The downtown Minneapolis street that once was to become an Avenue of the Arts is targeted to be a green link for walkers and bikers between the Convention Center and the Mississippi River under a $3 million proposal by Mayor Betsy Hodges.

The proposal would remake about a mile of 3rd Avenue and would remove three of its five signature landscaped medians.

Some of their greenery would be shifted alongside sidewalks. Some road space would be converted to bike lanes — the first ones in the city to be protected by planters that would sit between biker and motorists. The more familiar plastic tubes would mark bike lanes along the rest of the street.

That would create something bikers long have sought: a dedicated north-south bike lane near the heart of downtown.

The Hodges proposal doubles the cost of an earlier, simpler proposal to create a protected bike lane on 3rd.

Her proposal is unusual because it seeks money that public works officials didn’t request. Nor did Hodges tout the proposal in her budget pitch to the City Council.

It still must pass as part of her budget to go ahead next year, and officials concede that there’s lots of negotiating left over technical details. Aide Peter Wagenius said Hodges decided to make the proposal for 3rd Avenue after a revamp of Nicollet Mall didn’t provide better bike space there.

Representatives of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and the Downtown Council both expressed general support although there are details they’d like tweaked. “It certainly is great when greening can serve multiple purposes,” said Ben Shardlow, the Downtown Council’s director of Public Realm Initiatives.

Council Member Jacob Frey represents part of the area and said he generally favors the plan. “The status quo is rough. It’s one of the more heavily traveled streets for both pedestrians and bikes; the sidewalk is struggling, the bike space is nonexistent,” he said. Council Member Lisa Goodman said she thinks there are better north-south routes through downtown but she’ll accede to the wishes of bikers. The city counts an average of 850 bikes daily already on 3rd despite its tight space.

Biggest change: 7th to river

The biggest changes come where the three medians would be removed, between S. 7th Street and the river. Four vehicle lanes would be maintained there, and only plastic posts would separate them from new bike lanes. South of 7th, where there’s less traffic, the medians would be retained, but room for the new planter-protected bike lanes will be made by cutting the street from four through lanes to two, plus turn lanes.

More space for planting is incorporated throughout the project, including low-curbed planting boxes on sidewalks next to the street, movable planters on the walks, and more trees.

The current medians are irrigated and tall enough that their plants generally are protected from road salt, but the new design would bring plantings closer to pedestrians. “I tend to prefer to have green things between me and cars instead of between cars and cars,” said Julia Curran, a member of the city’s pedestrian advisory committee.

Mourning the medians

Goodman lamented the proposal to remove all but two of the medians installed in 2002-2003, for which she raised money from private businesses. That came as newly elected Mayor R.T. Rybak shelved a plan from predecessor Sharon Sayles Belton for an arts avenue on 3rd. Goodman said she thinks Hennepin Avenue would make a better north-south route.

But Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, noted that Hennepin isn’t due for repaving for years. Generally the city tries to coordinate adding bike lanes with street upgrades. Nicollet Mall is out of commission for a renovation, and Marquette and 2nd avenues lacked dedicated bike space because of bus traffic.

“I’m trying to get myself to compromise,” Goodman said. “It’s very unfortunate to have to pit bikes, pedestrians and greening against each other.”


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