Plans for bicycle lanes along E. 38th Street have divided the Longfellow neighborhood, where cyclists eager for a safer route have come head-to-head with Minneapolis business owners and residents worried about losing parking spots.
The project has been in the works since November, and the bike lanes will be added on both sides of the road this summer when 38th Street is resurfaced between Minnehaha Avenue and W. River Parkway. It comes at a time when the city is prioritizing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and is one of nine bike lane projects happening this summer.
About 100 people, most of them Longfellow residents, showed up for a community meeting Tuesday evening to see the final plans. Emotions rose and fell during an hourlong public comment period, when residents talked about everything from harrowing bicycling experiences along busy 38th Street to their fears the neighborhood will lose small businesses if patrons can’t drive to them.
Karen O’Connor, co-owner of Mother Earth Gardens at the intersection of 38th Street and 42nd Avenue, said she’s supportive of bike lanes generally, but her business needs parking. Many customers come from other parts of the city, she said, and make big purchases such as 40-pound bags of soil.
“I know that some people don’t think that we need or deserve free parking on the streets, but the reality is that if you have a small business, that’s what you depend on,” O’Connor said.
In a gesture to small businesses, the final bike lane plans include some short-term parking zones and a loading zone adjacent to Mother Earth Gardens.
For longtime Riverview Theater owner Loren Williams, those concessions won’t make much of a difference.
The 700-seat theater, which charges just a few dollars per ticket, survives by drawing big crowds from all over town, Williams said. For elderly moviegoers, he said, parking on a side street and walking to the theater could be too big a challenge — especially in bad weather.
“There is no accommodation being made for any of the parking here at the theater,” Williams said. “Under a brutal winter, this is going to be very, very difficult.”
Cyclists also are reluctant about the final plans, which will force them to merge in and out of the bike lane to avoid cars in short-term parking spots and the loading zone.
Aaron Berger relies on his bicycle to get around and hopes that, when his son starts kindergarten, they’ll be able to bike to a neighborhood school. Though he said he thinks bike lanes will make 38th Street safer for cyclists, he’s not sure it’ll be safe enough to navigate with his son.
“There’s a lot of risk of interacting with cars,” Berger said. “I think I would probably have to choose a less direct route to avoid that section.”
Why 38th Street?
It’s not clear how many residents support the final plans. Three-quarters of respondents to a Longfellow Community Council survey said they were in favor of bike lanes on 38th Street, but many of the meeting attendees on Tuesday said they never saw the survey. Council Member Andrew Johnson, who represents the area, said his office has gotten a lot of e-mails from Longfellow residents about the bike lanes and about half expressed support.
Many of those opposed to the project have asked why bike lanes couldn’t be added to an adjacent street instead.
City staff looked at other potential corridors for bike lanes in Longfellow, transportation planning and programming manager Nathan Koster told the crowd Tuesday evening. But 38th Street made the most sense because it’s identified in the Bicycle Master Plan, connects to trails and the Blue Line light rail station, and provides a needed east-west connection.
An east-west route through Longfellow is the longest gap in bike lanes in the city, said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. Bike lanes along 38th Street — even with interspersed parking spots — are expected to improve safety and access, he said, adding that his group plans to keep an eye on how the lanes are working once they open.
“This is just paint,” Fawley said. “If for some reason this is not working out well, then other changes can happen.”