Motorists in north Minneapolis have been watching all summer as the city has given Fremont and Emerson avenues a makeover.
Crews have put down new asphalt on Emerson. Curbs have been realigned. Small concrete refuge medians to aid pedestrians have popped up in spots. Soon-to-be protected bike lanes have shifted to the opposite side on both streets, and parking on parts of Emerson and Fremont has moved from the left side of the street to the right.
But the biggest change is that Emerson Avenue has been reduced from two northbound travel lanes to one between Plymouth Avenue to 33rd Avenue N., the same configuration that has been in place on Fremont for a few years.
Drivers have wondered what’s behind the changes on the popular routes that thousands use to get into and out of downtown.
In short, safety and a fortuitous turn of events, says Forrest Hardy, a transportation planner with the city of Minneapolis.
The city’s Public Works Department recommended the realignment and other changes after a study found there were 25 crashes involving pedestrians along the two corridors between 2010 and 2013.
The department already had planned to install protected bike lanes on Fremont and Emerson, where for years cyclists rode next to motor vehicles with no barrier to protect them. Then along came plans for the new bus rapid-transit D-line, which will run along both corridors.
With the high-frequency line coming, planners expect to see more pedestrians in the neighborhood and saw the potential for more conflicts between cyclists and motor vehicles. A redo was in order.
“It was a perfect storm of events,” Hardy said. “We are building and investing in corridors that will see change due to a variety of efforts.”
It also was helped by $1 million in federal money through the Metropolitan Council’s Regional Solicitation grant program. The city is kicking in about $1.76 million.
Curb extensions, also known as bumpouts, have been installed at 16 intersections, including four where crashes involving pedestrians occurred. They are meant to shorten the crossing distance and improve sightlines for pedestrians.
To make the corridor more pedestrian-friendly — and comply with the law — ramps meeting ADA standards have been put in at 17 corners. New audible pedestrian crossing timers have been added at three intersections. Refuge islands were installed at 16th and Fremont, 17th and Emerson and at 29th Avenue on both streets. Those locations have been identified as neighborhood Walking Routes for Youth.
In the coming weeks, plastic posts will be installed to separate traffic from bike lanes and continue the growth of the city’s protected bike lane network, Hardy said. The setup will be similar to what is in place on Plymouth Avenue east of Lyndale Avenue.
Bike lanes were moved to the left side of the street. When they were on the right, they put cyclists in harm’s way when city buses pulled across them to pick up or drop off passengers.
All those changes have taken away a travel lane for Emerson Avenue drivers, and that might bring an unplanned improvement on streets where speeding is a problem: Traffic calming.
“Reducing travel speeds was not the aim of the project,” Hardy said. But, he said, “We are likely to see speed reductions through there.”
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