Washington Avenue is set to be fully reconstructed in 2014, from building to building, between Hennepin Avenue and 5th Avenue South. The project, sponsored by Hennepin County, provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign and rebalance the street. Washington Avenue should serve as a gateway to the river and to downtown, supporting the new residential, office and commercial uses that have been springing up for the last decade. But today it is a seven lane thoroughfare cutting through the heart of downtown.
By reducing the number of traffic lanes to five, Washington Avenue could include generous sidewalk space, greenery and a curb-separated bicycle lane (sometimes known as “cycletrack”) on each side.
This design would dramatically reduce the distance pedestrians would need to cross to get from one side of the street to the other, making it easier to walk in the heart of downtown. It would provide a connection for bicyclists of all types and skill levels and create a safe bicycle connection from Nicollet Mall (which dead-ends into Washington) to the riverfront.
What about Traffic?
Washington Avenue currently carries about 21,000 vehicles per day in the six lanes plus center turn lane. There is an existing two-way pair (3rd Street S and 4th Street S) just one block from Washington with an additional three lanes of traffic in each direction that each only carry 9,000 - 12,000 vehicles per day, according to MnDOT. They provide a strong alternative to Washington Avenue because 3rd and 4th are both one-way streets that can offer a wave of green lights to reduce congestion. Today, 3rd Street provides direct access to Hwy 394, and in a few years 4th Street will provide direct access to 35W.
There are also two big changes coming that will alleviate traffic congestion on Washington Avenue:
A $13 million project to build a new freeway on-ramp from 4th Street South to northbound 35W to reduce congestion on Washington Avenue
Retiming of all traffic signals in the City, which will help make traffic move more efficiently
Washington is a Missing Connection
Even with the uninviting conditions, hundreds of people already bike on Washington Avenue, which is lined with small businesses and an increasing number of residential and office destinations. There is an existing bike lane one block north, on 2nd Street, but it does not connect to points west or east and does not provide access to the destinations on Washington.
The Big Picture
The goal of our proposal is to create a balanced environment on Washington that serves drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, residents, employees, and visitors well. Most of all, we want to make Washington Avenue, and the blocks that border it, a great place to live, work, and visit. With added trees and green space, a better pedestrian environment, and a bicycle facility, Washington Avenue will better support Downtown’s vision for growth. The Downtown 2025 Plan sets the goal of doubling Downtown’s population. This will only be feasible if Downtown continues to transform itself into a place where people want to live.
From Vision to Reality
We have done outreach to downtown organizations and neighborhood groups and have gotten mixed reactions to the proposals. Some people love the idea of making downtown more pedestrian friendly and particularly like the idea of greening. Others are concerned about slowing down car trips. For these changes to become reality, strong support is needed not only from the bicycling community but from downtown residents, businesses and visitors.
We need volunteers to reach out, build support and find out more as the project develops. Email [email protected] to get involved!
Watch for news of public meetings for this project this summer.