As we work on potential parking protected bike lanes in Minneapolis--like on Washington Avenue in the Mill District--it's clear that the ghost of the poorly designed 1st Avenue bike lane looms. Here's how things are evolving for the good.
When I talk to my friends and coworkers about riding all over the Twin Cities, a lot of times the conversation will veer towards how great the cycling infrastructure is and how important it is to have laws on the books to protect cyclists, because these are the things that have sculpted the culture of Minneapolis to be more bike friendly and progressive. Up until this point, everyone involved in the conversation is typically on board and in general agreement with how kickass Minneapolis bicycle infrastructure is. The pushback typically begins when I bring up the need for more infrastructure and protections for cyclists, in the form of parking protected bike lanes.
1st Avenue N was a poorly designed parking protected bike lane we won't soon repeat.
Photo from MinnPost, Bill Lindeke
Parking protected bike lanes have gotten a bad name in Minneapolis, mostly because of 1st Avenue North. 1st Avenue was a protected bike lane in name only and wasn't designed well. Many drivers hated it, many cyclists didn’t feel safe on it, and most tourists didn’t know what was going on. Its installation is what spurred the formation of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition because people wondered how it could have been done so poorly. When I first moved to Minneapolis almost six years ago, I parked on it.
There were several reasons why 1st Ave didn’t work- it was too narrow, there we not consistent posts to keep people from parking in the bike lane, and it was poorly marked. Overall, it often forced cyclists to swerve dangerously close to the curb lest they get “doored.” 1st Ave was the City’s first attempt to create a parking protected bikeway; we all learned how it could be done better.
After an initial adjustment period, 11th Ave S parking protected bike lane is generally working well
Today, 1st Ave has been changed and there are parking protected bikeways in place that run along 11th Ave S between West River Parkway and 6th Street S, as well as on Oak Street SE. These are good examples of how, when used properly, parking protected bikeways can form a protective buffer between moving traffic and cyclists using parked cars.
There are still some challenges with these lanes when there is a heavy snowfall, because the plowed snow can obscure the markings on the road of where to park and where is off-limits for drivers. But that is case for any bike lane. It is especially difficult for newcomers to Minneapolis to quickly understand where to park. It is crucial for there to be signs posted along these roads indicating how parking should work. It will also help that as we expand cycling infrastructure, more drivers will understand what is expected of them as our streets demonstrate more consistency and continuity. Except for 1st avenue, these new parking protected bike lanes have proven themselves to be very effective.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition is pushing for more parking protected lanes not only because it will be safer for cyclists and drivers alike, but also because it is a balanced step towards our ideal multi-modal city in which riding your bike to work or to the store is just as safe and convenient as driving. That ideal is a part of the lifestyle that is attracting people to Minneapolis itself. Who wouldn’t want that?
Parking protected bikeways are a step in the right direction because they make our streets safer for everyone by separating traffic from cyclists using parked cars. This will encourage more people to hop on a bike to savor the sights and sounds of the city while feeling less threatened. They are also awesome because of what they could become in time, with the right amount of funding and public support. These lanes have the potential to one day be reconstructed into sidewalk level bikeways, which would be ideal for drivers, cyclists, and city maintenance workers (those fantastic people who clean and plow our streets). Sidewalk level bike lanes are what I hope for, but before we get there we need to have our parking protected lanes in the interim. Important steps.
I'm part of the team working for parking protected bike lanes on Washington Avenue in the Mill District. We take seriously that it needs to work well and definitely not be "another 1st Ave." Let's figure it out for the good of everyone!