3 to 2 lanes
Hennepin County engineer Jim Grube said "our intent is to do 3 to 2 lanes as we are presenting and lower the speed limit to 30 mph unless it is clear that the plan is fatally flawed." It was clear that many more people were supportive of those changes than opposed, so we fully expect that the County will go through with their general plan (shown here). This will be a big win for these neighborhoods, biking, walking, and safety.
When pushed on the desire to go to 2 lanes throughout both corridors, Mr. Grube said "The current proposal is the best I can do right now given our analysis." This response was echoed by City engineer Jon Wertjes who suggested after the meeting that "it is only paint" and that they will be monitoring the corridor and would consider additional changes in the future if warranted. Mr. Grube did acknowledge that the decision to maintain 3 lanes was in fact a prioritization of traffic over livability, and that they were working to balance improvements to livability with traffic.
It will be interesting to see how much the relevant elected officials (Commissioner Peter McLaughlin and Council Members Elizabeth Glidden, Robert Lilligren, and Lisa Goodman) consider a push for more 2-lane sections given the supportive tone of the public comments. After all, the choice to prioritize auto speed over livability is a policy decision not an engineering one. This is especially true in a couple block section around Lake Street where the proposal includes 3 lanes on both roads--a configuration that drew the most ire from the crowd. Council Member Lisa Goodman was not at the meeting, and there wasn't much discussion about the downtown 3-lane proposal, so it's unclear how much opportunity there is to move on that immediately. That is a real shame given the low traffic volumes downtown and the opportunities for redevelopment along these streets.
We hope that we will see more 2-lane sections as the final decision is made over the next couple weeks.
35 mph to 30 mph speed limit
This seems a done deal as no one offered any opposition to this change. Staff said that the stop light sequencing would be re-timed accordingly, presumably so that a driver going 30 mph would hit all green lights. This is obviously a big and valuable change.
Buffer for the bike lane
There wasn't much discussion about the buffer for the bike lanes, but the plan is to add a painted buffer throughout. Where it will be 2 auto lanes, the striped buffer will be wide between the bike lane and moving traffic and there will be a slight buffer between the parked cars as well. Where 3 lanes stay, there will only narrow buffer between the bike lane and moving traffic. This should help many more people feel comfortable biking on these roads, although we still hope that a physical barrier (like a curb) can be added in the future.
Bike lane location
There wasn't a lot of public support for the proposal to keep a left-sided bike lane on Portland from Washington to 36th Street rather than moving it to the right throughout. Several people brought up concerns about keeping it on the left side. City staff pointed out the concern of heavy right-turns at 19th Street, Franklin Ave, 26th Street, Lake Street, and 35th Street. The momentum seems to be toward a right-sided bike lane throughout to eliminate the need for transitions from the right-sided lanes north of Washington Ave and south of 46th Street and to improve access to the Midtown Greenway. There was no discussion about the proposed move to the right side on Park, which suggested support for that change.
Midtown Greenway access
If the bike lane is moved to the right side on Portland, access to the Midtown Greenway there should be vastly improved (if it doesn't, there will be challenges like today). With the bike lane moving to the right side on Park, however, there is a need to get people to the left side Greenway access there. The plans include a bike lane on both side of the street leading up to that access and some specific designs to help people cross at the access point as well. Mr. Wertjes admitted that they could likely do better with this access and encouraged ideas.
Potential for future protected bike lane and "green corridor" improvements
Our idea of future protected bike lane and green space didn't come up specifically at this meeting since it was clear that it wasn't part of the immediate discussion. The more 2 lane sections we can get now, the more likely this vision to truly transform these streets can gain traction over the coming years. We hope to start some additional conversations about that idea, especially downtown where a green connection to the river could be very attractive to community, business, and development interests.
To the many people who have played a role to getting to this positive point, including Commissioner McLaughlin, Council Members Glidden, Goodman, Lilligren, and John Quincy, city and county staff, and community partners Hope Community, Midtown Greenway Coalition, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, and others. And thanks to everyone who came out to the meeting to show strong support for improvements! It really made a big difference. It was great to be in a room where the strong majority opinion was for taking an auto lane to improve livability, biking, walking, and safety!
Did you attend the meeting? What were your impressions?