The City is planning to re-make 3rd Avenue downtown this year as a green, inviting street with a protected bikeway. It's an exciting plan that could create one of the premier downtown protected bikeways in the country and a selling point for downtown and the street. Unfortunately it has been slowed because of some opposition. Here's where things stand and how you can help.
In budget, but final design decision delayed
We are excited that the approved 2016 City budget does include the redesign of 3rd Avenue. We thank Mayor Hodges and Council Members for their support. The approval in the budget is a very good sign that the project will be done this year, and we are glad to say that many Council Members have offered strong support, most importantly CM Jacob Frey (who represents part of the area) and CM Kevin Reich (who chairs the Transportation and Public Works Committee).
But the timeline for the project has been delayed. Originally, the plan (admittedly an optimistic one) was for the design of 3rd to be approved in early December of 2015. Concerns raised by local building managers has delayed that some and the City right now is trying to work through those. We discuss the details of the concerns below. We very much hope that the 3rd proposal will not be altered significantly, although there are some who are trying to delay it from 2016, eliminate the project completely, or significantly alter it at the expense of greening and/or biking.
At the core this decision lies a key question for downtown: are we willing to delay rush hour traffic even a little to benefit greening, walking, and biking? If we are going to green downtown and lead the nation in transportation options, the reality is that we have to be able yes to that question--at least in the short term while we continue to grow transit, bike, and walk use downtown while reducing the need to drive.
If you have not yet contacted your City Council Member in support, we urge you to do that now.
You can find your Council Member here. Final decisions are likely to come soon and your voice can really make a difference.
Share your support for greening and adding protected bikeway on 3rd Avenue downtown and that you hope that the design will move forward this year, including extra greening and a planter protected bikeway. Share why this matters to you.
Concerns that we hope won't significantly alter the design
The concerns we have heard (primarily from area property managers) with the 3rd Avenue fall into three categories:
1. The process has been poor.
We had also hoped for a more robust community engagement process for 3rd and have expressed our concerns on this. We feel that the process has created unnecessary opposition and led to some of the delays we've seen. But we feel that the design proposed by the City is a good compromise between the varying interests in the corridor (rush hour traffic, greening, walking, biking, access) and a big step forward for downtown. Some have said that the project should be delayed to 2017 or beyond for process, but that would leave bicyclists in a real bind as we already see with Nicollet Mall under construction, and delay a good project.
2. This will impact rush hour traffic and bikes/greening aren't worth it.
This choice is at the heart of the 3rd Avenue decision: is improved greening and a protected bikeway that would make 3rd Avenue a unique and exciting street connecting the Convention Center to the River worth seconds of delay for rush hour drivers?
The compromise design put forward by Public Works includes removing a lane of traffic in each direction between 7th and 12th (while adding some right-turn lanes) and removing a couple left-turn lanes between 5th and the River. Our hope was that the design would be 3 lanes the whole way to allow for maximum greening along with the protected bikeway. Public Works has said their traffic analysis shows that going to 3 lanes the whole way would cause excess backups in rush hour and their proposal even constrains bikes a lot at the Washington Avenue intersection, which we don't like, but are willing to accept because compromise is how projects get done. But Public Works has said their compromise proposal--while causing some small rush hours delays--would work for traffic within the expectations of downtown.
While bicycle commuting in Minneapolis has grown more than 250% since 2000 (more than 6,000 new bicycle commuters) and 3rd Avenue is already an important bike route into downtown (even without a bike lane), some opponents say that delaying rush hour traffic even a little for bikes and greening isn't ok.
We know that biking will increase very significantly on 3rd with this proposal and that it will attract more people to bike--rather than drive--downtown. We know that the proposed greening will add to the attractiveness of the walking environment and of buildings along 3rd. We know that this 3rd proposal will receive national attention and be a selling point for Minneapolis and downtown and for employers downtown. We know that this proposal would create a great walking and biking connection between the Convention Center and the River making the city more attractive for visitors. We know that this will make 3rd a safer street for everyone. For all of these reasons, we strongly think it is worth the trade-off of seconds for drivers during rush hour.
The value of the proposal for greening south of 7th Street is really great. Here is 3rd between 9th and 10th today...
And here it is with the proposal...
3. Concern about drop-off zones
There are three drop-off or parking areas along 3rd today that are impacted by this proposal. The pictures above show one at the Ameriprise Financial building near 10th Street. The others are at the US Bank building between 5th and 6th Street and at City Hall between 5th and 4th Streets (pictured below). The trade-off here is largely between greening and a pull out/parking. While it would be less than ideal for the protected bike lanes, they could be designed to keep the pull outs. We fully support the goal of greening downtown and think that the benefit for the pedestrian and street environment of the additional greening is worth the trade-off of finding a different place for people to drop off as happens at other buildings along the corridor.
We also think that is true for at least most of the police parking along City Hall. Here's what this section would look like with retaining the parking:
Another option with more greening in place of parking (wow--what a difference, especially allowing for a wider sidewalk and a bunch of new trees):