Minneapolis bike advocates say the city made significant progress in 2015 building new protected paths to get more people cycling around the city, but are hopeful for even bigger improvements in coming years.
Not only did the city adopt its first plan for adding protected bike lanes and off-road paths this year, but it also built enough of them this year to keep pace with the goal it set of 30 new miles of the protected routes by 2020.
More than 6 miles of protected bikeways were added in 2015. Some were new parkway paths of the kind that city cyclists long have used. But others are on-street lanes featuring curbing, parked cars or, most commonly, plastic posts for protection in an effort to prompt reluctant cyclists to get on busier roads.
The effort to ramp up the city's mileage of protected lanes got an added boost from a budget proposal by Mayor Betsy Hodges. She wanted to set aside $6 million, which is about 1 percent of the city's capital budget, over the next five years to build the network of protected bikeways.
"If we don't invest, we're going to get behind," said Nick Mason, chairman of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee. "The bar is going up" in other communities, he said.
He pointed out that Minneapolis fell short in its quest to upgrade its bike-friendly community status awarded by the League of American Bicyclists, taking a gold rather than the top level of platinum. When Minneapolis earned a gold rating in 2011, it was one of only 14 such cities; now there are 25. Three cities, including Madison, Wis., have jumped past Minneapolis to the platinum rating in an evaluation.
102 miles of protected lanes
Minneapolis now has 102 miles of protected bike lanes, compared to 81 miles 10 years ago. Most of them are either parkway paths, or specialized off-road routes such as the Midtown Greenway, Cedar Lake Trail or Dinkytown Greenway. But the hot trend among cities has been on-street protected lanes. Minneapolis tripled from 1.7 miles of those lanes entering 2015 to 5.5 miles now. St. Paul has yet to build its first on-street protected bike lane, although it has 79 miles of off-street protected lanes.
The Minneapolis lanes were added to Oak Street SE. between Washington Avenue SE. and E. River Parkway, a short segment near the University of Minnesota where plastic posts, a curb divider and parked cars all are used for protection; Plymouth Avenue/8th Street NE. between Lyndale Avenue N. and University Avenue NE., where the new lanes bookend a previously installed protected lane on the Plymouth Avenue Bridge; and E. 26th and 28th Streets east of Interstate 35W.
The off-street lanes were added along Ridgway Parkway in northeast Minneapolis, two sections of 26th Avenue N. west of W. Broadway Avenue and east of Lyndale Avenue N., and a new trail connecting Lake Nokomis with the Richfield border, part of a regional trail that will eventually extend beyond the Mall of America. But all three are shared-use trails for both pedestrians and bikes.
The city's bike plan amendment prioritized 55 miles of potential protected bikeways, most of them on streets, that could help the city meet its 2020 goal.
In 2016, the start of two key projects should raise the profile of protected bikeways, according to Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
Hennepin County expects to begin work on its reconstruction of Washington Avenue between Hennepin and 5th avenues, which will feature bike lanes above the curb. These cycle tracks are expected to open in fall 2017. Meanwhile, Hodges wants the city to redo 3rd Avenue downtown with a combination of planter-protected and post-protected bike lanes. The county also plans to have barrier-protected bike lanes installed on the Franklin Avenue Bridge by next fall. The city also plans to complete the 26th Avenue N. path between Wirth Parkway and the Mississippi River.
The success of the city's bike lobby in winning new protected bikeways has raised concerns among members of a group that advises the city on pedestrian issues. They lament the lack of similar investment behind the city's pedestrian master plan.
They acknowledge that cyclists have done a better job of organizing themselves to press for improvements.
"It's sexier," panel member Bob Loken said of the biking projects. "We're all pedestrians. It's tough to create a tight-knit culture when everyone does it."