A grassroots group pushing for 24-hour bus lanes on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis is accusing the city of withholding information showing that forcing buses to share lanes with other vehicles would have a negative effect on transit.
An analysis the city's Public Works Department conducted in March found that dynamic bus lanes — which would be dedicated to buses during certain hours and open for parking the rest of the time — would "pose a moderate to high risk" to the $60 million transit project connected to a planned Hennepin Avenue reconstruction.
The analysis became public this week after a resident requested the city's findings and posted them online.
"It confirms what we have known all along," said Katie Jones, a spokesperson for Hennepin for People, a neighborhood group that has pushed for all-day bus lanes. "Public Works has not been fully transparent about the risk to transit, and that is unfair to the City Council and the public to not have information fully available."
Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher denied the group's allegation in an e-mail to council members this week, saying the data were provided to the council and the mayor's office during briefings in May and June. A city spokesperson provided the e-mail in response to a request for comment.
The data were not included in a presentation to the council's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee because bus lane operations did not affect the street layout that the Public Works Department recommended, Anderson Kelliher said in the e-mail.
"Public Works staff do understand the heightened attention on this project and want to assure you that we are operating with utmost integrity," she said.
But Council Member Andrew Johnson, who chairs the public works committee, said the fact that the information wasn't presented to the full committee "raises eyebrows."
"I recognize their concerns," Johnson said of Hennepin for People. "There has to be more than rush-hour dedicated lanes."
The battle over 24-hour bus lanes at the expense of on-street parking has been a sticking point as the city attempts to finalize plans to rebuild Hennepin for the first time in 65 years.
Hennepin is one of the busiest city streets in Minneapolis, carrying 15,000 to 31,000 vehicles, 6,600 transit riders and 220 to 280 bicyclists daily, according to the city.
Metro Transit is planning a bus rapid transit (BRT) line on Hennepin to connect the University of Minnesota with downtown Minneapolis and the Southdale Transit Center in Edina. Construction is set to begin in 2024 and last two years.
All-day bus lanes were part of the project's design from the outset. According to Metro Transit, bus lanes along Hennepin in Uptown are critical to the success of the Metro E Line and the agency's goals of making transit fast and attractive to users.
The project also calls for Hennepin to be slimmed to one travel lane in each direction for vehicular traffic. Bike lanes and wider sidewalks would also be installed, along with other traffic safety measures.
In May, Anderson Kelliher and other city officials proposed the transit lanes be used only during part of the day and be available for on-street parking during off hours. Business owners feared they could lose sales if most on-street spaces were removed and customers were forced to park farther away.
In response to those concerns, city staff pointed to a study that found there are 3,600 parking spaces in surface lots and ramps and on side streets within one block of Hennepin. The Public Works Department said it would create a task force to address parking concerns.
In June, the council approved an amended layout that included new loading zones adjacent to the bus lanes where people would be able to park and make deliveries. Last month, Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed that design and nixed the plan for 24-hour bus lanes.
The council failed to override Frey's veto, which sent the project back to the public works committee. The project is on the agenda for the committee's Thursday meeting.
"It's time to demand transparency and an honest assessment when Hennepin Avenue comes back to committee on Thursday," Hennepin for People said on its website. "This is also about whether decisions at City Hall are made using data or by manipulating what's presented to the public and the elected members of the City Council."