Half-Ass Bike Prize #1: Bryant Avenue Bike Boulevard

[Picture if you will...]
Of all the prizes given out on this blog, the Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity (HABPDM) is the most coveted.* All across the Twin Cities metro, bike planners and Public Works departments strive to win this award. Competition is fierce.

Especially this time of year, with the (very silly) Bicycling Magazine rankings threaten to give American cities overly-large levels of confidence, we must be extra vigilant in calling out the mediocrity in our midst. And even in an ostensibly decent bicycling city like Minneapolis, there is plenty to go around.

What is the HABPDM?

The Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity is a bi-annual award given to bike infrastructure that phones it in. As I described in the inaugural post:
A plan is made. It's probably a decent plan, something about bike lanes or bicycle boulevards or a new extension to a bike path or even (god forbid) an unprecedented protected bike lane.

[Next] there are meetings. At these meetings, it seems like everyone complains. We can't do this! It's impossible, too much traffic. But parking! Everyone begins their sentence with "Don't get me wrong..." or "I love riding my bicycle, but..." or "Some of my best friends ride bikes..."

Next the plan gets watered down. Many important design elements become victims of compromise. This happens quietly, in small rooms or on phone calls. Sometimes political leaders inform city staff what is possible; sometimes it's the other way around.

Finally, the plan is passed and (much later) the "something for bikes" is built. Often it is half-ass, which is a metaphorical term that refers to when you don't pull your pants all the way up. You've still got the "pants on," so you can't be accused of not making an effort. But your ass is showing...

Basically, this coveted award is given out when an infrastructure is a good idea in theory, but fails in practice. This award for the gap between planning and implementation, concept and execution. This is an award for the compromisers, the slightly-below-average, the defeated shrugs that say "well we did our best" and "at least we're not as bad as Texas."

The Bryant Bike Boulevard

[Extra large sharrow!]
A few months ago, I was talking to an architect friend who lives right at Bryant and the Midtown Greenway (the ostensible hotspot of Uptown bike traffic).

Here's what he said about the Bryant Bike Boulevard:
At certain times it reaches a critical mass where there are so many bikes on the road that cars just have to yield. They either have to yield or turn onto a different street…
They were trying to add some roundabouts during the fight to make it happen. What that would do too is that, one reason bikers don’t like to use Bryant is that you have to stop every block or every two blocks. If we could get some roundabouts in there, everybody would be yielding and moving through and you wouldn’t have to stop.

In other words, sometimes when the sun is shining brightly and the stars are aligned,*** the Bryant Bike Boulevard actually functions as it is supposed to.

That's a sad commentary on the fact that, all of the other times of the day and calendar year, the Bryant Bike Boulevard fails to do what a bike boulevard is supposed to do: calm traffic to the point where bicyclists have priority on the street.

One of the reasons why bike boulevards are a tricky concept is that there isn't one standard design approach. The success of a bike boulevard depends on its context. That means that they can either be done well or poorly.

When they're done well, traffic calming and other mechanisms slow down or divert car traffic to the point where it becomes almost inconsequential. Done well, bicyclists can ride two- or three- abreast in comfort, without fear of being passed from behind by an aggressive driver. (Picture a parent and young children; isn't that nice?)

Well, unlike some of the well-executed bike boulevards in Minneapolis**, the Bryant Avenue boulevard remains a through street for cars. It's a real tragedy, because (as my architect friend says above) there is such a density of bike traffic in the area. It wouldn't take very much at all for this street to be "fixed." In a few weeks, the city could add a diverter median at Lake Street, or roundabouts at 29th or 27th Streets. That would be transformative.

Until then, however, this is easily the most half-assed bike bouelvard in Minneapolis. And that's why the Bryant Avenue Bike Boulevard should be proud to be the first official (non-emeritus) winner of the HABPDM.

Congratulations! May you someday pull your pants up.****
[Green infrastructure is not the same as green paint.]

[A typical Bryant Avenue experience is just like any other street in the city.]

* There are no other prizes given out on this blog.
** Don't even get me started on the theoretical bike boulevards in Saint Paul...
*** Note the impossibility.
**** The traditional HABPDM salutation.


1 comment:

Steven Prince said...


I have commuted by bicycle from LHENA to the U or downtown for 29 years. The Bryant Avenue Boulevard does not work perfectly, but it is a work in progress, and a success story. Since the critical connection was designed in the 1990s, and the rest of the Boulevard is still trying to catch up, I don’t think this is a design failure nearly as much as a lag in investment and attention.

The big problem getting from Uptown to downtown (or the U) was always the 94/Lyndale/Hennepin bottleneck, there was simply no safe way to navigate that section safely until the flyover bridge was constructed.

In the 90s LHENA and other neighborhoods supported (working with their counsel member (Lisa McDonald), Park Board Rep (George Puzak) as well as the Greenway Coalition) making the Greenway a reality. Everyone recognized the need for a north-south connection that got past the 94/Lyndale/Hennepin bottleneck - the construction of a bicycle bridge from Bryant Avenue to the other side of 94 was part of the earliest LHENA NRP plans in the 1990s.

Lisa McDonald got Public Works on board, my recollection is that planning that bridge resulted in the placement of the Hennepin Avenue bikeway north of the flyover bridge (to Loring Park).

In the 90’s the City was replacing sidewalks and streets in LHENA north of 26th Street - LHENA pushed to calm the streets for better pedestrian and bicycle safety as part of the scheduled reconstruction. I suspect the throating installed there was the first attempt at building street with traffic calming by Minneapolis Public Works. I remember meetings with the engineers encouraging “steeper” throating and advocating for raised pedestrian crossing instead of the speed bumps installed (is it really that hard to figure out that mid-block speed bumps encourage people to go fastest through the intersections with pedestrian/bicycle conflicts?). We didn’t get exactly what we wanted, but we got some improvements.

Bryant became a de facto bicycle route when the ramp from the Greenway was constructed and the flyover bridge was completed.

The present boulevard striping is not enough; we need less N-S stop signs and probably need to get rid of parking on one side of the street north of Lake Street (south of Lake is an old streetcar alignment and the street is wider).

But this is not a half-assed design, this is years of progress without a final design in mind. The improvements made have resulted in more traffic than the present infrastructure can support.

If you want to give a prize for bad design, how about the redesign of the SW corner of Loring Park?

Nothing half-assed about that, it truly bites. If you are on the bicycle path traveling north (and downhill) the curb cuts place you on a collision course with a low concrete wall that is easy to miss (until you crash) while you try to figure out from the confusing and poorly place signage exactly which way you are suppose to go. You need to navigate a quick hard left and right to get onto the bicycle path - in a small zone (between the sidewalk and new wall) with waiting pedestrians and bicycles.

That design is really awful, and new. The challenges on Bryant reflect slow improvements over the years that need to take the next leap to a full-fledged bicycle boulevard.