Proposed downtown bike route would provide green corridor for riders

For a city full of parks and lakes, Minneapolis does not have an especially green downtown. A new proposal for 3rd Avenue South aims to improve that while also providing safer conditions for bicyclists traveling north-south. If the proposed redesign of 3rd Avenue — from 1st to 16th Street — is approved by the City Council, 10 percent more green will be added to the corridor in the form of medians and planters some of which will form a barrier between people on bikes and passing cars.

Third Avenue is part of the new protected bikeways network plan, which calls for 48 miles of protected bike lanes, many of them in the next five years. One of the goals of this new protected bikeways networ is to make sure people can access downtown on a bike, according to Matthew Drydahl, the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. “Third Avenue became a priority because of the lack of [north-south] connections across the core part of downtown and because it provides access to the downtown from the river and Northeast,” he said.

With the exception of the new curb-protected protected bike lanes on Oak Street, white flexible posts are used as the barrier between bikes and cars on Minneapolis protected bike lanes. Part of what makes this redesign so exciting is that more substantial concrete planters have been proposed as the barrier on significant sections of the corridor.

Katie Tharp is a downtown worker who sees the redesign opening the door to increased bike commuting by making it more comfortable for the people who tell her they would also like to bike commute but are uncomfortable riding in traffic. “You shouldn’t have to ask yourself, ‘how much fear am I willing to experience?’ in order to ride a bike. Biking should be for everyone, young and old people included,” Tharp said.

While Tharp is already a year-round bike commuter, she said a redesigned 3rd Avenue would make her feel more comfortable biking downtown with her 1-year old son, something she does not currently do but feels is important to his development. “I want my son to be confident and grow into his independence, and I think biking is a good way to do that,” Tharp said.

Josie Shardlow is a resident of Stevens Square who finds 3rd Avenue uncomfortable on a bike or behind the wheel.  “I’m scared about hitting a biker because it is so heavily used, and on a bike, I feel like the cars in downtown are all in a hurry,” she said.  It’s possible the redesigned street will benefit both people on bikes and people behind the wheel.  A 2014 report “Lessons from the Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes in the U.S.” by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities found more than half of drivers reported the behavior of both people on bikes and people driving was more predictable after protected bike lanes were added.

Predictable behavior is certainly a good thing on a multimodal street but it’s not all that is needed. Despite the destinations drawing locals and visitors to 3rd Avenue — including the Federal Courthouse, Minneapolis City Hall, Hennepin County Government Center and the Minneapolis Convention Center — the street lacks character and unity. “Right now, the convention center is kind of in a no man’s land,” Shardlow said. There’s the  Minneapolis Institute of Arts just down the street and plenty of other attractions in the neighborhoods further south. Shardlow is hoping planners will not stop with this project but think long-term about connections.

Indeed Drydahl said, “We hope to explore options further south.”

For now though the City Council will soon be considering this first step. If you have a perspective, please reach out to your Council member today.

Annie Van Cleve is a freelance writer, blogger and volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. 

FYI: For more details on the proposed 3rd Avenue redesign, go to http://www.minneapolismn.gov/cip/future/WCMS1P-150686