A big push for protected bikeways begins in Minneapolis this year, with 10 projects planned to add special lanes in the works.

The proposal hitting City Hall this spring would add 30.7 miles of protected bike lanes to city streets by 2020, bringing the total of dedicated bikeways to 44 miles, once other types of recommended off-road bikeways are added. Another 12 miles are proposed for construction after 2020.

"This should grow biking significantly," said Anna Flintoft, a city transportation planner who oversaw a feasibility study of where to install protected bikeways.

Protected bikeways represent a victory for cycling activists and are a gamble that at least $6 million in new taxpayer funding will increase ridership.

The greatest share of the new bikeways will be protected bike lanes, which are dedicated two-way or one-way lanes in the street. Right now, Minneapolis typically separates cyclists from motorists by a buffer strip lined with plastic posts spaced 30 feet apart, but the new plan could include buffers of parked cars, planters or curbs.

Bike activists believe there is a psychological boost from pedaling inside a row of flexible tubes and that will lure more timid commuters who are worried about biking close to traffic.

A number of the proposed protected lanes replace the traditional 5-foot-wide painted lines or wider buffered lanes.

The proposed new biking lanes are concentrated in the city's core. That's because traffic volumes are heavier there and bikers often compete for space with cars at tighter places such as bridges over freeways or railroad tracks or the Mississippi River, Flintoft said.

Core of city is focus

But that focus on the city's core means none of the protected lanes to be completed by 2017 lie north of 26th Avenue N. or south of E. 28th Street. It also delays the conversion of significant north-south routes from painted to protected lanes, such as Portland and Park to the south or Emerson and Fremont avenues to the north.

The draft proposal will be presented in open houses and to the City Council this spring and is expected to be amended into the city's 2011 bike plan by midyear.

The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition supports the draft plan and its concentration on the core, according to Executive Director Ethan Fawley.

"The most cost-efficient way is to create a network that serves a lot of people," he said.

The city's climate action plan seeks 30 miles of protected bike lanes by 2020, a goal advocated by a coalition of bicycle groups.

Besides protected lanes, the proposal also includes recommendations for streets better suited for other ways to handle bikers. Sometimes bike paths are recommended up on the curbs, such as Washington Avenue S.

In areas abutting parks, such as a southern connection between Lake Nokomis and Richfield or one in northeast Minneapolis next to Ridgway Parkway, off-road paved trails are recommended.

The first two years of construction are getting a boost from $1.5 million in city funding proposed by Mayor Betsy Hodges. Other sources of money are being tapped, as well. The Washington Avenue cycle path is a Hennepin County project, and the county is also installing protected lanes behind a 32-inch concrete and metal barrier when its renovates the Franklin Avenue Bridge. An off-road river path leading north from Boom Island Park, also scheduled for 2015, has a $1 million federal grant.

One way the city has been holding down costs is to install protected lanes while resurfacing roads. That is what is planned for E. 26th and 28th streets later this year.

Nothing like this in St.Paul

Minneapolis has 1.7 miles of protected, on-street lanes on the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, part of W. 36th Street near Lake Calhoun and 1st Avenue N. St. Paul has neither protected nor buffered bike lanes. San Francisco has 12 miles of protected lanes.

Those figures don't count the substantial networks of off-street trails in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis has 96 miles of those in its Grand Rounds park trails, the Midtown Greenway, Cedar Lake Trail and other routes.

St. Paul has 74 miles of off-street paths, and a significant new bike route plan is moving toward approval.

Although the cost estimate for protected bikeways recommended through 2020 ranges between $6.4 million and $11.6 million, the city estimates the cost of reconstructing a single mile of major street for general traffic at more than $8 million.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: @brandtstrib