A record eight Open Streets events featuring car-free streets will be held in Minneapolis in 2015, and they'll feature three first-time corridors and the first loop circuit.
But as the event is growing, so is the projected hit to taxpayers.
The fifth year of Open Streets will feature a loop route in northeast Minneapolis stretching between Central Avenue NE and NE 2nd Street. Parts of downtown, East Lake Street, and the University of Minnesota area will also get more complex routes that represent a departure from the event's typical segments of straight streets.
Open Streets events shut down a segment of one or more streets to motorized traffic, giving priority to people-powered transport by foot, bike or other wheeled means, such as wheelchairs or skateboards. The first Open Streets event in Minneapolis was held in 2011 on Lyndale Avenue S.
City departments will absorb an estimated $194,007 to put on the events this year, under a plan submitted to a City Council committee this week that drew some council questions Tuesday. That's up from $104,433 spent on six Open Streets events in 2014, a total that was 39 percent over the council-authorized estimate of $75,000.
That spending covers such city costs as signs to control detoured traffic, providing extra police. The estimated city cost is budgeted at an average $24,250 per event, compared with $17,400 in 2014. Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, which runs Open Streets, attributed that to more conservative budgeting, and also to more complex routes.
(Update: City spokesman Casper Hill said that one reason for the higher numbers is that more costs that departments absorbed in their 2014 budgets are being explicitly tracked in their budgets this year, such as event permit fees, food booth permit costs or amplified sournd permits. He said that the more complex routes on Lake Street and northeast Minneapolis require more traffic control workers. The university and downtown routes also involve hooding parking meters, Hill said.)
The coalition separately raises money for arts and music programming at the events by lining up paying sponsors from neighborhood and business associations, individual businesses, and nonprofit organizations.
Fawley justified the city spending by saying that the events build community, promote public health by active living, and allow police staffing the events to build community relations. He said that such events are common in larger cities, and that cities often run them themselves.
Areas that will get Open Streets for the first time are downtown, with a dogleg route connecting the warehouse district with the North Loop, East Lake Street with a detour over the Sabo bike bridge on the Midtown Greenway, and the university area, with a double-dogleg route connecting Dinkytown and Stadium Village.
Council Member Blong Yang noted that the city often makes organizations holding public events pay for city costs. However, Council Member Lisa Bender, a coalition founder, said, "The costs we are using are very minimal compared to the amount of money we spend to subsidize people to drive."
(Update: The city directly subsidizes some promotional events, rather than requiring departments to absorb them in their budgets. For example, the council approved in February sending $1 million to the Downtown Council to stage year-round programs, such as summer fireworks. Yang noted that other events, such as the North Side's Juneteenth celebration, don't get such breaks. He suggested in an interview that a more even-handed policy is needed. "We're picking winners and losers, and I'm not sure that's the right thing," he said.)
As a lame-duck council member in late 2013, Mayor Betsy Hodges offered a budget directive that told three city departments to subsidize Open Streets. Her spokeswoman, Kate Brickman, said that support represents the view that city streets are more than thoroughfares but also destinations.
"Through Open Streets, we choose to both celebrate and re-envision the city street itself as essential community space and a public asset to be enjoyed by all," Brickman said.
The coalition also requested that the city spend $15,000 for a reduced-scope Bike Week this spring, in lieu of federal grant support that helped pay for event costs previously. The event is intended to promote bicycle commuting. Department of Public Works representatives said that the amount will be taken from the budget for more durable pavement markings, which would reduce pedestrian safety markings at about five intersections, a tradeoff that Council Member Linea Palmisano questioned..
The council's Public Works Committee voted in favor of both the Open Streets and Bike Week proposals.
The planned events are Lyndale Avenue S., June 7; northeast Minneapolis, July 12; East Lake Street, Aug. 2; Franklin Avenue, Aug. 16; downtown, Aug. 23; Dinkytown-Stadium Village, Sept. 12; Nicollet Avenue S., Sept. 20; and Lowry Avenue N., Sept. 26.
Here are the planned routes: