The Hennepin County Board is considering several plans for a five-block section of Washington Avenue, including the development of cycle tracks on the downtown corridor.
We support the third plan before the Board, which involves a cycle track along Washington Avenue between Hennepin Avenue and South Fifth Avenue.
Washington Avenue will be reconstructed next year no matter what, so adding in a cycle track would not affect the existing street; it would only alter the reconstruction design.
A cycle track would be an important step for the University of Minnesota area and Minneapolis.
Why cycle tracks?
Cycle tracks — separated or protected bike lanes — create a physical barrier between cyclists and general traffic. In the case of Washington Avenue, the barrier could be a curb and a buffer zone.
According to a University of British Columbia study, cycle tracks along major streets are one of the safest options for bikes.
Malik Holt-Shabazz, community organizer for the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said Hennepin County staff recommended a plan for Washington Avenue that includes a cycle track. The Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee and Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee also support a protected bikeway.
Cycle tracks are particularly effective on major roads because they limit dangerous car interactions and serve as a medium for greater understanding between drivers and cyclists.
A litmus test for the city
The city of Minneapolis released a Climate Action Plan adopted earlier this year that included a goal of 30 new miles of on-street, protected bike lanes by 2025.
Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said there’s less than a mile of new cycle tracks in the city, nowhere near the city’s goal. Fawley said there are cycle tracks in a few areas of the city, including behind TCF Bank Stadium and near the Walker Art Center.
Hennepin County decided against a Minnehaha Avenue cycle track project last month. The cycle track plan for Minnehaha Avenue received flak for projected tree and parking losses, as well as sightline issues, which would have made it harder for drivers to see cyclists.
Craig Twinem, Hennepin County design division manager for the project, said every corridor is different. Twinem said Washington Avenue doesn’t have the same issues as Minnehaha Avenue and is unique in how wide it is.
With only a few blocks affected by the plan and so few new cycle tracks in the city, cycle tracks on Washington Avenue would serve as an important but approachable litmus test to gauge the effectiveness of these bike facilities.
A 21st century road
4th District County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin supports a cycle track plan for Washington Avenue.
“What we need is a 21st century Washington Avenue,” McLaughlin said. “We have a good design.”
The Minneapolis Downtown Council’s 2025 plan called for advanced transit options and for a connection between the University area and downtown Minneapolis.
Interest in cycle tracks has increased exponentially in the U.S. over the past five years. Earlier this year, the Federal Highway Administration launched a project to study and design cycle tracks.
A cycle track on Washington Avenue would help University bicyclists get to the Central Corridor light-rail line. It would also open up the area from the Marcy-Holmes, West Bank and Seven Corners neighborhoods to downtown.
The Minneapolis riverfront area near Washington Avenue is expected to see huge developments in the near future, with the new Vikings stadium and the Yard coming in, an improving economy and other development, McLaughlin said.
With so much development in the area, the city needs to move forward by implementing a plan with cycle tracks on Washington Avenue because it is a crucial corridor in the area.
“We’re taking big steps with Washington Avenue,” McLaughlin said. “It’s been auto-centric for 50 years. We’re moving away from that.”