A Minneapolis city committee on Thursday approved the layout for rebuilding Hennepin Avenue but made no decision on whether to keep dedicated bus lanes open 24 hours a day.
The 5-0 vote by the Public Works and Infrastructure committee calls for reducing the bustling south Minneapolis corridor to one lane in each direction. The plan now goes to the City Council for final approval, presumably at the May 26 meeting.
Under the layout, a large number of curbside parking spots would be removed and the space used for bus lanes, a protected bike lane, wider sidewalks and a center median for most of the corridor to improve safety by limiting left turns between Lake Street and just north of Franklin Avenue.
"The layout is still available to accept a dedicated bus lane" around the clock, said Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the former commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
Scores of supporters for all-day bus lanes jammed council chambers holding signs reading "Don't Delay the Bus" and "No Equity Without Full Time Bus Lanes." Earlier in the week, a grassroots group from the Uptown neighborhood called Hennepin for People staged a rally, and members and supporters have sent more than 20,000 e-mails to city officials urging them to keep all-day bus lanes.
With Thursday's vote approving the layout, 24/7 bus lanes are still possible, but it gives the city a tool to determine how and when the lanes should be used. Parking could be allowed during hours that bus lanes are not in effect, said Allan Klugman, a city traffic engineer.
"We have four years to work on that," he said. "We will absolutely work in collaboration with Metro Transit. We support the E Line and want it to run efficiently."
The Hennepin Avenue project is expected to be undertaken in 2024-26 and is the first time the street will be rebuilt in nearly 65 years. At the same time, Metro Transit is proceeding with plans to bring a bus rapid transit line to Hennepin with service to begin in 2025.
At the start, dedicated bus lanes could be in effect only certain hours, but "it is the intention of the city to transition from dynamic lanes to full-time bus lanes as soon as possible," after construction is complete, Anderson Kelliher said during the committee meeting.
"We are committed to work with the city to come up with an operational strategy," said Metro Transit project manager Katie Roth.
Bus lanes and their hours became a flash point this week after Hennepin for People — with support from the Sierra Club, Move Minnesota and Our Streets Minneapolis — learned the lanes might not operate 24 hours a day. In a letter to the city, Our Streets said dedicated transit lanes will improve mobility, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote equity and economic development.
"To make it work and be successful, 24/7 bus lanes must be included on Day One of the project's opening," said Katie Jones, a spokeswoman for Hennepin for People. "We want good transit in Minneapolis, and that must start in the densest area in the state."
City Council Member Aisha Chughtai, who represents southwest Minneapolis, said she "fully support[s] 24/7 bus lanes."
Chughtai said the lanes "are the single largest tool for racial and economic justice in this reconstruction project," noting that 55% of bus riders are people of color and 64% have an annual household income of less than $35,000.
Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah, who also sits on the committee, said she, too, supports the all-day bus lanes.
"We should have 24/7 bus lanes immediately," she said Thursday.
She said the lanes are important for the many students living along the corridor, "especially when it comes to public safety."
The layout conforms with the city's Transportation Action Plan and Complete Streets policy to reduce the city's carbon footprint and make corridors multimodal, officials said.
Dynamic bus lanes were instituted on Hennepin Avenue in 2019 and "have been very successful," project manager Becca Hughes said. Starting with dynamic bus lanes, she said, "is an attempt for us to be nimble."
Bus lanes have not been the project's only contentious part. Business owners are concerned about losing parking outside their front doors and have vehemently objected. To allay those concerns, the city noted that there are 3,600 parking spaces in surface parking lots and parking ramps and on side streets within one block of Hennepin Avenue.
The city also is crafting a district parking plan to offset the reduction.
By starting with dynamic bus lanes, Klugman said, the city will get an understanding when dedicated lanes are needed. "We have our homework cut out for us," the city traffic engineer said.
Jones, the Hennepin for People spokeswoman, said she wants to see a safe and accessible street for all users.
"All we want is a thriving Hennepin Avenue," she said. And 24/7 bus lanes are a part of that, she said.