28.8.12

New at Streets.mn: Traffic Calming on Park and Portland is a Good Start Toward Overcoming Jurisdictional Complexity

[A Chicago-style cycletrack is an ideal design for Minneapolis.]
I've got a new post up over at Streets.mn today about the good news from the city on the Park and Portland Avenue re-design.

Here's a highlight:
To use baseball terminology, the actual plan that the county released isn’t a home run, but it’s a solid ground rule double in the right direction for making South-central Minneapolis into a walkable, bikeable urban neighborhood. I’m glad to see these changes, and hope that people attend Thursday’s public meeting and/or comment in support of the proposal this week.
Park and Portland as they are currently configured are overbuilt and dangerous, while simultaneously being one of the key bicycle routes through the city. Ideally, I would have liked to see the county offer to install a parking-buffered cycle track along the entire route. Instead, the current plan keeps parking along the edge of the street, putting cyclists out next to traffic. But, crucially, it also installs a wide buffer on the side of the bike lane, which will greatly increase the safety and comfort of this key bike route. (A vastly disproportionate number of Minneapolis cyclist deaths have taken place along these two roads.)

The other disappointing part of the plan is that it retains a three-lane narrow bike lane configuration along the most dangerous parts of the route, where the streets come into downtown and at the intersection with Lake Street.  These are precisely the spots where cyclist fatalities have occurred, and it would have been nice to see safer plans in these two areas.

There are few key lessons we can learn from the Park and Portland examples. First, that it's really important to have open and frequent communication between jurisdictions. So many streets are actually run and operated by different government bodies -- the city, the county, the state, and the federal government. Just when you think you've made some progress with one jurisdiction, along comes a street that lies in the purview of a totally different organization with a totally different traffic engineer. That's one challenge.

The second is simply communication. It's really hard to keep track of what each level of government is doing all the time. I think the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee is a great example of how to overcome some of these challenges.

One of the other hurdles is who difficult it is to be the 'first' to try out a new infrastructure design. The cycle track idea for Park and Portland faced an uphill battle simply because it was something we haven't seen much of around here. People don't know what it is, and so they're either against it or lukewarm about the idea. But once you build a few of them, people start to appreeciate them and the process becomes much easier. (Bicycle boulevards in St Paul are much the same story.)

Maybe someday down the road, if we can find a suitable pot of money from either the city or from a public health agency, we can take the next step and turn Park adn Portland into a bona fide cycle track. Until then, this plan is a big improvement. I'd like to see the same things done on Minneapolis's other one-way street pairs (e.g. 26th and 28th, Univeristy and 4th).

If you're going to have one-way streets thorugh neighborhoods, you might as well get something out of it. Cycle tracks are traffic calming PLUS bike infrastructure all in one easy package, and that's why they're such a great investment.

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