Controversy is brewing in St. Louis Park, where residents are upset over a city proposal to cut down several large trees and eliminate most parking on a short segment of Wooddale Avenue to make way for a bike lane.
Many frustrated residents attended an open house Tuesday and blasted city officials for not listening to their concerns. They said installing a dedicated bike lane between 44th Street on the Edina border and 42½ Street will make Wooddale more dangerous and does not fit with designs for the rest of the Southeast Bikeway.
"This is not a NIMBY matter," said JC Beckstrand, who has lived on Wooddale for 30 years. "We as residents want bicyclists and pedestrians on Wooddale. We are against the extreme nature of the plan."
The Southeast Bikeway would be one of three bike lanes built in 2020 as part of Connect the Park, the west-metro suburb's 10-year plan to add more bikeways, sidewalks and trails. The city's goal is to get more people out of their cars by prioritizing pedestrians, then bicycles and public transit, and lastly, vehicular traffic.
Along the 2½ blocks of Wooddale, parking is now allowed on one side of the street. That space would be allocated for the bike lane. In four places, the city would cut down trees to make space for new parking bays jutting off the road.
Ed Idzorek, a longtime Wooddale Avenue resident and a traffic engineer for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said that design conflicts with the city's overall mission because it would give drivers the appearance of more shoulder room without cars parked along the street. "Wider streets will result in faster traffic," he said, noting traffic already flows above the 30 mph speed limit.
Idzorek said a "sharrow" — a lane bicyclists share with vehicles — would be a better solution and in line with the configuration on nearby 44th Street. Plans for the Southeast Bikeway call for a sharrow as it branches off Wooddale and goes north along Princeton and Quentin avenues.
City engineer Jack Sullivan said city staff is recommending the plan for Wooddale because it is the safest for all users. Wooddale sees 3,200 vehicles a day, or about double the traffic on other streets along the Southeast Bikeway. Based on traffic counts, speeds and the existing width of Wooddale, he said, "a bike lane is the best option if we intend to provide the safest facilities. We don't believe [a shared lane] is the safest facility for Wooddale."
Debra Fisher Goldstein said she worries residents and visitors would have to compete for parking spots under the new configuration — putting people with disabilities at a disadvantage if they have to park farther away.
"We are striving to create community here, with walkable and safe neighborhoods for pedestrians," she said. "Yet in planning our bike paths, we make it cumbersome and sometimes impossible for our seniors and those with special physical challenges to be part of community."
The City Council is expected to vote on the plan in February but it is not a done deal yet, said Council Member Anne Mavity, who represents the southeastern part of the city. She said she is sympathetic to residents' concerns and is considering the effects any decision could have on homeowners and the future of the city.
"We cannot please everybody," she said. "I believe in the system we are trying to create. I use the sidewalk in front of my house, but it's not just for me. We are creating a network."