It's hard to change beliefs, even when they're outdated or flat-out wrong. This fact was on full display in the Star Tribune's recent article about the Hennepin Avenue reconstruction ("Businesses fear losing parking on Hennepin," April 5). The article interviews people who insist that businesses will be harmed by the loss of on-street parking.
On the face of it, sure, we're all immersed in American-style car culture and we can logically imagine that losing parking spots might hurt business traffic. Experience shows otherwise, however, with study after study proving that loss of parking actually increases business activity where streets are redesigned to welcome people instead of cars, including customers on foot and using wheelchairs, riding bicycles or using transit.
And while all commercial activity benefits from this multimodalism, restaurants in particular walk away with the customer spending prize when protected bicycle lanes make the scene.
A 2020 Portland State University study of 14 commercial corridors in six cities, including Minneapolis, showed the emphatic benefits of prioritizing customers rather than their cars, so much so that, "Even in cases where a motor vehicle travel lane or parking was removed to make room for a bike lane, food sales and employment tended to go up."
The study revealed that Minneapolis' own Central Avenue saw a 52% increase in food sales after bike lanes were installed.
We need not look far to imagine what is possible when we design commercial corridors for all users and transit modes. The transformation of the University of Minnesota's East Bank over the past decade is a fine example of the business and community benefits resulting from prioritizing broader accessibility.
Those who remember Washington Avenue before the arrival of the Green Line likely do so with limited enthusiasm, aside from perhaps some college nostalgia or memories of the long-lost Arby's. Today, however, the East Bank and Stadium Village host light rail stations, dedicated bus lanes, on- and off-street bike facilities, wide sidewalks and usable, inviting pedestrian medians with seating and flowering plants.
Street parking on this section of Washington was largely abandoned and in response drivers simply found other places to park or better ways to get to their destinations. If we trusted the argument presented by some Hennepin Avenue business owners in the article, a massive decline in business should have followed.
Instead, the Washington Avenue corridor is one of the busiest, most attractive and most commercially diverse in the city, featuring numerous restaurants, banks, bars, offices and pharmacies, a hotel, a hospital and a Big Ten University.
National chains mix with local startups. New housing has exploded. Shoppers worry less about speeding cars, as vehicle traffic — if it exists at all — is calm and controlled in a single lane. Accessibility for everyone is the point of this corridor. You don't need to have a car to be welcome here. Instead you can use other modes that happen to also be safe, affordable, healthy, fuel-efficient and climate-friendly.
Hennepin Avenue no longer works. It's dangerous for pedestrians, a slow, painful slog for transit users, congested and stressful for drivers, and frankly pretty awful for bicyclists. People approach it as a gauntlet that they just want to get through. Nothing about this maximizes sales for the businesses that line the avenue.
Imagine instead verdant, wide sidewalks filled with outdoor diners and coffee drinkers, new E Line riders from Edina and Linden Hills hopping off their rapid buses for quick purchases, people of all ages walking to stores from thriving nearby neighborhoods, and a gentle flow of safe and unobtrusive bike "traffic" bringing the avenue to life.
The studies are clear and there's no need for fear: Option 1 will enliven and enhance Hennepin Avenue for everyone.
Mary Morse Marti is founder of HOURCAR and executive director, Move Minneapolis. Twitter: @MaryMorseMarti