Bicyclists and downtown landlords both say they want greenery and protected bike lanes along 15 blocks of 3rd Avenue S. through downtown Minneapolis, and that’s what they’re likely to get.

But they can’t agree on whether nine blocks of the revamped road should have three lanes or four. The City Council will take up the matter on Tuesday when a committee hears a new proposal favoring a four-lane design.

Council Member Lisa Bender derided the latest proposal as one that will “make yet another unsafe four-lane road.”

But owners of business towers along 3rd are pressing for a consistent four-lane street they say is vital to the health of their properties and downtown.

A $3 million proposal unveiled last fall by the city’s Department of Public Works called for protected bike lanes and added greenery. To do so, it kept four lanes in the northern six blocks of 3rd and axed three of the landscaped medians there. But it reduced the road from four lanes to three — one in each direction, plus a center left-turn lane — in the southern nine blocks. The three-lane design accommodated the new bike lanes without sacrificing two more medians.

Six building owners along 3rd want to keep four lanes, preferring instead to sacrifice the medians paid for by businesses and maintained by assessments on their property. In a letter to City Hall, they noted that their properties have 18,000 workers, are worth $812 million and pay $33 million annually in property taxes.

Steve Kotke, the city’s public works director, said he dropped the three-lane option at the request of Lisa Goodman, the City Council member who represents 12 blocks of the project. Goodman said the design is a compromise: bikers get lanes and four lanes accommodate vehicle traffic. But she’s pained that the medians she championed would be removed. “Usually, you wait until the elected official is dead before you destroy their work,” she said.

The city and the property owners say they’ll add equivalent greenery at the curb or on private property.

Shifting plans

The four-lane proposal upsets the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which is lobbying for the original plan. The revision drops what would have been the city’s first use of floral planters, rather than plastic posts, to separate cyclists. The city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees are both upset that the latest proposal didn’t get their review.

That’s how the property owners felt last fall with the original concept. “Property owners looked at that and said we have a lot of concerns,” said Ted Campbell, who manages Capella Tower for Ryan Companies. The council then asked for more discussion.

Lawyer Tim Keane said he sometimes has to wait two cycles of the stoplight to turn from 3rd toward his parking spot under U.S. Bank Plaza, despite a left-turn lane and left-arrow signal. The four-lane proposal, which drops the turn lane, concerns him. “Having a functional downtown where people can get in and out is vital,” Keane said.

In 2014, an estimated 850 cyclists per day used 3rd Avenue without bike lanes. That number is likely higher now, thanks to Nicollet Mall construction that has displaced 1,300 daily bike trips.

“You’re biking in the gutter, taking your life into your own hands,” said Council Member Jacob Frey, who said he bikes 3rd three or four times daily.

A traffic study found that the three-lane proposal would have increased rush-hour travel time through downtown on 3rd between two and nine minutes, depending on direction and time of day. But other improvements could cut that time to near or below today’s conditions, it said.

“We felt and still feel like it’s manageable,” Kotke said of the three-lane proposal — under normal conditions. But with bad weather or special events, “the businesses are not unfounded to have some concern that three lanes won’t work as well as four lanes.”

 

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