Minneapolis’ network of bike lanes is growing — and not just on side streets.
Many popular commercial corridors, including Hennepin Avenue in Uptown, will eventually cede part of the roadway to designated lanes for bicycles.
It’s the next step toward the city’s vision of streets with fewer cars and more emphasis on bicycles and pedestrians. The changes will come as the city works through millions of dollars in road maintenance projects in the coming years, prioritizing people who walk, bike or take transit as they redesign streets.
The shift, following the city’s adoption of the “Complete Streets” policy in 2016, is already fanning the debate between cyclists, drivers, residents and business owners about safety, traffic congestion and lost parking in front of shops and homes.
But there’s another concern: How can people with disabilities navigate these new streets safely?
“Before, people could deploy their lifts and ramps onto a sidewalk or boulevard — now, they’re deploying them into the street and into the bike lane,” said Margot Imdieke Cross, accessibility specialist at the Minnesota State Council on Disability.
Access is particularly challenging when bike lanes are protected from cars by poles or curbs.
Protected bike lanes are gaining favor in Minneapolis and across the country because they are safer for cyclists.
There are more than 400 such lanes nationwide, up from fewer than 80 in 2011, according to Colorado-based People for Bikes.
In Minneapolis, the plan is to consider adding bicycle infrastructure when streets come up for repair, such as resurfacing or reconstruction.
Minneapolis’ bike lane work is evolving as new designs and practices emerge, said Jenifer Hager, director of transportation planning and programming in public works.
The Federal Highway Administration released a design and planning guide, with input from cities including Minneapolis, for protected bike lanes in 2015, with suggestions for how to preserve accessibility including buffers to accommodate wheelchair lifts and mid-block curb ramps.
“We look to the best practices and the guidance that’s out there in all of our work on designs,” Hager said. “We wouldn’t design a bikeway that wasn’t compatible with pedestrians and accessibility needs — that’s always part of our consideration in our work.”
Imdieke Cross said she’d like to see more accessibility accommodations such as buffers and mid-block curb ramps included in bike lane projects here.
If the city doesn’t provide adequate access, she said, that could be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Access is required by law,” she said. “Bike lanes aren’t.”
‘We’re making it harder’
Parking can also be an issue for people with disabilities. Eight bike lane projects planned for this summer will cut parking spaces to make room for bike lanes, whether they’re protected or just painted on the street.
In the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood in southeast Minneapolis, people living along SE. 8th Street are worried about a new bike lane that will eliminate already scarce parking on one side of the street.
Catherine Conzet said most residents in her 60-unit townhouse complex have designated parking spaces, but there’s a concern that visitors — a nurse caring for an older resident, a guest who uses a walker — will have to park blocks away.
“We’re making it harder than it needs to be for them,” Conzet said. “My mom, who uses a walker, is not going to ride her bike in from the western part of Hennepin County to come visit me.”
Advocates for more bicycle infrastructure say they are sensitive to those concerns.
Bike, walk and roll
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which works with the city on bikeway projects, announced June 1 that it has broadened its mission to “biking, walking and rolling” as Our Streets Minneapolis.
“When we think about street safety, we’re definitely thinking about access and safety for people with disabilities, as well as other people walking around,” said Executive Director Ethan Fawley. “Part of what motivated this change was also recognition that there’s a lot of commonality in some ways, but a real need for collaboration and coordination and working together.”
Minneapolis’ Complete Streets Policy prioritizes access for pedestrians and people with disabilities over bicyclists, transit users and drivers.
That’s unique nationally, said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition.
Some people with disabilities, like Val Escher, are excited about plans for more bike lanes.
Escher was born with a condition that affects her mobility, mostly in her arms, hands and feet.
Depending how she’s feeling on a given day, the south Minneapolis resident might drive, walk, use a wheelchair or ride one of her customized bicycles.
She prefers protected bike lanes and designated spaces like the Midtown Greenway, where she feels safe biking or using a wheelchair.
She wants to see more bicycle infrastructure and alternatives to cars, similar to what she’s seen on her travels in Europe.
“I firmly feel like we can all work together on this,” Escher said. “We have a lot of really smart people here. We should be able to figure this out.”