Prime parking spots outside a handful of Minneapolis business have been transformed into tiny, portable public parks -- complete with tables, chairs and plants.
The city's first three "parklets" made their official debut Tuesday, as three council members checked out purple tables and chairs parked in front of Juxtaposition Arts and Urban Homeworks at 2007 Emerson Ave. N.
Council Member Lisa Bender said the city's goal is to create places along commercial stretches where people feel comfortable gathering and chatting with their neighbors. The spaces are hosted by businesses, but open to the public. Other cities, including San Francisco and New York, have installed dozens of them.
"Parklets are a really simple, but extraordinary way to transform public space," Bender said.
Minneapolis' other parklets are located at 212 Third Ave. N., hosted by Martin Patrick 3 and Transwestern, at the Colonial Warehouse, and at 2451 Nicollet Ave. S., in front of Spyhouse Coffee. They'll remain on the streets through October, packed up for winter, and reassembled in the spring.
It looks handsome on the outside, but let developers into the onetime luxury apartment building at 628 E. Franklin Av, and they shy away from taking on this rehab project.
The job of making the gutted 1904 building habitable again for the first time in 18 years attracted only one offer when the city asked developers for proposals. That offer will likely be rejected because it doesn't meet the city's financial terms, according to Cherie Shoquist, a city project coordinator.
But she said the city hasn't given up hope for bringing the hard-luck building it owns back to life, although she was surprised there wasn't more interest.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful building that we thought the time was right for," she said.
One reason she's still optimistic is that one contractor might have bid on the project but for a cash-flow crunch caused by a delay in closing on the sale of a duplex he's selling. Charlie Browning said he's not surprised others shied away.
“There’s not a whole lot of people like myself that are ambitious about restoration work," he said. "When you walk in there and see a few dead pigeons and a dead hawk and you don’t have a vision.it's a little intimidating.”
The structure was built as luxury apartments, but has fallen since on hard times. It sits not far from the 5th Avenue S. freeway entrance, between the major commuting routes of Portland and Park avenues.
The city in essence bought the building in 2012 from the Sabri family trust after Azzam Sabri, the building’s most recent owner, died of cancer in 2011. The purchase went through the Twin Cities Community Land Bank as an intermediary. Sabri got the building after a court fight with previous owner Jason Geschwind, to whom he provided financing.
The development agency insisted that he follow through with Geschwind’s commitment to create condos. Sabri wanted to switch to commercial reuse, but ignored the city’s requests for details on financing, marketing and other specifics.
It's looking like W. 29th Street may look considerably different in Uptown if the city can find added money to make that happen.
Council Member Lisa Bender has focused attention on a potholed six-block section of the side street one block north of Lake Street, and the city has $750,000 set aside in 2016 to start work.
But the design liked best by area residents likely could cost closer to $2 million.
That's because the top option among about 30 people attending a presentation of design alternatives was a woonerf. That's a traffic-calming street, popular in parts of Europe, that uses street obstacles such as curbing, planters or throating to discourage and slow traffic. They're considered pedestrian-friendly.
Creating a one-way street without parking got almost no support, but there was more liking for a one-way with parking, especially in the westernmost blocks of 29th west of Colfax Avenue. But the woonerf option got the biggest support, especially if it encourages active street life.
Creating a woonerf will involve more curbing than other options, plus outlays for other appurtenances to slow traffic. One option discussed was flexible use of the street in which obstacles like planters could be rolled in during period when activities such as a farmers' market or street fair are planned, but also be moved to allow more car access.
But creation of more amenities will also require more money and neighborhood buy-in to help program the space, cautioned Don Pflaum, a transportation planner. That could entail seeking outside grants for alternative transportation projects. Lighting and curbs would be assessed.
Bender said the design preference of the crowd reinforces the area's interest in a flexible street. "Now we have to figure out how to make that happen," she added.
The section under discussion exempts the block between Dupont and Emerson avenues because that's been vacated for use by the Cub grocery store.
(Photo above: One example of a woonerf in Trondheim, Norway.)
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.
Minneapolis stands a good bet to get its lengthiest protected bike lane by far with both concept designs unveiled for a paired set of one-way crosstown streets proposing physically separated lanes between cars and bikes.
The designs for next year’s planned repaving of E. 26th and 28th Streets differ mainly in whether each street gets a one-way protected bike lane or whether a two-way lane is installed on 26th. Both rely on drivers giving up one of their current lanes.
The designs presented to the community Wednesday night are intended to slow speeders and to better protect people on foot and bikes. Bikers now largely eschew the twin streets in favor of the Midtown Greenway and residential streets, according to traffic counts.
“These streets are dangerous and we need safety improvements immediately,” said Council Member Alondra Cano, who represents the area slated to see repaving next year. A four-year-old pedestrian was killed by a car along 26th near Stewart Park two years ago at twilight.
The initial work next year would happen between Interstate 35W and Hiawatha Avenue. But it’s likely to influence any future repaving of the twin one-way streets as far west as Hennepin Avenue, according to transportation planners.
Protected bike lanes use curbs, metal bollards, parked cars, plastic pipes or planters to separate driving and biking lanes. They're the third generation of on-road bike lanes to be introduced in Minneapolis after the initial narrow painted lanes, and later buffered painted lanes about the width of a car lane.
The city’s first protected bike lane is a mere six blocks along 1st Avenue. N. downtown. Construction of a two-way set of protected lanes is expected any week now on an eight-block section of W. 36th St. east of Lake Calhoun. But the work on 26th and 28th would encompass more than 20 blocks.
The potential protected lanes on 26th and 28th are still some distance from a certainty. Jon Wertjes, the city’s traffic director, said the next step is to factor in public feedback on the alternatives and put them through analysis of their impact on motorized traffic and cost.
Then things get political, since the City Council ultimately would approve layout changes, as well approve outside funding that Wertjes said would be necessary to pay the cost of bike lanes that are much costlier than extra-wide painted lanes, such as those installed when Portland and Park avenues were narrowed to two traffic lanes.
The city has earmarked $400,000 in 2015 to make biking or pedestrian improvements on the two streets when it strips a layer of old asphalt and repaves 26th while adding a thin layer of tar and rock chips to resurface 28th. Among the potential improvements for people on foot are intersection bumpouts to reduce the time and distance needed to cross the streets, and concrete islands to give them a refuge partway across a street.
But it’s the proposed reduction in the number of lanes that’s likely to provoke a backlash from some drivers. Wertjes acknowledged that people who like to drive at more than the posted speed limit of 30 miles an hour “are going to be sorely disappointed” by the design concepts.
If a protected bike lane is added to each street, they would shrink in the Hiawatha-35W section from three continuous traffic lanes to two lanes, although a third lane would be available for intermittent stretches, subject to turn lane and parking needs. That’s also true on 26th if a two-way bike lane was added there, but 28th would maintain its current number of lanes under that scenario.
“This has a variety of positive impacts,” said Jose Luis Villasenor, who lives between 26th and 28th in the Phillips community. He said he hesitates to bike on the two streets with his three boys in a trailer and child seat. He said the proposed designs make the streets safer and promote biking among the area’s minority residents.
Why does 26th get the two-way bike lanes in that proposal? Wertjes said one factor is that 26th serves some major destinations, including a medical complex and Wells Fargo’s operations in the old Honeywell campus. Another is that 26th is farther than 28th from another major biking facility, the Midtown Greenway.The city is also studying the feasibility of adding protected bike lanes on E. 24th St. or Franklin Avenue.
But the proposed design that installs two-way bike lanes on 26th was found lacking by Ethan Fawley executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, who said 28th should get at least a bike lane. Some bikers attending the open house said they’d like to see a more substantial barrier between cars and bikes than the lightweight plastic tubes the city has used in some spots. Wertjes said that the type of separation haven't been determined.
In the project's web site, comments favoring protecting bike lanes appeared to draw substantially more support than those from people opposing a lane reduction.
(Photos: Above -- the city's first protected bike lane on 1st Avenue N used parked cars to shield bikers; Right -- Another protected lane on the Plymouth Avenue Bridge uses liught plastic pipes to separate bike and driving lanes. No decision on type of separation has been made for 26th and 28th streets.
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