We are just over a week into spring, and you know what that means: soaking rains followed by glorious sunshine, trees bursting with color, long walks by the lake and a good, old-fashioned fight over bike lanes.
The season began in earnest Thursday when a couple of representatives from the Minneapolis city staff appeared, a bit sheepishly, before a group of Lyn-Lake business owners to explain the city’s plan to add protected bike lanes to two of south Minneapolis’ most popular east-west corridors.
The additions of bike lanes on 26th and 28th Streets, from I-35W to Hennepin Avenue, is scheduled to be voted on by the City Council May 17, with work to begin this summer. The lanes would presumably reduce traffic on both streets, but they would also eliminate about 100 parking spots — spots now used by residents and people visiting local businesses.
The meeting was called by Larry Ludeman, a board member of the Lyn-Lake Business Association and the Lyn-Lake Parking Committee. As you might imagine, parking is a huge concern for business owners like Ludeman, which is why he was so perplexed that he only learned about the bike lanes recently when he read the neighborhood newspaper.
Rebecca Hughes, a transportation planner with the city, said the bike lanes have been in the works since 2015, and that there have been public meetings to discuss them. Indeed, the city’s website says a public meeting was held Feb. 28, co-hosted by the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association.
That was news to LHENA’s zoning and planning chairwoman, Saralyn Romanishan, who was at Thursday’s meeting and said that the association’s “participation” was, at best, an afterthought.
“I’m really feeling that we’re being used as a test,” said Romanishan. “We have massive pedestrian problems, and this won’t help.”
Before you assume this was a meeting of those bike-hating gas guzzlers, consider Morgan Luzier, co-founder of Balance Fitness Studio. She is a personal trainer whose résumé includes “accomplished cyclist.”
“Protective bike lanes are amazing,” Luzier said. “You feel like the Queen of Sheba biking in them. The problem here is we as business owners are feeling a little disenfranchised. It feels like a communication breakdown, and people get angry.”
“It’s all B.S.,” said Ludeman. “Nobody was notified.”
A few dozen people at the meeting nodded their heads in agreement.
According to Hughes, 26th Street currently moves 220 bikers, 630 pedestrians and between 3,800 and 6,100 cars per day. Meanwhile, 28th Street supports 340 bikes, 750 pedestrians and 4,300 to 7,000 automobiles per day. Hughes said the purpose of the new bike lanes is to protect the bikers who now use the streets, with an added benefit of slowing traffic.
Hughes also said the city hopes to study whether to make both streets two-way, but the city currently doesn’t have the money to do the research. That prompted many business owners to question the wisdom of paying for bike lanes that may need to be re-engineered in a few years.
John Meegan, owner of Top Shelf on Lyndale and president of the Lyn-Lake Business Association, said the city has a chart that shows who will be affected by bike lanes.
“People who live in the neighborhood or own businesses in the neighborhood are not on that chart,” he said.
“I don’t think anybody here would say we don’t want bike lanes to proliferate,” said Meegan, who added, “It feels like there was no outreach, no attempt to get input” from business owners.
In an e-mail he sent to the city and Hughes, Ludeman said he polled Whittier and Lyn-Lake business owners about the bike lanes, and only one of them knew about them. “In my view [the previous meeting] was only for a select few who were informed about it. It was another box to check before slamming this project upon the community before they knew what was coming.”
Ludeman is not the only person to point out that there are options for bikers nearby.
“Midtown Greenway is one block away,” Ludeman said to me. “Why in the world is a bike path necessary one block away from the Midtown Greenway?”
Hughes said the street lane and Greenway accommodate “different kinds of trips,” whatever that means.
“What I’m seeing is the tail is wagging the dog,” said Ludeman. “There is no concern for the disabled population or the growing elderly population.
“Yes, I believe bicycles are an integral part of our transportation system. However, there is one group that the bike lanes discussion has left out, and that’s people who drive cars. We are still in the majority, yet we have no say in this. I think the whole thing has been rigged.”
The meeting ended with no promises that plans for the bike lanes would change. Some people grabbed a sandwich as they left. Outside, it was unseasonably cold and blustery, but something told you spring was in the air.