With only months to go before the new Lowry Avenue Bridge opens, Minneapolis cyclists are saying the bridge's design still isn't as safe as it could be for bicycles.

Following a series of meetings with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, Hennepin County officials have added five-foot marked bike lanes alongside traffic lanes on the bridge. Cyclists who want to ride at a more leisurely pace can share the wide sidewalks on either side with pedestrians.

"I'm happy with the progress that's been made," said Ethan Fawley, coalition president and a member of Minneapolis' bicycle advisory committee.

But disagreement remains over the addition of dropped curbs, also called slip ramps, that would allow bikes to easily get on or off the sidewalk while riding over the bridge.

Bike proponents say they would make for a safer ride, but others say they would increase the chances of a bike-pedestrian collision on the bridge's sidewalks.

"I don't agree with slip ramps, not because of the cost -- it's a safety factor involved," County Engineer Jim Grube said. "I've asked people to look at this. I think it might make for an abrupt entrance [of a cyclist] among pedestrians." The speed differential between bikes on the roadway and on the sidewalk, he said, "scares me."

Fawley, on the other hand, said cyclists moving off the sidewalk and onto the road at intersections a block or two off the bridge can surprise drivers making turns. The result, he said, can be deadly.

"If something were to go wrong at one of those intersections, we would feel bad forever," he said. "That's why we felt it was important to bring this up and make this the safest bridge for everybody."

The old Lowry Avenue bridge, a steel two-lane structure built in 1905, was judged structurally unsafe in 2008 and demolished a year later. The bridge connects north and northeast Minneapolis over the Mississippi River.

The projected cost of the new bridge, begun in 2010, has escalated from $80 million to $92.7 million. Most of it is covered by the county, along with $37.5 million from the state, $2 million from Minneapolis, $900,000 in federal funds and $200,000 from Xcel Energy.

To save $10 million on the project, the width of the bridge deck was shaved by 10 feet. Suddenly the shoulders for the roadway, which county officials figured could be used for bike lanes, were looking more like ankles.

The road width wouldn't allow for standard six-foot bike lanes on each side. But officials agreed to allow five feet between cars and curb, and to mark the lanes for bikes accordingly.

The bridge is scheduled to open next summer.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455