|Pop-up Bikeway on University Avenue as part of
2015 Open Streets University of Minnesota.
University Avenue, one of the highest traffic roads adjacent to the University of Minnesota, is due for repaving in 2018, opening a limited time opportunity to incorporate an upgrade to the current one-way bike lane. The Minneapolis Protected Bikeway Master Plan identifies the section between 1st Avenue NE to Oak Avenue as the potential location for a new one-way or two-way protected bike lane to serve these communities.
University Avenue services all main entrances to the University of Minnesota East campus for commuters from Marcy Holmes, Dinkytown and Como neighborhoods, or in other words: a generous proportion of campus-goers and would-be campus bikers. UMN advocates have voiced support for the two-lane strategy over a single lane due to the high frequency of wrong way bikers opposing the one-way flow of University Ave, inviting collisions and unnerving both cyclist and driver.
Safety for current cyclists in and of itself would be a major reason to advance the project, but perceived safety could also get more people out onto their bikes. Many University students hesitate to use biking as their go-to transit strategy because they simply feel they aren’t savvy or brave enough to go up against such a high volume of vehicles.
This mindset, that urban cycling is only for the hip or gritty few, keeps people who could benefit from the cost savings and health benefits of biking from making the switch. It has been shown in a study done by Portland State University that across the five U.S. cities studied, ridership increased 21-171% when a two-way protected bike lane was added even when there had previously been a lane in place prior (summary of study available here). Encouraging more people to go by bike cuts down on car traffic, is more environmentally sustainable and could help reduce strain on the bus systems servicing campus. It makes all the more sense when seen through the context of its connection to the University of Minnesota, which as a large research institution, should be especially invested in making sure its campus is on the cutting edge of transportation safety and maximization.
Many similar projects face obstacles when deliberating alternatives to create space for the buffer zone and extra bicycle lane. The City Public Works Feasibility report for the section closest to the University and Dinkytown introduces two possible lane alterations, both suggesting to take away some on-street parking and additionally either eliminating a travel lane or narrowing the lanes to accommodate. The report concluded that the two-way protected bike lane would be feasible in this location with all traffic considerations in account. Though that potential loss of parking will undoubtedly be undesirable to some Dinkytown businesses who depend on parking availability, this is no new protest.
Other communities have conducted thorough studies of the economic impacts of adding protected bike lanes at the expense of parking, and the results could change the business owners’ tune. Twelve different studies from around the world were compiled “and they all reach a similar conclusion: replacing on-street parking with a bike lane has little to no impact on local business, and in some cases might even increase business. While cyclists tend to spend less per shopping trip than drivers, they also tend to make more trips, pumping more total money into the local economy over time.” (full summary of research here)
Could University Ave look like this some day?
Photo credit Adam Coppola Photography
Campus advocates are working with neighborhood community leaders within adjacent neighborhoods to the proposed protected bike lane, hoping to engage in thoughtful dialogue around the project’s services.
The new protected bike lane has been picking up attention both as a 2016 Priority of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and with the city because of its alignment with a MnDOT street resurfacing project on the books for 2018-2019, meaning there is limited time to get bicycle infrastructure secured in the plan. This is the crucial point in the planning process where city and county government leaders and community organizers alike need to hear from the people affected by the project to keep the project a priority and make sure it doesn’t get lost between the multiple governing bodies under whom it falls.
Next month the campus advocacy group will be launching a photo campaign alongside 30 Days of Biking aimed at encouraging neighborhood stakeholders, bikers, and potential bikers to join the discussion. Every Friday in April from 12-2pm volunteers will be stationed at a new location where passers-by can take a picture with a statement of support for the University Avenue Protected Bike Lane. Find them on April 1st on the Northrup Mall Bike Path between Ford Hall and Kolthoff Hall. To keep up with developments with the Photo Campaign and future advocacy for University Ave, follow the project on Twitter at @ImforUniAve or “like” I’m for University Ave on Facebook.