Park Avenue S and Portland Avenue S may be the two most divisive streets in Minneapolis. The one-way pairs certainly provide a fast trip–by car or bike–between downtown and points south. But they are really terrible streets for neighbors, are unattractive for the vast majority of bicyclists, have high cyclist crash rates wherever there are left turns, and the high auto speeds are a safety concern for everyone. With Hennepin County repaving the majority of both of these streets this fall, there is a big opportunity to remake these streets into something that is better for everyone.
So what can be done now and how can we make it happen? There were two recent articles on streets.mn that offer some good options (from Brendon and from Bill). We’re taking those ideas and building on them with what we think is a viable solution that can be done this year.
–Remove a traffic lane that isn’t needed. The core of this proposal is transforming one of the car lanes into space that adds to the neighborhood, pedestrian, and bicycling environments. Park and Portland are both currently three lanes in each direction; yet, they carry no more than 13,000 cars a day at any point (and much less at most points). Basically, that means that there is one wasted car lane. It’s not needed to move cars. Have you noticed that there is never any congestion on these roads except periodically where cars are turning? It’s not your imagination! These roads were built before there was an Interstate 35W, and there simply isn’t the traffic demand to warrant 3 lanes each. With a 11 feet of extra space to play with (the width of one of the traffic lanes), there is plenty of space for transformation!
–Move the bike lane to the right side and use the parked cars as a protective buffer. The existing 5-foot left-side bike lanes are not a very comfortable place for most cyclists, and there are common safety problems where drivers turn left. We propose moving the bike lane to the right–where drivers have come to expect cyclists to be. And we propose moving the bike lane between the curb and the parked cars. This is similar to the bike lanes on 1st Avenue North, although this would be much better. There is more space (when we take the lane), so there can be a wide bike lane and an adjacent buffer zone to prevent worries about dooring from the parked cars. Well-designed parking protected bike lanes in other cities have drastically increased biking and improved safety. To greatly reduce the likelihood of drivers parking in the bike lane, we’d strongly recommend using flexible posts to clearly separate the bicycling area. Note that we recognize that intersection treatments will be important to successfully implementing such a design safely–intersections have been done well elsewhere and they certainly can be on Park and Portland.
–Provide planters on the right side of the street to extend pedestrian realm. One of the challenges with providing parking protected bike lanes on Park and Portland is that there is an existing 6.5-foot wide concrete edge on either side of the road that isn’t in great condition and would mean a rough bike ride if there were bike lanes there. While the road is being repaved this year, repavings do not include concrete area, so it will stay rough. We propose getting around that while greatly enhancing the attractiveness of these roads by using the right-side concrete area as a place for planters. A lot could be done with them–they could become community garden space, or just have flowers. They could also be removable if the County prefers to take them out in the winter to ease snow maintenance.
Greatly improved bicycle environment that would attract more cyclists
More green space and potential community garden space
Reduced pedestrian crossing distances because of the planters
We have already started encouraging the County to consider this idea–and to create a community engagement process for this project to envision a new Park and Portland. While this implementation is scaled to fit with a repaving project (in a repaving project the curbs do not change, so the width of the road stays the same), such a change is far beyond what is typically done for road maintenance projects. So, it will take commitment from the County to use this opportunity as the time to make change. People have been talking about the desire to make Park and Portland more neighborhood friendly for decades–what better time to do it than now when the road will already be under construction!
We plan to soon start engaging the City and local neighborhoods more–we’ll keep you posted as things unfold.
To be successful in achieving something like this vision, we will need to do a lot of outreach to neighborhoods and local residents. And we need volunteers to help with that! If you are interested, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the long-term, Park and Portland could be transformed like 9th Ave in New York