Joe Urban | Sam Newberg, Urbanist

In ‘Da Hood

Dateline: 4:49 pm March 3, 2009 Filed under:

My neighborhood is home to just about every urban issue. We have a little graffiti, some of it gang-related, which we pretty much keep down. We have crazy traffic on our through streets. People move here for the light rail, but don’t want more development near stations. Neighbors generally want more community spaces, more green space, and a community garden. We also take great pride in our local businesses. Typical.

Biking is our biggest issue now. The city, with the help of federal dollars allocated pre-stimulus, is paying to create a cross-city bike trail that will mostly follow 40th Street through my neighborhood. 40th Street is a typical, quiet residential street with many stop signs. It is inherently bikeable for short trips already.

I have documented before that I am an avid biker for recreation and daily errands. Our Mayor, R.T. Rybak, brags that we are second behind Portland in terms of biking. I encourage adding bike capacity and sharing the road with bikes, and this route should be a good addition to the city’s network.

We already have a bike route a little over a mile north, called the Midtown Greenway. It is in an old railraod trench, which is really neat and a nearly non-stop ride across the city. Very popular. We also have a bike route one mile south that meanders along Minnehaha Creek, part of the Grand Rounds, a beautiful, but also pretty quick ride. Even more popular.

So at first I questioned why we are spending tax dollars to create a bike lane on a side street. Those crossing the city already can do so on existing nicer, faster trails. There will be some major road crossings to deal with. And one can already bike on the existing street when making shorter trips. So why improve it? I guess we have the dollars allocated, and this could actually be a way to introduce a lot of really great and innovative bike route solutions to Minneapolis. I say bring it on!

But the kicker is when it must jog south to 42nd Street, a busier street, in order to cross Hiawatha Avenue (State Highway 55), a major four lane highway with 40 MPH speeds and 23,000 vehicles per day (interestingly, the Hiawatha LRT runs parallel alongside Hiawatha with 37,000 daily riders). 42nd Street is a Hennepin County Road, with 9,500 vehicles per day. It was decided that, to avoid a multi-million dollar bridge over Hiawatha at 40th Street (now THAT would be a bridge to nowhere), it must cross at 42nd instead. However, exactly how the trail crosses Hiawatha on 42nd has not yet been resolved either, even with a traffic signal already in place – that is another discussion altogether, but I welcome advice.

The proposal for 42nd Street is for the bike route west of Hiawatha (in my neighborhood) to be one lane in each direction, with a traffic lane in each direction. The street is 40 feet wide from curb to curb, and the county therefore won’t allow parking on both sides, just one.

The bike route only follows 42nd Street for a couple blocks through my neighbohrood, but in doing so it passes a small business node that relies entirely on on-street parking. This node contains, among other things, a favorite neighborhood business, Chris and Rob’s (formerly Joey D’s). They serve Chicago-style hot dogs and fantastic pizza. The walls are decorated with Ditka this and Payton that. You know a place is good if cops hang out there. The only thing being arrested is our appetites!

Chris and Rob’s loses parking on one side of the street in this bike route scenario. That could hurt business, or push people to park around the corner on residential streets. Neighbors won’t like that, which would be unfortunate considering how much Chris and Rob’s reaches out and tries to be a good neighbor.

The irony is this: the city is in the process of revising their retail off-street parking requirements, which implies that businesses would rely more on bike and foot traffic, but really means relying more on on-street parking. Taking away on-street parking would not be wise, in my mind.

Add to that one of the reasons people like our neighborhood and move here is our local businesses. So I cannot in good conscience, personally or as vice-president of my neighborhood board, support a plan that removes on-street parking when that is exactly the thing we are trying as a city to promote. Businesses have a hard enough time staying in existence in our over-regulated city.

Besides, parking on both sides of the street slows traffic naturally.

One glimmer of hope in all of this is the fact that it is Hennepin County just passed a resolution in support of “complete streets.” I’d like to see this section of 42nd Street be a test case for the county’s new resolution. In fact, I’d rather see the bike lane run the entire length of 42nd Street rather than 40th. It is quicker, and I use it when biking because of that very reason.

And so I am on the lookout for examples around the country where two lanes of traffic, two bike lanes and two parking lanes have been accomodated in a 40-foot curb to curb situation, with just under 10,000 vehicles per day. Any help or advice is welcome!

We can achieve balance between cars, bikes, parking, businesses and neighbors. Let’s complete our streets!

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