Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

A Minnehaha Avenue for All

Dateline: 9:42 pm September 25, 2013 Filed under:

A rebuilt Minnehaha Avenue can be a street that benefits residents and businesses. Another set of public meetings is happening next week, where Hennepin County will present revised designs for the street. One version will contain on-street bicycle lanes (somewhat similar to the current iteration), another a separated cycletrack option. Yet there seems to be a gulf emerging between cyclists and others over which of the two designs for the future of the street. There is a perception that cyclists want the cycletrack and everybody else wants the version with on-street bike lanes. Let’s hope after next week there is a little more agreement over a preferred alternative, since a cyclists-versus-the-world is not a desirable outcome. The insidious issue nobody seems to be discussing is Hennepin County seems to want a street that handles more cars, an alternative I don’t think anyone wants.

There is no reason why cyclists and businesses need to be on opposite sides of this issue. Accessibility is a core aspect of success for retail businesses. Customers need to be able to get to the store, be it on foot, bicycle, transit or by car. I’d argue that a reconstructed street that accommodates an increase cycling should be a win-win for businesses. Assuming car traffic remains static, doesn’t more cyclists passing your store mean more exposure and more potential customers?

Alas, the County believes car volume on Minnehaha will increase by about 25% (from 12,000 to 15,000 vehicles per day in one section). I’ve questioned why this is the case. Is it that the population is forecast to grow by that much, with the new population presumably driving as much as the existing? Or that the new road will be “improved” to accommodate more traffic and people will simply drive more? (They have no formal prediction for cycling or pedestrian increases.)

Ask lots of questions. First of all, question any and all traffic forecasts. Second, a 25% increase in traffic on today’s Minnehaha Avenue may be good for business (more potential customers), even if that creates more congestion (this can be a good thing). A road built to accommodate 25% more traffic may actually be detrimental to business and residents, as it would mean more cars moving faster past businesses and homes. But what if the new road accommodated the same amount of vehicles but 25% more bikes? Wouldn’t that make for a better street? Think about it – no net increase of cars racing by, but more bikes that pose less risk of killing people and create more potential customers for businesses. We cannot widen the street right of way, so the existing space must be used more efficiently. I see a cycletrack as a win-win; better for business, better for residents.

Peter McLaughlin, Gail Dorfman and maybe Linda Higgins are the only county commissioners whose territory is urban in any sense, so it is easy to understand why there may not be enough votes to approve a road that isn’t purely made for the movement of cars (that the Transportation Department and Public Works Facility is located in Medina doesn’t help the mindset for designing an urban street doesn’t help, either). But I’m not sure what the risk is – why should a commissioner representing Orono worry that a street in Minneapolis is built for truly multimodal purposes? The County should be designing roads appropriate for their current context, and for the future, which very likely will involve less driving.

Cyclists aren’t another faction with a narrow vision for exclusive rights to the public realm. They aren’t an abstract blur in spandex hell bent on stopping car traffic. They are young persons, moms, dads, grandparents, business owners, taxpayers, homeowners, renters. In other words, us. Some of us cycle rarely or never, some of us a lot. The fact is cycling is increasing and must be accounted for in future plans.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition isn’t blindly in favor of a cycletrack. In fact, they don’t endorse the current Hennepin County plan for a cycletrack. The bottom line is this. If we rebuild Minnehaha Avenue to accommodate more car traffic, it probably will. If we build it to accommodate more bicycle traffic, it will. Think about what you really want. The one nonnegotiable piece of Hennepin County’s plan is the ability to move cars – everything else is in play, trees, bikes, crosswalks, parking. Worse, adding turn lanes will only encourage more and faster traffic. Simply put, a well-designed cycletrack can add people, traffic and beauty to the street without adding more cars. Tell Hennepin County you really don’t want more car traffic, but rather a better balanced street that is good for all residents and the businesses we frequent. Tell them to show us the good street design we have not yet seen.

Epilogue…at 4PM on Sunday August 11 Open Streets on Minnehaha officially ended and I watched as moving traffic returned to the street. Having wandered the street myself for the previous four hours, riding my bike, walking, playing four-square, drawing in chalk, riding the pop-up cycletrack, speaking with elected officials and those running for office, and meeting some old friends from Belgium (they were dutifully impressed), it was quite humbling to cede the street back to the automobile. Was it all a dream? Minnehaha Avenue is a street, not an expressway. It deserves better.

This was crossposted at

Below – images of Open Streets

IMG_20130811_123612_754 IMG_20130811_125933_874 IMG_20130811_130107_888 IMG_20130811_144125_989 IMG_20130811_150411_831

1 Comment »

  1. Interesting news from the County prior to today’s and Wednesday’s meetings about the corridor –

    Comment by Joe Urban — September 30, 2013 @ 9:33 pm

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