The public will have a chance to weigh in Tuesday on the future design of Washington Avenue, a downtown Minneapolis artery that could soon feature more accommodations for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The city and Hennepin County are embarking on a complete reconstruction of one road segment, between Hennepin Avenue and 5th Avenue S., which was last redone about 50 years ago. The designs generated from the project will also guide future reconstruction of Washington Avenue extending east to Interstate 35W, though there are no immediate plans to tackle that section of the road.
Washington Avenue is an important roadway for the city, particularly since it connects Interstates 35W, 94 and 394. It also provides connections to Mississippi River crossings.
Much of the public comment so far has revolved around greening the corridor and improving the pedestrian realm, said the county’s senior project manager, Jennifer Lowry. “I think everyone agrees that the sidewalks aren’t that appealing in general through the corridor,” Lowry said. Much of the discussion is now centered on the bicycle facilities.
County staff have presented four possible layouts for the reconstruction, which can be viewed at www.startribune.com/a2246. The road currently has six through lanes and one turn lane. Each of the layouts would reduce that to five through lanes and one turn lane, allowing more room for pedestrians, bicyclists and greenery.
Bicycling advocates and others, however, would like to see it reduced to a total of five vehicular lanes. Ethan Fawley, president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, noted that “you get 11 feet … if you were to remove one of those lanes from their proposal. And you can use that space for more trees, public art, beautification, other things that are going to service the downtown area.”
They are simultaneously pushing for a protected bike lane, also known as a cycle track, which is separated from vehicular traffic by curbs or other barriers.
“We strongly prefer a protected bike lane because we know that most people will not feel comfortable biking on a street like Washington Avenue if it’s just a line of paint separating them from moving cars,” Fawley said.
As for the number of traffic lanes, county engineers likely will recommend six. In a 73-page analysis of the roadway, consultants determined that eliminating a westbound travel lane may add two or three minutes to motorists’ travel times during evening rush hours in 2035.
Before the analysis, though, a majority of respondents to a public survey said they would be comfortable sacrificing some commuting time for pedestrian or bicycle improvements.
The total cost of the project is expected to be about $8 million, Lowry said, which will be divided between the county, the city and the state. They hope to begin construction in 2014.