Hennepin and First Ave - two ways and bike lanes
As part of the Downtown Transportation Action Plan, today the Council approved final layout for a re-striping project to transform Hennepin Ave and First Ave from one-ways to two-ways through downtown. Just as with the Marquette and Second project that began last year, one of the major questions has been about what to do to accommodate bicyclists on the corridor.
Right now, there is a two-way bike facility on Hennepin, between the bus lane and the three travel lanes. Staff’s proposal is to eliminate this bike-only space on Hennepin, creating instead a shared lane for bikes, buses, and right-turning vehicles on every other block. While I think that this will be a good solution for serious, skilled cyclists, I am unconvinced that very many less experienced or “B” level riders will ever use it.
However, the proposal also calls for the creation of a new pair of extremely innovative bike lanes on First and Hawthorne Aves, all the way from 2nd Street N to 11th St N. The lanes will have a special red sealcoat that will help to differentiate them from standard street space. They will run right along the curb. During peak hours, the lane just to the left of the bike lane will be for through traffic, but at night and on the weekend it will become parking, providing a physical barrier between cars and cyclists. Bike boxes – which allow left-turning cyclists to get in front of traffic at red lights - will be provided at intersections with other streets with bike lanes. This facility will be welcoming to newer, or less confident, “B,” riders, and could form the spine of a tremendously important bicycle corridor when connected to the planned bike lane extensions on Hennepin Ave down to Loring Park and across the Henneping Bridge and up into Northeast.
Unfortunately, the current layout does not provide a good way for these less-experienced bikers to get from Hennepin to 1st/Hawthorne, or vice versa. The lane on Hawthorne peters out at 11th, forcing southbound cyclists to use the “A” rider bus/bike/right turner facility on Hennepin for two blocks. Similarly, northbound cyclists would be forced to use the Hennepin shared lanes for a block. Bike boxes won’t be provided, because they are only recommended for intersections between streets with designated bike lanes, and the shared-use Hennepin lanes don’t count as such.
This gap of just two blocks could serve as a barrier to “B” riders using the whole facility, hurting our chances of increasing bike mode share in downtown. So this week, my office worked with Council Member Lilligren to come up with a motion that he moved today with my strong support, directing staff to come back to the Transportation and Public Works committee on February 10th to show their plans for getting “B” riders between the Hennepin and Hawthorne, including the costs for two-way bike lanes on 12th Street N, a one-way street. (Contraflow lanes, though not very common, have been used in other bike-friendly cities around the country including Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Madison, and Cambridge, MA.) The motion passed unanimously. I also remain very interested in pursuing bicycle signalization, possibly actuated by a push button, like many pedestrian signals. I look forward to working with staff to solve these thorny issues to make Hennepin and First a “complete corridor,” accommodating all modes of transit – buses, cars, pedestrians, and bikes.