Minneapolis, a city known for its bike lanes, now officially has a “complete streets” policy saying that walkers, cyclists and drivers should be considered in street design.

The city is far from the first to join the movement — some 950 cities nationally already have adopted such policies, including many Twin Cities-area suburbs. But when the City Council approved the policy Friday, Minneapolis took it a step further than most, giving priority to pedestrians, followed by cyclists and transit riders and, finally, drivers.

“The hierarchy is unique,” said Emiko Atherton, director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, which advocates for the adoption of street policies that recognize all users. Only a few cities have set priorities among users, she said.

Should drivers worry? The policy specifies that all modes of transportation need to have acceptable service levels, including motorized traffic. Some streets eventually might lose a lane or the lanes might be narrower to accommodate wider sidewalks or bike lanes. The new policy also tries to foster more inviting elements along streets, such as trees and other landscaping, transit shelters, lighting, signs and bike parking.

The policy will apply to all city transportation projects and guide capital spending. It also will be used in review of private development for factors such as how it affects sidewalks and greening of the right of way, said Nathan Koster, the city’s lead transportation planner for the policy.

The city’s Department of Public Works is developing a checklist to guide planning for road projects toward considering all users, and the policy encourages road designers to seek exemptions from state standards to help achieve the plan’s priorities.

Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, praised the new policy for giving priority to walking, biking and transit. “We’re going to put those modes that have been underinvested in to the fore,” he said.

The policy states that the safety of the most vulnerable users of a street should get the highest priority and that those uses also contribute to public health and a cleaner environment.

The new policy comes as the council has approved a long-term program to devote at least $22 million more annually to street paving; it is also hiring a new public works director.

“It’s really a foundational thing that’s going to serve the city well going forward, and it couldn’t come at a better time,” Fawley said.

 

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