Update on Minnehaha Ave Reconstruction

Information on Minnehaha Avenue reconstruction project (now delayed one year) from Councilmember Sandy Colvin Roy’s newsletter dated June 6, 2012

Minnehaha Ave – Reconstruction & Change
Hennepin County has determined that it is time to reconstruct Minnehaha Ave, between Lake and 46th streets, to address deteriorating pavement, utility and drainage concerns, and storm water quality conditions. The reconstruction process involves more than replacing the street; curbs and gutters are an essential part of the stormwater handling system, sidewalks and lighting can also be affected and Metro Transit has been consulted about bus operations. The reconstruction of Minnehaha Avenue has been talked about for a while, is now scheduled for the 2015 and 2016 construction seasons. Details about the construction process and timeline are not yet available, but I will insist that county and city staff work with the community to determine how this project can be accomplished with as little disruption as possible. I will keep you as well-informed as possible about the construction plans before and during the project.

Conversations with businesses along the corridor have already begun. The county and city have a number of tools to offer to help ensure that our local businesses will do well, and even thrive, during and after construction. I will also do everything I can to help our businesses succeed. I am also working with the county to ensure that residents – especially property owners on Minnehaha- will get timely answers to any questions they have.

Community meetings in July to Discuss Layout & Design
There are a lot of questions about this project, but issue before us right now is the proposed layout and design. A reconstruction is an opportunity to make some substantial changes. For example, the county has proposed to change the alignment of intersections on the east side, where the avenues now meet Minnehaha at a very wide angle, to something closer to 90 degrees, to improve safety and slow speeding cars. Some have expressed the opinion that this change to the neighborhood would not be welcome because the graceful, unusual alignment is somewhat unique to this neighborhood.

The county has also proposed bump-outs at intersections (like those seen along parkways) and other changes intended to improve pedestrian crossing. While the bump-outs are welcome for many pedestrians, they are a concern for some businesses who worry about a loss of parking. These are just two examples of the different viewpoints in our community about elements in this complicated project. I have called for an opportunity to have everyone to come together to hear from our neighbors and to share ideas and concerns, all in one conversation.

We will hold two meetings in July, to accommodate the large number of people who may be interested; both meetings will cover the same information. Although there may be an open house portion of the meetings where questions can be asked of staff one-to-one, I insisted that there also be a time for a group discussion. I asked that the county have the discussion run by someone experienced in facilitation, someone other than county or city staff or an elected official, in order to have a real conversation about the many decisions that come along with exciting opportunities and challenges that this project brings. When dates of the meetings are known, I will share them in my newsletter and e-democracy.

To preview the layout options (there are 2 different versions showing different bike plans) or read about some of the key features of the proposed layout, visit the county’s project page.

Biking on Minnehaha Avenue
Whenever there is a reconstruction project, the city and county use a “complete street” model to consider how the street and public right of way are serving the needs of all users, including bikes, cars, buses and pedestrians. One issue getting a lot of attention is how best to serve bikers. The county has prepared two concept-level preliminary design layouts for initial evaluation by the public. To read a summary of the differences between the two, visit the county’s project page.

• On-road buffered bike lane concept (pdf 3858 k)
• Two-way cycle track concept (pdf 3216 k)

Hennepin County staff are recommending on-road buffered bike lanes, similar to what is there now, but a buffer space would be reserved between bikes and moving cars. The county is researching possible enhancements that would be more noticeable than just paint on the pavement to mark the bike lane, such as some kind of edge, or a different color or material. The county said that it has recommended the buffered bike lane instead of the alternative cycle-track “due to several factors including but not limited to intersection safety, multi-modal safety, parking impacts, tree impacts, and maintenance responsibilities.” They believe the on-road bike concept best addresses the main causes of crashes in Minneapolis because it “provided good visibility between motorists and bicyclists as bicyclists are traveling in the roadway adjacent to motorists.”

The protected “cycle track” concept is very popular with some people but not everyone is familiar with it yet, and I believe it should be discussed and explored much further. The number of cyclists keeps growing and it’s a great thing for our community and environment. Cycle tracks in other cities have demonstrated increased bike traffic and revenue to businesses along their route, and the increased bike ridership includes riders who would not ride such a busy street if they are right next to the moving traffic. With major reconstruction, we have a rare opportunity to transform this corridor. We need to do it right, in a way that will help our community grow and thrive well into the future. I’m an advocate for adding more cycle-tracks in Minneapolis and I have concerns and questions about the county’s recommendations. I give a lot of deference to the views of engineers but sometimes there is a level of subjectivity in how a recommendation is reached. This question deserves scrutiny and a robust community discussion.

Minnehaha Avenue as a Destination; Pedestrian Lighting
Minnehaha Avenue is no ordinary road. It is a major feature of the Longfellow neighborhood and it connects one of our city’s greatest gems and attractions – Minnehaha Falls Regional Park – to Lake Street, the Grand Rounds and two Greenways. This re-do is an opportunity to make this great street even better. It could be a destination for bike riders and walkers, as well as the many drivers, with more people out interacting with each other, visiting local shops and restaurants.

Part of bringing this vision to life is making this street more friendly for bikers and walkers; pedestrian level lighting will be a big part of that. This project will include new street lights that are designed for pedestrian level lighting, to be paid for by the city instead of adjacent property owners. Working with the TPW Committee, we reviewed the policy and the Council approvedpaying for the new lights when one of our pedestrian corridors is reconstructed. In the past, property owners were asked to decide if they wanted the lights and then they paid the costs. Since our pedestrian corridors have been identified as streets that serve the broader public, it seems logical to fund this citywide goal rather than asking property owners to take on those costs. Now we can ensure lighting that will encourage walking and enhance safety, whenever a project like this is undertaken.

I will continue to keep up communication regarding the status of this project. Please feel free to share your thoughts and concerns with me.