Penn-ed in

How many bikes will Penn collect?

About 65% of Minneapolis residents have lived in their current dwelling for less than 10 years, according to the Census Bureau.  After 30 years, 89% of the city’s dwellings will have exchanged occupants.  Why then, is the design for a facility that will last for at some 60 years determined by the whims of the immediate neighbors?

This is exemplified by the Penn Ave S reconstruction planning process, which may be about to jettison meaningful bike facilities to placate neighbors’ insatiable demand for parking.  Penn is a test for the freshly-pressed Bike Master Plan, which identifies Penn as a collector bikeway south of 54th St (the reconstruction project extends north to 50th).  The plan does not specify the type of facility needed for collectors, but the implication is that it should be something more than a sharrow or signed route, which many cyclists decry as ineffective.

Bike lanes were squeezed onto even the narrow northern segment of Penn in the initial proposals

The first proposals for Penn included options for bike lanes for the entire length of the project.  Apparently due to concerns about parking at business nodes, bike lane options were nixed, and have now been replaced with an option that would build a two-way cycle track along the westerly sidewalk for the entire project length.  When I saw the cross-section, my mind went to the closest thing we have to this cycle track concept – the hated Hennepin-Lyndale Bottleneck side path.  Reuben has compared it to a side path of the type commonly found in suburban areas and suggested that a better alternative might be a combined bike/ped fully separated facility similar to what exists on St Anthony Pkwy east of Ulysses St NE.  In a comment Shaun Murphy seemed to stick to his guns about the appropriateness of the proposed cycle track, but conceded that “proper treatment at intersections” – i.e. “bike stoplights, colored conflict zones, and raised trail crossings” – “are key”.  In the same breath, however, he says that those details won’t be sketched out unless the cycle track option is chosen, and indeed the published layout of the cycle track option does not include any intersection treatments.

The two-way cycle track option

The City is basically telling cycling advocates to trust them on a potentially substandard design or get nothing.  The alternate option includes bike lanes for two blocks between 60th and 62nd, but otherwise would include no more substantial bike facilities than sharrows.  Notably, both exceed Public Works’ typical design disdain for transit – exemplified by their refusal to include bump-outs at bus stops – by actually including one or two bus bays!  (the anti-bike layout includes one that conflicts with the two-block bike lane; the cycle track layout includes two bays)  This from a city that is supposedly trying to encourage transit use.

Detail of Hennepin County's Bike Plan showing facility on Xerxes/York

There is ample reason to include a high-quality bike facility on Penn.  Little ole Penn may seem like a sleepy little street, but it carries a lot of cars – around 8k/day on the north end and up to 15k/day near Hwy 62.  If they ever hope to collect cyclists on this street, they’re going to need to provide some separation.  As you can see from the excerpted Bike Master Plan map above, Penn is also the only real bikeway going north-south in the area until Bryant almost a mile to the east.  To the west lies Edina, which has designated France as a primary cycling route, which means that lanes are recommended.  But France is a county road, and Hennepin County doesn’t include France as a bikeway on its bike plan, instead designating Xerxes.  Unfortunately, even when jurisdictions agree on something it can be hard to get them to do anything about it, so when they disagree there is even less hope.  Minneapolis has no one to argue with on Penn so it should take advantage of that rare situation to get something done.  Moreover, while Richfield has not yet finished its bike plan, it includes Penn as a candidate route and identified Penn as a “Future Bike Trail” on its comprehensive plan (on the other hand, Penn is also a county road in Richfield, and also not on the county’s bike plan).  Depending on the direction their plan takes, Penn seems likely to be recommended for bike lanes, since its four lane configuration is overkill for the level of traffic it actually sees, north of 77th anyway.  Regardless of what type of facility Richfield chooses for Penn, its usefulness will be diminished if Minneapolis doesn’t include anything on its side of the border.

Last Bridge over the Minnehaha - how's that going to work?

Personally I like cycle tracks, although I prefer one-way cycle tracks along the roadway in each direction.  This segment of Penn is a good candidate for a two-way track, though, because of a number of long blocks on the west side.  However, it makes most sense to coordinate with Richfield, and it seems like it would be difficult or at least expensive for them to continue the facility past the intersection with 66th St, at the northwest corner of which is a parking lot that is a decent height over the roadway, held back by a retaining wall (or was, anyway; I haven’t seen it since they built a CVS in that strip mall).  In addition, the bridges over Hwy 62 and Minnehaha Creek could be considered fatal flaws for a cycle track option; since they won’t be reconstructed bike traffic would have to share the sidewalk with pedestrians at that point.

For these reasons, I think that bike lanes are the best option for Penn Ave S.  It stretches credulity to suggest that there is a parking problem along Penn Ave S; even at the business nodes there is tons of space for parking along the intersecting streets.  None of the nodes stretch more than a few buildings in from the intersection, so there is no room for complaining that customers would have to walk any further than they do in a Wal Mart parking lot.  Perhaps somewhere north of the Minnehaha Creek bridge it could transition to a two-way cycle track, although I can’t imagine how that would work.  Regardless, bike lanes are ideal for the majority of the segment because it’s unlikely a comparable facility will be built in this area for quite some time and because it’s unlikely that a two-way cycle track could be extended very far into Richfield.

But it doesn’t matter what I think – Betsy Hodges’ opinion is what really matters here.  Understandably, she will likely base her opinion largely on the attitude of her constituents (see Linden Corner), but bringing it back to paragraph 1, Penn Ave S will still be here after 89% of those constituents have moved away.  That’s why cities create policy documents – it’s an attempt to steer the conversation a little further out than being uncomfortable parking across the street from your house.  Councilmembers are also policymakers, but in Minneapolis they are allowed to cavalierly ignore the policy they just made, which in this case could easily refer to ignoring the Bike Master Plan by rebuilding Penn without bike facilities.

Don’t let Penn become another Nicollet.  Reach out to your councilmember, copy CM Hodges, remind them of the city that exists outside of a narrow parochial strip of Southwest, the city that wrote the Bike Master Plan, the city that bikes, walks, and doesn’t mind parking across the street from their destination, and the city – not to be too grandiose here – remind them of the city of the future.

6 comments on “Penn-ed in

  1. Reuben says:

    Nice post. I’m really curious to watch this unfold. I also certainly hope for the bike lane option, which doesn’t actually appear to be an option anymore.

    As you alluded to in the post, decisions like this are typically made in stages, and making an early decision about the project based on assumptions of the future decisions can be dangerous business.

    I’ve heard a few people argue that they don’t support a sidepath, but they do support a cycletrack, the difference being how intersections are handled. But… we don’t have any idea what decisions will be made at the intersections until after we’ve put all of our eggs in the “off-street bikeway” basket. I don’t think too many people will be surprised if the hoped-for innovative intersection treatments don’t materialize, leaving us with a standard sidepath. At that point, I wonder if some people will feel like they’d rather have nothing at all than a sidepath, but it will be too late, as the decision will already have been made.

    • Alex says:

      Yeah, the bike lanes aren’t an option, but it doesn’t seem to be because they’re impossible, it’s because parking is the priority. So I think it’s worth asking to bring them back, especially because that priority on parking jeopardizes any bike facilities, if that makes sense.

      I really would like to trust the City when they say they’ll design a cycle track right, because they’re smart people and they mean well. But I go down Hennepin-Lyndale several times a week, so that pretty much overrides any desire I have to trust them.

      • Ethan Fawley says:

        I personally think it is unreasonable to expect final designs on intersections at this point in the process. Time spent making that happen would be time wasted if another option is chosen.

        I agree that a one-way cycle track on both sides would be ideal, but the two-way is a good compromise that allows for parking on one side and keeping most street trees.

        It’s unfair to look to the Loring Greenway as standard for expectation on this design. That was done by totally different people in a different era. I’m ready to give our new bike ped coordinator the benefit of the doubt for at least one project.

        You are definitely spot on that the key is Betsy Hodges and we need her to support the long-term vision and quality of life for our city over the short-term concern of some local residents.

        • Alex says:

          I’m not aware of any significant changes in road design or plowing procedures since 1999 when the sidepath was added to Lyndale/Hennepin, but I do have great respect for Shaun Murphy and I’m confident he will be able to include all intersection treatments that don’t get in the way of parking and plowing. Not sure why those couldn’t be included in the cartoon format of the conceptual layout though – I’d think it would add support for the facility among cyclists but maybe they’re afraid it will build opposition among neighbors. I still think the best argument against a cycle track is that it can’t be extended south into Richfield, but honestly I’ll be happy with any bike facility there, intersection treatments or not. Let’s tell Betsy.

  2. […] Penn-ed in “About 65% of Minneapolis residents have lived in their current dwelling for less than 10 years, according to the Census Bureau.  After 30 years, 89% of the city’s dwellings will have exchanged occupants.  Why then, is the design for a facility that will last for at some 60 years determined by the whims of the immediate neighbors?” […]

  3. […] to this particular project. But in every transportation decision that she’s had any part in, no mode but driving has been advanced in any significant way, so it seems more likely to me that Hodges is just another suburban […]

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