Renovations for transportation infrastructure, including improved bike lanes, are slated to begin on University Avenue Southeast and Fourth Street Southeast near the University of Minnesota campus, the two most heavily trafficked bike lanes on Hennepin County roadways.
The roadway improvements will take place on the stretches of University Avenue Southeast and Fourth Street Southeast between I-35W and Oak Street, right before Huntington Bank Stadium. The University, City of Minneapolis, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metro Transit and Hennepin County are collaborating on plans for the upgrades.
The project is currently in phase two, where project managers are deciding on the design of the improved roadway system. The two options for improvements include a two-way bike lane on University Avenue Southeast and a one-way bike lane on Fourth Street Southeast, or one-way lanes on both roads.
Design plans will be completed by June of 2022, and construction will begin in the spring of 2023.
“[The improvements] came out of wanting to create some dedicated space for all the modes [of transportation] and provide a little more comfort or safety in that regard to separate them out a little bit,” said Kelly Agosto, a project manager for Hennepin County and one of the engineers working on the renovation project.
Plans for renovations began in 2016, and while minor improvements to the two roads were made in 2019, large-scale improvements are now a part of the future construction plans.
The bike lane on University Avenue Southeast is the most heavily trafficked of all Hennepin County roadways, according to a 2016 county bike study. The study found that an average of 564 people biked on the street per day while Fourth Street Southeast saw 305 bikers per day, the second most in Hennepin County.
Mark Racchini, an incoming fourth-year student at the University, lives to the west of I-35W in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood. Biking is Racchini’s primary mode of transportation, and he bikes along University Avenue Southeast and Fourth Street Southeast almost every day.
“Just the amount of traffic, number one, and then also the speed that the traffic is going, especially on [Fourth Street], there is just a lot happening,” Racchini said. “Right at the intersections around I-35W is always just mass chaos with people turning … I think safer bike lanes would be much appreciated and a huge improvement.”
Options for renovations
There are two layout options being considered for renovations.
Layout “A” would see a two-way bike lane installed on University Avenue Southeast and a one-way bike lane on Fourth Street Southeast. Layout “B” would look similar to the current infrastructure on both streets, with a one-way bike lane on each.
Both layouts include plans to install either plastic bollards or concrete curbs as physical barriers between the bike lane and vehicle traffic. Currently, the only separation between bikers and vehicles is a painted line.
Racchini said he would prefer layout “A.”
“This is so bad, but sometimes late at night, I will head back on University, just because I live off University,” Racchini said. “I will head back going the opposite way that the route has. I would definitely prefer the first option where you have two [lanes], east and west bound.”
While a two-way bike lane may be convenient for students, Agosto said it may present safety concerns. Because two-way bike lanes on one-way roads are not common in the Twin Cities, drivers may not be looking for bikers coming from both directions while turning at intersections.
Both plans will replace and update aging roadway infrastructure. Traffic lights will be updated and pedestrians will have easier access to bus stops. Push buttons and pedestrian ramps will also be updated to better comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hennepin County welcomes opinions about the plans from all people, especially students that frequently utilize the bike lanes, Agosto said.
“Now is definitely the time to still send any feedback, and then even all the way leading up to construction when we’re going through the details of the design,” Agosto said. “We’re definitely looking for [feedback] from the students because students have a big stake in the area here.”