Third Avenue will remain a four-lane street throughout downtown Minneapolis after a bid to cut a portion of it to three lanes failed by a single vote at the Minneapolis City Council on Friday.
The question of three or four lanes for a more lightly traveled part of the street between 8th and 12th avenues was the most controversial detail of a 15-block redesign of the street that the council approved for construction this year. Mayor Betsy Hodges proposed the $3 million project last year.
The plan adds bike lanes separated by plastic posts to 3rd Avenue, fulfilling a city bike plan goal for a dedicated north-south pair of bike lanes through downtown. That was not controversial. Neither was adding planters along the sidewalk to make the street more pleasant for pedestrians.
The divisive issue was whether bike lanes should be accommodated by removing the planted medians on the four blocks where traffic volumes drop — preserving four lanes for vehicle traffic — or whether the bike lane space should be gained by cutting the road to one lane in each direction with a turn lane between them. The three-lane option would have kept the medians and shielded the bike lanes with substantial planters.
City staff originally recommended the three-lane option, but switched the recommendation to four lanes after Council Member Lisa Goodman asked for the change based on feedback from the owners of nearby office towers.
Council Members Abdi Warsame, Lisa Goodman, Kevin Reich, Blong Yang, John Quincy, Linea Palmisano and Barbara Johnson voted for the prevailing four-lane option. Voting for the three-lane option were Jacob Frey, Lisa Bender, Cam Gordon, Alondra Cano, Elizabeth Glidden and Andrew Johnson.
Bike advocates supported the three-lane design with planter-protected bike lanes. More than 800 bicyclists ride 3rd Avenue each day without the lanes. “It feels like a mixed victory,” Nick Mason, chairman of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, said of getting bike lanes but not reducing traffic lanes.
A half-dozen landlords of office buildings along the street said they feared increased congestion from a three-lane design, although a traffic analysis said that with mitigation measures the difference for drivers was minimal.
Despite the division, some council members noted it was significant to be debating how to add bicycle lanes instead of debating their need.
“We should be calling this the victory that it is,” Goodman said.