What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Hennepin-Lyndale bottleneck plan gets initial approval

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: September 9, 2014 - 12:46 PM

A plan to reshape one of Minneapolis' stickiest intersections was approved by a key City Council panel on Tuesday.

The $9 million reconstruction project would reconfigure a number of lanes at the intersection of Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues, allowing more room for bikes and pedestrians as well as making navigation easier for vehicles. The final City Council will vote on it next Friday.

The intersection is among the most important in the city, carrying travelers to and from downtown through a dense neighborhood peppered with local landmarks including the Walker Art Center and several prominent churches.

Currently, pedestrians must currently hop numerous crosswalks to get across the street and also share space with bikes that are whizzing down Lowry Hill on a protected path. The new configuration would create more direct crossings and more separated space.

Staff ultimately selected the second of two options displayed at an open house this summer, which would eliminate one northbound lane and nix some narrow single lanes that carve through medians for drivers wishing to make a turn.

It would also eliminate part of a southbound travel lane below the Walker Arts Center and tighten a curb near Dunwoody Boulevard.

Project Engineer Ole Mersinger said navigational improvements planned for cars mean the elimination of the lanes will not add traffic delays. They are planning on new electronic signage, for example, that will "let people know up front where do you need to be to get where you want to go."

"Pedestrians and bikes need to be more of a priority in this intersection," said council member Lisa Goodman, who represents part of the area. "And they have not been up until now. This has been a thoroughfare for cars for the most part. And bikes and pedestrians ought to watch out. Because if you don’t watch out you could potentially be run over. That situation has to change."

Here's a rendering of what the new path may look like:

Penn Avenue rapid bus line may open sooner

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: September 9, 2014 - 11:23 AM

A transformation of bus service along a north Minneapolis corridor could be constructed earlier than initially anticipated, according to Metro Transit.

The $35 million line would travel 8.6 miles from Brooklyn Center to downtown Minneapolis, primarily along the high-ridership Penn Avenue. It was initially slated to open in 2017, but the delay of a similar project on St. Paul's West 7th Street has bumped it up in the priority list.

Depending on whether a number of existing grants can be redirected and how the community responds, Metro Transit's bus rapid transit manager Charles Carlson said the Penn line could be built in 2016. Carlson presented an update on the line to a Metropolitan Council committee on Monday night.

Unlike bus rapid transit, which traditionally uses dedicated lanes, so-called "arterial" bus rapid transit aims to improve urban bus routes with many features now found at light rail stops. The first Twin Cities line will roll out next year on Snelling Avenue.

The Penn line would include heated shelters, fewer stops, real-time arrival information, traffic signal priority, pre-boarding payment, transit maps and better security at stops. Narrow sidewalks would be widened to accommodate the new amenities and curb "bumpouts" would allow the bus to pick up passengers in its travel lane.

Buses now carry 26 percent of the people traveling on Penn Avenue every day, but comprise just 2 percent of the vehicles, according to Metro Transit. Its importance is only likely to grow with the construction two planned light rail lines nearby: Southwest and Bottineau.

Penn Avenue is also the site of some of the greatest disparities between ridership and transit amenities in the Twin Cities. About 7,000 people ride the No. 19 bus everyday, but Star Tribune analyses have shown there are few bus shelters or benches along the corridor.

"What [bus rapid transit] would do by extending the curbs out and having…space for the infrastructure, is it brings the road’s infrastructure much more in line with the function that transit provides along these roadways," Carlson said.

Metro Transit projects that with the new rapid bus line, ridership could reach 9,000 a day. The local 19 bus would not be eliminated, but would run with reduced frequency.

While the number of stops would be reduced, Carlson said the vast majority of passengers would still be served at their current stops.

Carlson said the ability of passengers to pay before boarding the bus -- such as on light rail -- will reduce the idling time at each stop. The ability to extend some green lights as the bus approaches also helps.

“What contributes to delays is being stopped at red lights and a big one is slow boarding times as a function of fare payment," Carlson said. "So what we’re doing with arterial BRT is going after those biggest sources of delay.”

Most of the funding for the line comes from various federal programs, though state bonding dollars played a key role in funding the first corridor along Snelling Avenue.

Similar bus improvements have already been implemented in several other cities across the country, including Seattle and Kansas City.

Walgreens robbery suspect nabbed

Posted by: Libor Jany Updated: September 8, 2014 - 6:19 PM

A man was arrested earlier today after he allegedly robbed a Walgreens in south Minneapolis and then fled on a city bus, a police spokesman said.

The suspect, whose name and age have not been released, was being questioned by detectives Monday afternoon after being apprehended a few blocks from the pharmacy, at 4547 Hiawatha Av., the spokesman, John Elder, said.

Elder said the robbery occurred sometime before 3 p.m.. when the suspect held up the pharmacy at gunpoint and fled with an "undisclosed amount of goods."

The suspect reportedly tried to make his getaway by hopping on an eastbound Metro Transit bus, but officers caught up to the bus in the area of E. 46th Street and Minnehaha Avenue and took him into custody, Elder said. Criminal charges are expected against the man.

No further information was immediately available.

Southwest opponents to announce lawsuit decision

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: September 5, 2014 - 9:49 AM

A group opposed to running Southwest light rail and freight rail through the Kenilworth corridor plans to hold a news conference Monday -- likely to announce whether they intend to file a lawsuit over the project.

The Lakes and Parks Alliance has previously questioned whether the Minneapolis City Council could legally grant municipal consent to the project without an updated environmental impact statement.

Tom Johnson, an attorney for the group, said last week that the group's board of directors would make a decision on whether to file suit.

The Metropolitan Council, which is planning the $1.6 billion project, say they do not intend to stop design work unless ordered by a judge. More than $40 million has already been spent planning the line.

The news conference will be held at noon at the Hennepin County government center plaza.

Mpls slipping in top bike city rankings

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Parks and recreation, Politics and government, Biking, Urban living Updated: September 4, 2014 - 5:57 PM

Minneapolis is losing its traction among the nation's top bicycling cities, according to the latest biennial ranking from Bicycling magazine.

Minneapolis topped the magazine's list of the 50 most cycling-friendly cities in 2010, shocking the biking world by ranking ahead of biking mecca Portland, Ore. Then it slipped to second behind Portland in 2012.

The latest ranking released this week put Minneapolis at third. We're ahead of Portland (No. 4) but New York and Chicago vaulted ahead of both cities to claim Nos. 1 and 2 respectively.

St. Paul? Try No. 40.

The rankings are following after an analysis of census data and information collected about bike infrastructure by cycling advocacy groups. But there's an emphasis what's happened recently that may work against Minneapolis.

It's been late to the parade on implementing protected bike lanes, the hottest new technique for trying to persuade people to ride instead of drive. New York and Chicago jumped to the top of the list after recently adding miles of such lanes -- in which something more substantial than painted lines separate bikes from drivers.

But the city now has a goal of 30 miles of protected lanes by 2020, with plans to build them yet this fall on W. 36th Street, and possible additions next year on 26th Avenue N. and E. 26th and 28th Streets.  Hennepin County will add them next year on a short stretch of Washington Avenue. Mayor Betsy Hodges recently proposed spending $750,000 next year on protected lanes.

Minneapolis has drawn bike world attention for the Midtown Greenway and Cedar Lake Trail, and was an early adopter of bike-sharing. A federal pilot project pumped millions of dollars into the Twin Cities for pedestrian and biking projects into the city, but that money has largely been spent. And in the magazine's rankings, painted bike lanes are oh so 2012.

The magazine's ratings seem intended to makes sure that biking cities don't rest on their laurels, said Hilary Reeves, spokeswoman for Transit for Livable Communities, which administered the pilot project in the Twin Cities.    

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