Lacking Washington Ave. bike racks

Construction of the Green Line created a shortage of bike racks on Washington Avenue.

Chris Iverson

On my way to lunch one afternoon, I looked for the closest bike rack to the restaurant.

I scanned the street, but I noticed there were no bike racks along Washington Avenue. None. Zero.

Since it was lunchtime, I knew it was going to be busy. Bikes were locked to everything possible: sign posts, construction fences, trees, private railings and utility poles.

I even patrolled cross streets for any secure structure to use, but to no avail.

The point of this rant is the lack of bicycle racks on the very busy commercial corridor along Washington Avenue. It seems odd that a multi-modal boulevard with newly widened sidewalks doesn’t house the infrastructure to park a bicycle.

Bike racks are not costly or an unnecessary luxury. The City of Minneapolis makes installing racks an easy and affordable maneuver. It offers a 50/50 program to businesses — the business pays for half of the rack while Big Brother covers the other half. This equates to maybe a few hundred dollars out of businesses’ pockets to add four to eight new spots for bikes. This is pocket change compared to the same number of parking spots.

However, simply adding bike racks may not be so easy. To Hennepin County, which owned the road, Washington Avenue was known as County Road 122. Sandra Cullen, an assistant director in the University of Minnesota’s Parking and Transportation Services department, said Washington Avenue is a city road between Pleasant Street and University Avenue.

Under county ownership, the 50/50 city program wouldn’t directly apply, leaving businesses with the burden of buying bike racks. Business owners may not be aware of the city’s 50/50 program.

To make matters more confusing, the Metropolitan Council, the Twin Cities’ planning agency, led the recent construction of the light rail Green Line, which runs down Washington as well. Cullen said businesses may also have to negotiate with the Met Council to make sure racks are not interfering with train movements or nearby utilities.

Although construction is still technically progressing along the corridor, the intensive, dirt-moving portion is complete in Stadium Village and has been for almost a year. If the construction status of Washington is the reason for the lack of racks, I will give businesses and the public entities the benefit of the doubt.

Cullen said bike rack planning will begin on University property after the Washington Avenue light rail stop opens.

Within Stadium Village, however, the lack of racks is troubling. If simple laziness is found to be the underlying factor, I would like to wag a disappointed finger toward Stadium Village stakeholders.

Individuals who drink the Kool-Aid of urbanism often ridicule the large amount of vehicle parking there is within the city fabric. In an opposite token, racks promote more bicycle traffic, which is a long-term goal of the city. In order to increase livability in the area, small additions like bike parking in front of restaurants and businesses should be a no-brainer. I would encourage the shops along Washington Avenue to proactively seek solutions to the bike rack crisis along the commercial stretch.

At the same time, I would urge all involved public jurisdictions to help mitigate the problem by creating a bike corral — an on-street bike rack — or add more racks on the sidewalks. Together, both the public and private realms can alleviate the demand for bike parking in the area and help me support my lunchtime appetite.