Washington Ave is due to be reconstructed in coming months and locals are pushing for a cycletrack parallel to the street.
Over 500 Hand-Written Letters Ask for Protected Bike Lanes on Washington Ave
Last week, we had the honor of delivering over 500 hand-written letters to Minneapolis Councilmember Lisa Goodman, Mayor RT Rybak and County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. All of the letters – written by downtown Minneapolis residents, workers and visitors – request that the City and Hennepin County install protected bicycle lanes on Washington Ave S as part of the upcoming reconstruction project.
Washington Avenue today has seven lanes of traffic. Despite the difficult conditions, hundreds of people bicycle on Washington Avenue S, in numbers equal to those on the much more comfortable S 2nd Street one block north
About a dozen dedicated volunteers from the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition gathered the letters from pedestrians and cyclists traveling within two blocks of downtown’s Washington Ave S. The support from people passing by was overwhelming. After seeing a photo of Washington Ave S today and a rough idea of what it could look like with protected bike lanes, hundreds of people put down their groceries, pulled over in the middle of a bicycle ride, handed their baby to a friend or otherwise stopped what they were doing to write a letter.
The letters tell the personal stories of why protected bike lanes would make a big impact on downtown. They demonstrate the diversity of the people who want to see protected bicycle lanes on Washington Avenue S become reality.
Full Post: http://mplsbike.org/blog/?p=2457
Of course, like 1st Ave you’ll have cyclists less visible being to the right of motorists’ visual focus centered on their lane and in the path of right-turning vehicles, but at least with the rough draft being presented no parked cars would additionally block motorists’ visibility of cyclists.
However, I have to wonder how all those businesses on Washington would feel about losing all on-street parking? With a current seven lanes and a median on top of that I’d think there would be room for two travel lanes, spacious bike lanes to avoid any door zone issues, and parking while also keeping cyclists more visible:no need to sacrifice parking for customers. Even in its current state the parking lanes are wide enough that enough cyclists feel safe enough to ride in the unofficial existing bike lanes and in comparable numbers to slower more bike-friendly streets nearby. If we do away with all on-street parking we’ll also be killing any chance of on-street bike parking which could dot this stretch and maximize accessibility, real and perceived, to customers on two and four wheels.
Personally, I have no qualms as a cyclist who has biked here numerous times about taking the lane along stretches of Washington where cars are not parked: motorists have two whole extra lanes to themselves at any given time. I think addressing this factor, where taking a lane is uncomfortable for less experienced cyclists/visitors, would be all that really needs to be done. Make that wide unofficial bike lane official, time up traffic signals for slower speeds like 25 MPH, and you’ll also have an easier ride that attracts more novice riders without having to stop at every intersection for turning traffic, because when it’s all said and done cyclists of all stripes are going to prefer (whether they admit it or not) the fastest bike ride from A to B with the least amount of stops. And like the little “stop” signs where the separated Midtown Greenway intersects side streets with motor traffic we know that the vast majority of cyclists are going to treat such signs were they to appear on Washington in the same manner: as yield signs. Might as well have infrastructure that reflects the reality of how cyclists will use it vs. how we’d like them to.
So, Walkscore quantitatively ranked Mpls #1 in bikeablity a while back. I also learned that in Cbus, my hometown, that $300,000 was spent on ten bike shelters before debuting the city’s first on-street bike corral. It didn’t take much research to find that other cities like Cincinnati had spent as little as $1000 for a bike corral. If Columbus had spent that same amount of money on bike corrals in lieu of ten fancy covered bike shelters now on the sidewalks, it would be receiving national recognition for having more than three times as much on-street bike parking than Portland, which has a current total of 85 locations. Needless to say, Mpls would likewise have been left in the dust: we maybe have a few? I’m familiar with one next to Birchwood Cafe and I hear there’s another one off the Cedar Lake Trail in that weird area of Downtown in the vicinity of Lee’s Liquor Lounge (gets my stamp of approval, but you might want to drink a couple elsewhere before paying $4 per tallboy, just FYI), but is there even a third?
Anyway, here’s my point: on-street bike corrals are dirt cheap and at the same time communicate a highly valuable message, especially on roads without bike facilities, that bikes are road vehicles. By addressing the social acceptability factor with such clear visuals this will cause the average motorist to associate bikes with roads, instead of bikes with sidewalks. When you think about it, where do you see virtually all bikes parked? On sidewalks, which certainly affects a motorist’s perception of where bikes belong. After all, they’re all parked on sidewalks and it doesn’t take much of a stretch to see why motorists approach cyclists on some streets with the understanding that there’s a preference for them since cars are valued highly enough to warrant on-street parking. Bikes? Not so much.
In addition to the powerful visual they provide there are numerous reasons for business districts and nodes to support the removal of one car space for a bike corral that can accommodate many times more customers per spot. Minneapolis could, for a rather small price tag catch up with PDX, but why settle there when for $300,000, the amount a city in the middle of Ohio was willing to spend on bike parking in one year, we can spend the same much more wisely and shoot way ahead of the competition and be the first to see how much of a positive impact a critical mass of on-street bike parking will have on the city. Sounds perfectly doable to me.
20 blocks of Lyndale closed off to motorized traffic: great stuff.
Short video here.
Digging deeper, it becomes more apparent that Minneapolis shares more with cities on the coasts like Portland, which has a similar number of highly walkable neighborhoods and until recently was repeatedly ranked as the #1 bike-friendly city in the USA by Bicycling Magazine. Coming from another Midwestern city that only has a tiny fraction of the cycling infrastructure that is found here, imagine how pleased I was that two new bike boulevards (low traffic, calmed streets which are shared with cars but geared towards bikes) were being finished near my new apartment in NE. As a cyclist who had braved winter cycling for a few years it was extra nice to be able to ride as much as I have without lots of snow and ice to dissuade me for my first Minnesota “winter”.
Other large Midwestern cities fail hard in this department save for Chicago (10th). Appearances on the list ranged from so-so to shameful: Milwaukee (26th), Kansas City (33rd), Columbus (34th), St. Louis (38th), Cleveland (39), Omaha (42nd), Indianapolis (45th), and Cincinnati which somehow didn’t even place.
While Minneapolis is comparable to cities on the coast as far as walkability, it excels over most including NYC where cyclists get ticketed if they choose to not use a bike lane where they are available (I’m sure everyone has seen that Youtube video) and Chicago which is lagging behind and whose residents would like see the city emulate Minneapolis. Other Midwestern cities, *sigh*, they’re once again fitting the stereotype of being behind the times when it comes to delivering amenities for quality, everyday urban living. Minneapolis currently offers a wide variety of biking infrastructure that covers a lot of ground and will hopefully work hard to stay at the forefront of making it easy to get everywhere you need to go by bike and increase the number of riders out there.
Chicago has long been thought of as the only ¨real¨city in the Midwest: that sprawling region between the western frontier of Denver and the east coast outpost of Pittsburgh. Walkscore has its problems to be sure, but its current methods do rank NYC, San Francisco, & Chicago in the top five most walkable American cities, with Minneapolis in 9th place out of the top ten. The average urbanite probably didn’t expect any other city outside of Chicago to come close and for the most part they’d be right (Chicago alone has over 100 neighborhoods that rank as “very walkable”). After Minneapolis the next highest ranking Midwestern city is Milwaukee which trails at 15th place.
While Walkscore isn’t perfect, you can add up the number of “very walkable” urban neighborhoods (ranked anywhere from 70-100). After all, isn’t the number of walkable urban neighborhoods what people are looking for if they’re looking for urban living? From the ones listed I subtracted “city” neighborhoods that depend on dense suburban developments for a high score, particularly in cities that have annexed like crazy (see Columbus, Indianapolis, and Kansas City). Then on top of that I subtracted realtor-oriented labels which divide a single neighborhood (see Old North Columbus in Columbus, OH for a good example) into many subdivided ones which only give the illusion of more walkable neighborhoods than there actually are (in Old North Columbus’ case one walkable neighborhood’s boundaries were divided into five: Old North Columbus, North Campus, Indiana Forest, Glen Echo, and Iuka Ravine). For some cities you have to dig up the walkability of neighborhoods since some cities themselves don’t value their neighborhoods enough to define them: Indianapolis and Omaha are the worst offenders where Walkscore had to resort to zip code boundaries and others like Columbus allow realtors to over-zealously subdivide and name areas ad nauseum, so here are total approximate numbers of walkable neighborhoods in other similarly sized Midwestern cities with a population of at least 300,000 or higher:
- Minneapolis – 36
- Milwaukee – 25
- St. Louis – 18
- Kansas City – 18
- Columbus – 15
- Cincinnati – 11
- Cleveland – 7
- Detroit – 8
- Omaha – 5
- Indianapolis – 5
As you can see, Minneapolis is in a league of its own with Milwaukee coming in at a pretty distant, but respectable 2nd and from there you get around half the neighborhoods that offer the walkable urban amenities that Minneapolis does: if you’re lucky. It’s rather surprising that other Midwestern cities are looking to cities outside of the region, from Portland to Austin to Charlotte, when there’s a very successful model to follow right in their backyard. When one city has well over a dozen as many walkable neighborhoods than all of the others in the Midwest, and isn’t Chicago, there might be some lessons that can and should be learned in other Midwestern cities.
I’ve come to notice at least a couple of neighborhood/district-centric bike racks around the city. Above is one kind found throughout Eat Street in South Minneapolis to accompany the several banners lining the lamp posts. I’ve also seen some Standish-Ericsson ones, which are useful since some neighborhood names like that one don’t exactly roll off the tongue. I’d like to see these become more common practice to help better define “place” in our many, varied neighborhoods and business districts.
Northeast is a great neighborhood and I like my little corner bordering Lowry Ave. Lowry apparently had more life in it not to long ago. I had no idea the empty Little Jack’s Steakhouse had previously been bought by a Korean owner who added Korean items to the old-school steakhouse menu: except that it closed. You mean I could have had hot Korean noodle soups just a short walk away in the winter? Dammit. Unfortunately, like most of the few commercial spaces available on and near Lowry it now sits empty with no signs of a new incarnation anytime soon.
Other streets with a commercial presence such as 13th and Marshall have pretty much been filled up with plenty of places to eat, hangout, and shop, so now that Psycho Suzi’s has moved south leaving an empty structure , Little Jack’s having closed, the furniture place closed in the 648 building, well, you get the picture: not much doin’ here. There are a couple of dive bars (Tony Jaro’s and NE Palace), a gussied-up sports bar-restaurant (Stanley’s), a couple of liquor stores, a Greek restaurant (Marina), a salon (The Hive), and a tattoo parlor (Live Fast Die Young), but it’s still pretty dead and just a handful more places to add variety (restaurants please) would make it a more lively place worth visiting. Psycho Suzi’s old location certainly proves that you could execute a unique destination concept here, a tiki bar in this case, and attract droves of customers to an area lacking much to do. Too many customers, in fact, is why they had to move to a larger location just a little ways down south.
Just putting this out there since it seems like this part of NE is forgotten and you’ll notice that I also included hotspots within the vicinity to demonstrate the fact that Lowry Ave should not be forgotten since it’s in the company of: Psycho Suzi’s, The Sample Room, Mill City Cafe, Gasthof’s, Jax Cafe and Grumpy’s Bar all just five blocks or less away. So for any entrepreneur(s) who were so moved by my post and convinced by said post that henceforth opens a new destination, say, a Korean restaurant with a liquor license to sell soju (with a sweet happy hour discount), here is a hearty thanks in advance. Thanks!
West Calhoun has a huge missed opportunity near the lakefront of Lake Calhoun where there could be a great little downtown area taking advantage of the lakefront location. Instead, ugly strip-mall development, ironically named Calhoun Village, is the dominant commercial feature which looks like Anywhere, USA rather than a unique, charming village of any sort. In addition to that, patrons of businesses along Lake St have to cross both that and Excelsior Blvd which are heavy traffic streets that cut off easy pedestrian access to the shore.
One good thing is that the dirt lot in the map above is now an urban residential building that rests up against the sidewalk.
To find a nice urban setting you have to skip by this Minneapolis neighborhood on Excelsior and find it just down the road in the suburb of St Louis Park of all places.
In Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, another urban neighborhood located on the periphery of a lake, the commercial buildings form a half moon shape thanks to the main road curving away from the lakefront, with a park across a much less daunting two-lane street.
Notice below that the big parking lot for the community center is hidden away from the dense urban commercial street so that you don’t have a big eyesore and an empty gap when you’re walking by the shops, cafes, and restaurants in a pedestrian-friendly environment. There is also landscaping to help hide the community center’s parking lot from those walking by it on the pedestrian-cyclist path fronting the lake.
Hopefully, the new residential development mentioned earlier is a sign of things to come to make this area a worthy Minneapolis destination that locals and out-of-towners can enjoy. On the bright side, West Calhoun residents made it clear that they want pedestrians and cyclists to be prioritized in their response to the proposed light rail station to be built nearby, which may put enough pressure to raze and rebuild the ugly, car-oriented development. I also agree with them that “West Lake Station” moniker is way too vague of a name and in any case that would just lead to people assuming it’s located in Uptown, so why not just name it after the very neighborhood it’s squarely located in: West Calhoun? And just look at the picture they’re using to portray the neighborhood: it looks like a somewhat dense urban neighborhood from that perspective until you head in and just find strip-mall hell next to those dense buildings. Now that the Southwest LRT station (page 100 of a 17MB pdf) has a finalized location that is far enough away from the existing strip-mall, hopefully we don’t have to wait til the station is actually built for redevelopment to occur that is more respectful and befitting of the choice location next to a lake.
There’s been talk about reintroducing a streetcar system with the first line running along Nicollet and Central. A lot of that talk has been conjecture about what benefits it might have over BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) or the existing bus lines on Nicollet. There’s a good article on development and the lack thereof along the Hiawatha Line from NewUrbanNetwork.com.
Also included are lots of graphics such as this one:
Image from Center for Transit-Oriented Development
So why I am bringing up an article on light-rail in a post about streetcars? Note the stops within Downtown Minneapolis; they are spaced much closer together than the sparsely distributed stations once outside of Downtown. While the Hiawatha Line is by and large a light-rail line, the downtown segment is all but in name a streetcar line. That explains why this stretch has attracted the most development by far such as those numerous blocks of dense residential development on 2nd St in the Warehouse District and Washington Ave in the Mill District. For block-by-block revitalization, streetcars are the way to go, as long as the development opportunities are at least a handful of blocks away or a quarter mile, which the Downtown Hiawatha Streetcar Line proves quite nicely.
While Central in my neck of the woods (NE) will benefit nicely it would be even more interesting to see what the next planned line on W Broadway would do to revitalize this most underutilized business district. That’ll be a long wait though, so in the meantime just hop on the train from Target Field to the Metrodome to see how you like riding the streetcar and be sure to walk around a bit from these downtown stations to check out the new developments that have popped up as a result, including the numerous restaurants and bars that are parts of these developments. Then think about all of the potential similarly being tapped into along other proposed future streetcar routes on Lake, Chicago, University, 4th St SE, Hennepin and N Washington, which certainly have their fair share of parking lots that could be put to better use.
I’m new to Minneapolis, but I’ve already done a decent amount of exploring some neighborhoods. This blog’s objective is mainly to highlight the variety of neighborhoods and what they have to offer. If I have time to offer some suggestions and criticisms on some local urbanism related matters I’ll throw those in too.