investments to embrace customers come to my shop by bike. I applied for a grant with the city for bicycle posts and gave up a months wages to be able to afford the work that needed to be done to implement a proper parking spot for bicycles on our boulevard. I am very pro bike, pro bike lane. Just not on 38th Street. In fact, Fireroast joins EVERY business owner on 38th Street unanimously on this issue.
    It has always been the mission and goal of our business to embrace the needs and values of our neighborhood and reflect and celebrate those aspirations. A bike lane plan that puts bicyclists at risk or removes access to a valued business corridor and changes the perceived valuation of homes along 38th is not something Fireroast sees as supportive of our entire community and hopes to convince the city to consider one of the many alternate streets through Longfellow that would help achieve this.
    That is what we are working towards together with cyclists, the city of Minneapolis and our city council.

    Here is our formal statement as a business corridor on 38th.
  • Karen Oconnor
    Thank you for your comments on this issue. I am the business owner from the meeting, a co-owner of Mother Earth Gardens. I feel that this piece misrepresents the business owners’ concerns, and, in a veiled way, indicates that we are somehow not bike-friendly, or that we oppose Minneapolis Complete Streets. The reality is that we feel the same way you do – that this plan is not workable. But it’s important that the issues that we brought are understood by ALL users of this corridor. This article didn’t mention, for instance, that 38th Street is one of the few east/west streets in Longfellow that is not wide enough to accommodate both parking and bike lanes. There was not mention of the fact that 38th Street is an emergency route, and is a busy bus street. I also feel that our parking and delivery concerns were tossed aside in this description – our business in particular cannot function without a delivery gate, and 42nd Street currently has a bus stop at the only other available gate, so it is not fairly representing our concerns as simply “fear of change”. The Riverview Theater is an historic Minneapolis landmark, which serves communities well beyond Longfellow, and operates year round with offerings unavailable at any other theater. There are people who come from a long way to see movies, and the article did not mention that parking use at the 42nd Ave node is 100% at busy times with well over 40 parking spots on 38th St alone, and 100% on 42nd St with an additional 80 or more, hardly the 11 mentioned in the compromise. We happen to be opposed to the compromise for the same reason that you are – it is unsafe to expect bicyclists to weave in and out of parked cars, or around large semi-trucks making deliveries. We are opposed to the continuous design because we cannot function without getting deliveries, and we feel that our neighborhood values the unique small businesses in Longfellow. There are 14 other east-west streets between Lake Street and 46th Street, and most would be considerably safer for bicyclists. Many of them are wider and can accommodate bike striping and parking, and none of them have multiple businesses, including an historic theater that cannot be replaced if the owner is not able to operate in this area. And as to the improved pedestrian walkways and narrower lanes, we’re all for them – they are not dependent on striping for bike lanes. We are simply advocating for using a different street – would the coalition be willing to consider that option?

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