Six-block Washington Ave. makeover to include bike lanes

Kimley-Horn and Associates
The redesigned Washington Ave. will feature the first bicycle lanes separated from vehicles by a curb in Minneapolis.

The first bicycle lanes separated from vehicles by a curb will be part of the new design of Washington Avenue scheduled to be built in 2015 when the street will get an $8 million makeover for the six blocks starting at Hennepin and going east to the end of the depot at 5th Avenue South.

“Today, Washington Avenue is very much a vehicle-oriented corridor and the question was how can we better balance the needs of the Washington Avenue by providing for pedestrians and bikes as well as vehicles,” said Jon Horn, a consultant from Kimley-Horn and Associates, who has worked with Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis on the project.  Washington Avenue is a Hennepin County highway.

Currently that stretch of Washington is 110 feet across, with seven lanes of vehicle traffic and sidewalks on both sides of the street that are 10 to 12 feet wide. There are no dedicated bicycle lanes.

The new configuration will also be 110 feet wide but will have six lanes of vehicle traffic with 20 feet of space in each direction for bicycle lanes, pedestrian sidewalks and green space.

top-view
Kimley-Horn and Associates
The new configuration will also be 110 feet wide but will have six lanes of vehicle traffic with 20 feet of space in each direction for bicycle lanes, pedestrian sidewalks and green space.

Despite the enlarged space for non-vehicle traffic, the width of the sidewalks for pedestrians will decrease from the current 10 to 12 feet to just over 7½ feet.  The new design has 2 feet of curb space, a 5-foot-wide bike path, 6 feet of green space and 7½ feet of sidewalk.

“The sidewalks are going to remain pretty narrow for downtown,” said Scott Engel of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which recommended the City Council vote against the new design based on sidewalk width and the distances pedestrians will have to travel to get across the street.

“The three-lane westbound design will facilitate fast moving traffic and result in wide, dangerous pedestrian crossings,” said the Pedestrian Committee in its resolution asking the City Council to reject the plan.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee advised the Council to accept the design for Washington Avenue.

“It’s a little bit tough for me because I wish we were doing more to address pedestrian concerns,” said Council Member Cam Gordon as the Transportation and Public Works Committee prepared to vote on the matter. “I’m enthusiastically supportative and impressed by the protective bikeway making it onto the plan.”

“We all know we want a walkable city, we want those sidewalks alive and active,” said Gordon, who voted with other committee members to approve the project and direct city staff to continue working with Hennepin County and the advisory committees on detailed designs for the six-block stretch of Washington.

Funding for the project comes from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. 

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by John Mark Lucas on 02/11/2014 - 04:17 pm.

    Still a good deal for pedestrians

    While the article seems to indicate a narrowing of pedestrian spaces from 10-12ft to 7.5 ft, it is actually not that much of a reduction. The current 10-12ft includes the space for street furniture (i.e., parking meters, light poles, street signs etc.), normally 3ft. The revised configurations should have these accommodated within gaps on the 6 ft green space. The full width of 7.5 ft sidewalk would therefore be available for circulation. The other benefit is that adjacent vehicle traffic is now further (13.5 ft) from the active pedestrian area. I too feel that 7.5 ft is too narrow for Downtown where you would expect that three people walking abreast should at least be accommodated, typically 9ft. But for now, I’ll take the small gain and hope that the detailed design provides sections where my wife and I do not have to play chicken with the opposing friendly pedestrian.

  2. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 02/11/2014 - 04:52 pm.

    Bike advocates and pedestrian advocates need to work together

    Awful. It’s sad to see bikers throw pedestrians under the bus. I’ve been an advocate for teaching people ride in bike lanes and on the street. If we need something more protected to attract new bikers then fine, but if bike advocates (and I say this as a daily rider) are going to insist on these protected paths and the point of all of this is to create more dense, bikable and walkable cities, then they owe it to pedestrians to make sure this space is taken from car space, not sidewalk space.

    Additionally, this street makeover ends at Hennepin, when the neighborhood that needs it most is North Loop. All in all, very frustrating.

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 02/11/2014 - 04:57 pm.

    Pedestrians

    As someone who crosses Washington twice daily, albeit a little farther south, let me just lodge a big ol’ complaint about traffic flow. At many crossings you have to hit a button to get an active crosswalk signal, which is a pain if you just missed the window of opportunity as you’re coming up to the light. That means standing out there in the bitter cold waiting for the next cycle to come along or risk crossing without a protected walk. To make matters worse, about a third of the buttons don’t work at all.

    Even if you do get a protected walk signal it’s not long enough for a normal person to get across. I’m young (51), spry, in shape, and have long legs and a quick stride. Typically I can only get 2/3 of the way across before the light starts to cycle. People who are slower…not so much. Hopefully they’ll give us some lovin’ in this design.

  4. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 02/11/2014 - 11:59 pm.

    Wahington Av. foot traffic

    To my observation, Washington Avenue south of Hennepin doesn’t have a great deal of foot traffic. It’s a couple of blocks north of the downtown center and most of the office towers. So perhaps the narrower sidewalks won’t be a problem except for those trying to cross Washington, which already is difficult.

  5. Submitted by Peter Roethke on 02/12/2014 - 07:34 am.

    Mindset

    This design illustrates the inability of decision makers to think outside the auto-centric mindset.

    At various points on the reconstructed avenue, drivers will have the option of choosing between 4 lanes in one direction: (1) a left turn lane, (2) a ‘thru’ lane, (3) another ‘thru’ lane, and (4) a right turn lane. Indeed, the wholly superfluous right turn lanes are even included on stretches of roadway where it is impossible to turn right, such as the westbound stretch parallel to the entire length of the Depot train shed between 3rd Avenue and 5th Avenue. This is all in an attempt to ‘optimize efficient traffic flow’.

    Unfortunately, the optimization of efficient traffic flow is an impossible task. Traffic, like the human brain, the weather, or the economy, is a complex system. It cannot be designed for optimal performance. Induced demand makes a mockery of attempts to eliminate congestion through increased roadway capacity. So-called ‘time savings’ valued in the seconds and projected to accrue to motorists in the 2030’s are ridiculous given the impossibility of modeling into next year, let alone twenty from now. Even were such models accurate, they fail to consider any metric aside from vehicular traffic speed and are therefore inappropriate tools for the task of re-designing Washington Avenue.

    The design of streets is a political decision. It is not a technical or engineering decision. There is no ‘correct’ analysis or formula that will tell us how the street ‘should’ be designed. Let’s stop pretending that there are objective criteria here. Because that pretense belies the reality: that cars currently take priority over people.

  6. Submitted by Janne Flisrand on 02/12/2014 - 09:40 am.

    Better, but sadly not Best Possible

    It’s with mixed feelings I read this. I’m excited about the bikeway, and angry about the sidewalk width — and when I imagine crossing this street with a toddler. I know bike and pedestrian advocates worked together, and worked hard, to make this plan a better one. And, it will be better for everyone.

    However, it still has one MORE car lane than even the engineers doing traffic projections said it needed, while using highly dubious projections about increases in traffic. (They don’t even match actual patterns from the last 10 years.) That Hennepin County engineers were unwilling to work with reality and build what we need, but instead insisted on overbuilding — at the expense of particularly pedestrians — is embarrassing.

    I might also argue that it’s at the expense of future economic development along Washington Avenue. Currently, there’s not much worth walking to along this stretch of Washington, but if we don’t create space for sidewalk cafes, pedestrians, and other interesting things, we’ll never get that. The character of this part of downtown is changing dramatically and rapidly, and this forecloses appealing opportunities for the future.

    (For those worried about traffic congestion along the corridor, note that the freeway entrance to 35 is being moved up a couple blocks, and that will significantly shift traffic patterns away from Washington.)

    I also suspect (but am unsure) whether the sidewalk widths will continue the entire length of Washington, when it gets rebuilt from 5th to 35W. If so, that’s a problem for the current businesses, as there are plenty of places worth walking to down there, and higher numbers of people walking there now. For the sake of our city and neighborhoods (yes, this is a neighborhood!), I hope it isn’t.

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