As you’ve probably noticed if you bike much in downtown, there are three – and soon to be four – new bike lanes.
This is 3rd Street. Here’s 4th Avenue, just south of City Hall:
5th Avenue also has a new lane, and the one on 6th Street is underway.
This is a major improvement to biking downtown, and it has an interesting back story.
Back in 2007, the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi collapsed into the river. Over the next more than a year, surface streets in Minneapolis took significantly more auto traffic than usual. As part of the disaster response, the federal government gave the City and County the funds to repave the most impacted streets.
Fortunately, one of those streets in downtown was 3rd Avenue, which already had funding through the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot (NTP) for new bike lanes. The staff working on the bridge-collapse renovations contacted the NTP Coordinator, Shaun Murphy. Shaun noticed that other streets in downtown – 4th and 5th Avenues and 6th Street – were wide enough for bike lanes without taking anything else away.
It was a tough sell at first. The federal funds were to fix damage, not make improvements. But his good idea won out, and we have a host of new bike lanes due to his efforts.
In a time of shrinking local budgets due to unwise austerity measures at the state and federal levels, this is how were going to have to construct new bike facilities: by seizing opportunities to include them in already-planned projects.
There are some other good examples of this approach this year: Franklin Avenue, from Minnehaha to the river and the 25th/26th S-curve come to mind. There are also, unfortunately, some examples of this approach not being followed: Franklin from Minnehaha to Lyndale, and MnDOT’s unwillingness (so far) to install bike lanes on Central.
As budgets get tighter, we have to be nimbler. This is one of the best reasons for hiring a bicycle coordinator – someone needs to do find out what projects are coming up, and find a way to include bicycles in the plans. Knowing about a planned resurfacing project in advance is extremely important, because it gives us the time to do the public outreach that is necessary if the bike lanes require removing anything like driving lanes or parking.
It’s a paradigm shift, between conceiving of bike facilities mostly as stand-alone projects and thinking of them as accommodations for an important transportation mode that we build into all of our other work. But we’re making progress, as these new bike lanes show.