8/9/11 Transportation & Public Works Committee

A couple interesting items from this week’s TPW committee:

  1. 22nd St E (re)construction.

This is not a typical reconstruction as the street was never “built” – it is still an “oiled dirt” street (a bit of a misnomer; I believe these are original dirt streets that used to be covered with oil in the old style but now are patched with asphalt).  Also, in a fun twist on the typical street “reconstruction,” 22nd will follow a new alignment that will reconnect it to Cedar Ave, only 61 years after it was severed in the ill-advised freewayfication of the Cedar-Franklin-Hiawatha intersection.  Here is the layout:

A connection is made

The plan is a vast improvement over the existing street – the narrowed intersection with Snelling banishes the menace of speeding trucks that make the city’s industrial districts so unpleasant.  Right now 22nd St is connected to Cedar Ave with a crumbly staircase; presumably the roadway and sidewalk connections will be a much better option for the many potential users on wheels.

The Project Map included in the committee report omitted two things:  First, a left turn lane on Cedar, which Seward Neighborhood Group and Redesign want here in order to close Minnehaha Ave between Franklin and Cedar.  The city believes that there will be too much traffic in the future to close that road, however, and as far as I know they are planning to reconstruct the intersection with a very similar layout to what is there today.

Ghost ramp

Second, the map is missing a connection from the new 22nd St to the Light Rail Trail.  The existing connection runs on public right-of-way that is being used as parking for some anonymous industry, and consists of a steep curb that is softened by a wood plank.  Sometimes the excitement of the connection is enhanced by repositioning the wood plank in lots of dangerous ways.  Apparently the long-term plan is for the main neighborhood connection to the trail to be at 24th St, but it seems like now may be a good time to add a cheap asphalt ramp or something at 22nd St.

As you can see, the project map is not very detailed.  It’s possible those two omitted items are actually a part of this project.  I couldn’t find any more details on the project page, though, so we’ll have to wait and see.

2.  Lowry Bridge Bike Lanes

There’s a ton of confusion about whether or not there will be bike facilities included on the new Lowry Bridge, despite their inclusion on the Minneapolis Bike Master Plan of 2001.  Apparently 10 years wasn’t enough time for Hennepin County to find time to look at that plan, so they designed the Lowry Bridge without bike facilities (or narrowed the bridge to save money and thereby chucked the bike lanes?  Thanks guys).  Now they say they can find room for lanes or a separated trail somewhere, but the layout dated 8/30/10 included in the TPW committee agenda doesn’t show them.  Maybe the county just hasn’t gotten the new layout to the city, or maybe they didn’t find room yet, or maybe they just told bicycle advocates they’d try to find room and then went upstairs and had a smoke and somebody spoke and they went into a dream.  We’ll know in “Summer 2012” at the latest.

A Bridge Too Many

Once again this week’s TPW committee was packed with items that fascinate me and bore my girlfriend.  I’m going to comment on a couple:

Cedar Ave S Bridge

Blobs to be?

If you want a sample of the byzantine nature of transportation funding in the state of Minnesota, check out the RCA for this project.  Hennepin County is going to widen sidewalks on the bridge that carries Cedar Ave over CR-122 (referred to as Washington Ave SE in the committee agenda; someday I’ll post my rant on Minneapolis’ street naming “system” if I can cut it down to a length that doesn’t crash WordPress), also they’re replacing some streetlights and adding some nice railings.  If I’m reading it right, the only reason the issue is coming before the council is that Hennepin County awarded the city a TOD grant for this project, even though the county will be doing the work (“The project scope has limited implications to the City” according to the RCA).  The county seems to have awarded itself a grant.  Interesting the contortions that need to be made in order to improve the pedestrian environment.

If the project looks familiar, that’s because it first came up as a sweetener for the highway expansion project that Hennepin County submitted to the TIGER program.  It’s heartening that the County took this sweetener seriously enough to pursue it even without “free” money.  The RCA doesn’t mention widening the bridge, but mentions the same sidewalk widths as the TIGER application, implying the plan hasn’t changed.  Also not mentioned is the bridgehead “flaring” depicted in the sketch above; my guess is it won’t be included – the document I took the sketch from lists the flaring as a $750k expense over and above the $1m for widened sidewalks; the RCA lists the project cost as $1m total.

Van White Boulevard

A new place to slither

Pretty much everyone who’s been on Lyndale north of the Bottleneck has wished for another way between Uptown and the Northside.  Our wish will be granted by the Fall of 2012, when a half-mile segment of Van White Boulevard is scheduled to be completed at the cost of $42m per mile.  (Drivers, of course, will still have to contend with the Bottleneck itself, but the more mobile modes will be able to walk or bike through the park and avoid the mess – hopefully long-term plans include some paths through the mansions and up Lowry Hill, but I won’t count on it).

In order to just get this damn road built, they’re probably going to phase the project:  where the long-term plan calls for two bridges over the railroad tracks, each carrying one direction of travel, instead at first only one bridge will be built carrying both directions of travel.  I can’t help but ask the question why, then, they are planning to build two bridges at all.  The Bassett Creek Valley Plan answers that question – the city is planning for a lot of redevelopment in this area (although Hennepin County may throw a monkey wrench in the works).

The plan includes a bike path on the east side in place of the sidewalk.  North of Glenwood, it is a multi-use trail, with 6′ for pedestrians in addition to 10′ of bidirectional bike path; south of Glenwood the ped space disappears.  While I’m not much of a separatist in terms of non-motorized traffic, it seems like they could have designed it to include walking space along the entire segment.  It even looks like they bought enough right-of-way for it; isn’t it just the same old story that a bridge would be designed for twice the projected amount of cars but half the projected amount of pedestrians?

 

Comments galore

I’d be proud – and humbled – if I was able to make a 138-page document out of the comments on one of my blog posts.  But that’s what Don Pflaum did with the comments on his Bicycle Master Plan – the document, which collects email comments and summarizes comments made at public meetings, was posted on the agenda of the 11/30/10 Public Works & Transportation Committee meeting (I don’t think the document is on the Bike Master Plan webpage yet).

You could not pay me to read the whole document.  But I have to admit that I skimmed it and read some of it – mostly because I saw my name, “Alex B,” on the first page, which lists then names of all commenters.  It was a bit surprising to see myself there, because I didn’t remember commenting.  When I’d skimmed to my comment, I was even more surprised:

Hopefully the Cedar Lake Trail reconstruction will find a way to widen the approx. 700 feet east of
the Wirth Pkwy bridge. At about 11 feet for bidirectional bike travel and pedestrians, it’s waaay too
narrow.

Pretty sure I left that as a comment on a blog entry (In Transit maybe?  I can’t find it now).  Maybe I was drunk and submitted it as a comment to the public record, too.  Certainly I’ve said stupider things when I was drunk.

According to my memory, I chose not to comment on the Bike Master Plan because it reminded me of the multitude of plans that Minneapolis has adopted and quickly forgotten.  The only part of the plan that is at all important is the map of designated routes, and that is only important because Public Works policy is to not put bike facilities on any street that isn’t designated in the plan – which is a really stupid policy, not to mention unfair (why isn’t there a map of private auto facilities, and if a street isn’t on that map, then it doesn’t get free parking).  So my comment would have been to designate every street as deserving of some cycle facilities, and also that cycle capital funds should come from property taxes, and I just thought that would be too radical – especially for a farmboy like Pflaum.

Also of note – Hennepin County’s comments to the plan.  I’d quote them here, but for some reason they are saved as a picture rather than text, and that would be too much work.  Anyway, it is always interesting when one level of government comments on another level of government because it makes obvious the ridiculous layering that exists in fragmented regions like ours.  This is actually a great example, because Hennepin County already has a Bicycle Master Plan, and most of the comments deal with the differences between the two plans.  Some highlights:

  • “The County has 156 of its 900 mile bikeway system designated in Minneapolis.”  My understanding is that these are designated miles, rather than existing miles.  Whether they will ever be built is an open question, of course.
  • Washington Ave S from 11th Ave S to 3rd St S – the County has a good point here about how cycle facilities largely duplicate parallel facilities.  Also the County goads the City about “completing the connections necessary to the trail tunnel that was built under the new I-35W bridge south approach to finish this facility.”  Finally, there is a brief mention of the 4th St ramp plan that recently failed to win a TIGER grant.
  • 26th Ave S from Minnehaha to Franklin – It was gratifying to see County support for full lanes here (instead of the sharrows on the plan), as I have advocated for them in this chain of emails:

— On Fri, 8/13/10, Alex Bauman  wrote:

From: Alex Bauman
Subject: Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing
To: James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
Cc: Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, katya@redesigninc.org
Date: Friday, August 13, 2010, 10:45 AM

Thanks, Mr. Grube, for again taking the time to explain and clarify.

Seward Redesign is working on a plan for bike lanes on Franklin Ave E, which I believe would satisfy your requirement for logical termini.  Katya Pilling has agreed to speak with you about that, if you like.  Her contact info is as follows:

Katya Pilling

Associate Director

Redesign, Inc.

2619 E. Franklin Avenue

Minneapolis, MN   55406

612.338.8729

katya@redesigninc.org

Thanks again.

-Alex

— On Thu, 8/5/10, James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us <James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us> wrote:

From: James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us <James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us>
Subject: Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing
To: “Alex Bauman”
Cc: Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Date: Thursday, August 5, 2010, 2:11 PM

Mr. Bauman,
In answer to your questions:
1.  It is possible to re-stripe 26th Avenue S without resurfacing.  We’ve done it before on other streets.
2.  Logical termini are connections to other trails, parks, or something of that order.  For instance when the city is completed with its trail on
Minnehaha, 26th will have logical termini at the Greenway and the Minnehaha trail.  In the past we’ve striped on road shoulders for bike use then
transitioned to bike lanes when we had the termini.  I dislike taking bikers along a formal bike lane only to have it evaporate on them.
Jim Grube

From:    Alex Bauman
To:    James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
Cc:    Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Date:    08/05/2010 12:18 PM
Subject:    Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing

Thanks, Mr. Grube, for your fast and thorough response.  I wonder if you (or
the others copied) can help me by clarifying two things:

1.  Is it possible to re-stripe 26th Ave S without resurfacing?
2.  What is an example of what a logical terminus would look like?

Thanks again for your time and thoughts.

Alex

— On Wed, 8/4/10, James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
<James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us> wrote:

From: James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us <James.Grube@co.hennepin.mn.us>
Subject: Re: 26th Ave S Resurfacing
To: “Alex Bauman”

Cc: Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us,
commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us
Date: Wednesday, August 4, 2010, 3:25 PM

Mr. Bauman,
As the County Engineer, I am responsible for the overlay and striping that
occurred along 26th.  You are correct about 26th being on the city’s bike
plan, and the county’s Complete Streets policy seeking greater modal options
for the citizens.  In this case we did provide the makings of a
connection along 26th between the Greenway and the city’s bike lanes along
Minnehaha and we thought that was okay for now.  To be honest we didn’t
really have much conversation about 26th to the north.  When I looked at it I
noticed parking in the business areas and thought it would be a bit too
hard to get lanes introduced with logical termini this year, and felt the
overlay was needed now.  So in essence we elected to make sure the paving
got done because of need.  In fact, we’ve had similar conversations for other
road segments in the city.  Much as we’d like to be able to get the bike
lanes at the same time as the overlay, we recognize we stripe the roads each
year.  That means we can address the lanes with the city in a coordinated
manner when it makes sense across the city.  I’ll certainly bring the issue up
with city staff and we can discuss how this fits with an overall city
action plan.
Jim Grube

From:    Alex Bauman
To:    Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us,
commissioner.mclaughlin@co.hennepin.mn.us, donald.pflaum@ci.minneapolis.mn.us,
james.grube@co.hennepin.mn.us
Date:    08/04/2010 10:13 AM
Subject:    26th Ave S Resurfacing

Hi,

Can someone explain why 26th Ave S was striped without bike lanes north of the
Midtown Greenway after the recent
resurfacing?

The Minneapolis Bikeways Master Plan of 2001 identifies the whole length of
26th Ave S as a candidate for an on-street
bike lane.  There is certainly room on 26th Ave S, as streets with comparable
widths and traffic volumes currently
include bike lanes (along with, of course, 2 lanes for through automobile
traffic and 2 lanes for automobile parking),
for example 4th Ave N and 2nd St N and S.

In addition, Hennepin County Complete Streets Policy requires facilities for
all road users to be included on all
projects.  I understand that doesn’t necessarily mean bike lanes, but they are
the preferred on-street facility for
cyclists, and could have been accommodated in the case of 26th Ave S.  Can you
explain why they were not striped north
of the Midtown Greenway?

Thanks,

Alex Bauman

  • Sharrows – the County apparently understands that sharrows are bogus, the “only support the use of these types of markings in very limited circumstances.”  But an alternative that is acceptable to the County is “postponing any action until an opportunity occurs” – commonly known as doing nothing.
  • Monolithic gutter pans – this one is worth quoting in full:  “Some additional background may be desirable in relation to the monolithic gutter pan mentioned on page 5-29.  This approach was first proposed in 1994 for University Avenue and 4th Street SE in the vicinity of the University of Minnesota as an outgrowth of a task force involving the city, county, neighborhoods, U of M, and local businesses.”  Everyone loves monolithic gutter pans, right?

You know, the County says some other interesting stuff, but the fact that their comments appear as images in the pdf makes it slow to read, so I’m going to stop now.  Have you had enough anyway?

Burning bright?

Today is a very important day for transit nerds.  Today is the day the USDOT announces its TIGER II grant awards.

We nerds get jazzed up about these grants because they are the embodiment of the transportation system we’ve been whining for:  The criteria for the awards is that projects emphasize livability, sustainability, and safety.

So why did Hennepin County apply for a road-widening project?  That’s what I asked Councilmember Gordon in this email exchange:

— On Tue, 8/31/10, Alex Bauman  wrote:

From: Alex Bauman
Subject: 4th St S ramp to 35W
To: Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, cam@camgordon.org
Date: Tuesday, August 31, 2010, 11:05 AM

Hi,

I saw in your newsletter that you are writing a letter of support for Hennepin County’s 35W widening project.  Please pardon my surprise to learn that a Green Party member is supporting a project that primarily benefits the drivers of single-occupancy vehicles.  Would you mind, when you have a moment, elaborating on your support for this project?  Do you have proof that Hennepin County is pursuing improvements to the pedestrian facilities on the Washington and Cedar Ave bridges?  If so, why was there no TIGER grant application for those projects?  Can you explain how this project will benefit transit users?

Thanks,

Alex Bauman

— On Fri, 9/3/10, Gordon, Cam A. <Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us> wrote:

From: Gordon, Cam A. <Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us>
Subject: FW: County’s Tiger II grant.
To:
Date: Friday, September 3, 2010, 1:28 PM

Alex,

Thank you for your note.  I want to offer you some more information about this. The staff report that is posted on the City Council website has an out of date and incomplete application and perhaps that is part of the problem.

I think I share your basic belief that we should be realigning our transportation system to make transit, bicycling and walking more attractive choices.  That’s why my office has worked so hard on transit projects like the Central Corridor, and pushed for major projects in the ward to be as bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly as possible.

There are several things to understand about the County’s grant application and the context we’re in with the County right now.  First, the County application included three major components:

– A connection between Washington/3rd Ave eastbound and 35W northbound, including an auxiliary lane which will allow Bus Rapid Transit to be implemented on 35W north of downtown.  The 35W bridge was built to be “BRT ready,” and this project actually helps us take a step in that direction.  This would complement transit improvements made on 35W south of downtown Minneapolis and the Marquette and Second project within downtown.

– A Washington Avenue Bridge Pedestrian and Bicycle Enhancement component, which will widen the existing Washington bridge over 35W by seven feet on each side. This new width would be used to widen the existing sidewalks on each side to 10-feet-wide from the existing 8-feet-wide and introduce a new 5-foot-wide bicycle lane on each side of the bridge.  This would be a major bicycle improvement, because this one bridge is the major obstacle to putting bicycle lanes on all of Washington Ave from Seven Corners to Hennepin.

– A Cedar Avenue Bridge Recondition and Pedestrian Enhancement component, which would widen the existing bridge by two feet on each side, effectively widening the existing sidewalk along the west side of the bridge to 10-feet-wide from the existing 8-feet-wide, and widening the existing sidewalk along the east side of the bridge from 8 feet to 12 feet.  This project component will be crucial to pedestrians using the proposed new access to the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit West Bank Station which will have its main vertical circulation from the east side of the bridge.

I am attaching the first few pages of the lengthy application for you to see as well.

[here it is: Tiger II County Grant up to page 5].

Also, the City of Minneapolis has applied for a similar grant to do a comprehensive study of the streetcar corridor that we’ve decided to move forward with first: Central Ave NE from Columbia Heights into downtown, then following Nicollet Ave to at least 38th Street.  I’m a strong proponent of streetcars, and I very much want to be able to move forward on this corridor.  I think it will be so successful that it will transformational; once we have one complete, the next few will be much easier to build, just like we’ve seen with LRT.

I will also note that even the most auto-oriented aspect of their application – the ramp from 3rd onto 35 – will, in my opinion, help nonmotorized transportation elsewhere.  The Washington Ave bridge over 35W is an unpleasant place to be a pedestrian or cyclist during the afternoon/evening peak hours, in large part because most of the people trying to leave downtown in cars onto 35W northbound take the ramp on the northeast side of that bridge.  If we can make a better option for northbound drivers that puts more traffic into a space that is currently off-limits to pedestrians and cyclists (the Washington trench) and takes traffic out of a space that we want to be more pedestrian and bicyclist friendly (Washington through downtown, to Seven Corners) it seems like a good thing to do.  That and the major improvements for peds, bikes and transit – the widened sidewalks and bike lanes on Washington, the really significant widening of the sidewalk connection to the West Bank station on Cedar – make this worth supporting.

I hope this is helpful and that you have been able to read through any and all typos.

Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns. It is helpful for me to hear from you, so please keep it up.
In peace and cooperation,

Cam Gordon

— On Thu, 9/9/10, Alex Bauman  wrote:

From: Alex Bauman
Subject: Re: FW: County’s Tiger II grant.
To: “Cam A.Gordon” <Cam.Gordon@ci.minneapolis.mn.us>
Date: Thursday, September 9, 2010, 9:20 AM

Hi Cam,

Thanks for the additional information.  I was relieved to hear that the pedestrian elements are a part of the TIGER grant application, as I had feared that they would be put off to a vague future date (as with the 26th Ave S bike lanes, for example).  You are completely correct when you describe the Washington Ave bridge as an unpleasant place for pedestrians, and I would add that it and the Cedar Ave bridge also dangerous for pedestrians (in part because crosswalks tend to be the lowest priority for striping).

Unfortunately I cannot share your belief that this project will help non-motorized transportation, as adding capacity has been a discredited method of reducing congestion for decades.  Anthony Downs expressed it best in his theory of triple convergence, and is especially true in areas where growth is expected (such as East Downtown).  The key is what is called “induced demand” or “induced traffic,” the concept that “open roadway encourages existing users to make more car trips, lures drivers away from other routes, and tempts transit riders to return to their automobiles.”  (David Owen, from Green Metropolis)  Most likely both of the ramps to 35W north (from 4th St S and Washington Ave S) will be congested again before long, causing similar dangers and delays for non-motorized traffic as currently exists (although bike lanes will probably help the cyclists).

It is also hard to believe that this project will help public transit – I’m sorry but I was unable to locate anything in the materials you provided indicating BRT would be a component of this project.  BRT has a lot of meanings, but one thing that is almost always included is bus-only lanes, which don’t seem to be a part of this project.  Page 2 of the Grant Application specifies that the “Recommended Project Layout includes a fourth through-lane plus a relocated auxiliary lane” – there is no mention of a bus-only lane, and the document posted by city staff on the council website does not even portray drivable shoulders in this area (the auxiliary lane mentioned is an existing lane between the 4th St SE and Hennepin Ave ramps).  As explained in the paragraph above, induced demand will fill this lane with congestion by SOVs, netting no advantage for transit.  Can you explain how exactly this project would be a step towards BRT?

There are, of course, ways to improve the transit infrastructure in this area in ways that would improve commuting times.  The third lane on Washington Ave, in which parking is banned at peak hours, is much less often congested at peak hours.  It wouldn’t significantly affect capacity to restrict that lane to buses only during the peak hours.  Then the signals on Washington at 35W could be retrofitted to provide a bus-only phase, allowing buses to make a left-hand turn onto 35W, which would create a significant transit advantage.  The buses could use the existing auxiliary lanes and use the University/4th St SE exit, which could be retrofitted to give buses signal priority.  Those buses could stop at this exit, creating an actual BRT system.  The buses could proceed down the auxiliary lane and transfer to the shoulder at 8th St SE, in effect having a continuous lane for the entire trip.  It would cost significantly less than the TIGER proposal and would have a sustainable effect on congestion and commuting patterns.

Sorry for this lengthy email – this is a complex topic.  I really appreciate you taking the time to read and consider my emails and I want to thank you for also providing in-depth responses – that means a lot.  I understand that politics requires sacrifices and I recognize that cyclists and pedestrians will gain something from this project, even if ultimately it will increase the amount of people who drive to downtown Minneapolis and will not help transit (although if I missed something about the BRT, I’d appreciate if you re-explain it).  Thanks again.

-Alex

And now the County’s grant application has been denied.  Frankly, I’m not surprised, as it didn’t meet any of the criteria.  And really, it is a good thing, as this project would have just encouraged automobile dependence for the new denizens of the East Downtown that is yet to be developed.

But it is a sad thing that Minneapolis has missed out on another round of TIGER grants.  If they had gotten their act together and started an Alternatives Analysis on a streetcar line as soon as their streetcar funding study was finished (instead of waiting two years to approve it), we could have been riding the streetcars with Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Tuscon, Dallas and New Orleans, all of whom had streetcar projects funded through the TIGER grants.