We can do better on Hennepin Avenue

Project Information

Re-printed below is a letter written by area resident Alex Cecchini to the Minneapolis City Council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee regarding the reconstruction of Hennepin Ave S.


I am writing a comment on the June 20th, 2017 Transportation & Public Works Committee agenda item 13: Hennepin Ave S (from Lake St to 36th St) Street Reconstruction Project as I cannot attend in-person. I live two short blocks away from the project corridor and use Hennepin Ave on a daily basis, primarily by walking, biking, and riding the bus.

I am disappointed in the final layout as presented to the city council. While this design may meet elements of the city’s Complete Streets Policy as outlined by the project team, it does not meet the spirit and intent and wastes a once in a lifetime opportunity of a full reconstruction. While there is obviously much to like – a bike facility, expanded sidewalk and boulevard space, pedestrian-scale lighting and tree coverage, it falls short in many ways of being a street that makes walking and biking the safest and most comfortable mode.

Studies have consistently shown that raised, protected bikeways make streets safer for all users. The most recent study evaluating bike lanes across North America states “Compared with major streets with parked cars and no bicycle facilities, cycle tracks on roads without parked cars were 89% safer; regular, unprotected bicycle lanes on major roads without parked cars were 53% safer; and lightly trafficked residential streets without any bicycle facilities were 56% safer.” It may be obvious, but because these facilities are safer, studies show people prefer to ride bikes on protected facilities over unprotected, painted bike lanes as well – which is key in driving the city’s stated mode share changes.

In practice, the layout in front of you means forcing bicyclists to ride in the door zone of the parked cars on the east side of the street, be cut off by turning or parking cars, take the lane when a bus pulls off into the bike lane to pick up passengers, and in general be feet away from traffic. We know pizza deliveries, UPS trucks, Uber, and any other user will park in the southbound bike lane as they do on countless other streets across the city. This is not a design I want my kids to ride on to go to school, and it’s not one I can guarantee I’ll feel comfortable on when I’m 60 instead of an able-bodied 32 year old. As a result of not putting the bike lane at sidewalk level, we make intersection crossing distances between curbs 12 feet wider than necessary. Painted bike lanes don’t have the same calming effect of a curb – indeed they are allowed to count toward the driver’s “curb reaction distance” per state statute, giving them berth to drive faster and not stay attentive.

The layout in front of you isn’t even the most popular as determined by community outreach. The survey the city put out, reached (to my knowledge) far more people than both neighborhood organizations and any meeting the city put on. The design option with no parking and bike lanes (2C, which could have been at sidewalk level with a slightly tweaked design) had, by far, the highest level of support at 59% saying Very Supportive or Supportive. The design in front of you had 50%, and the design with no bike lanes and two-sided parking was only 33%. The Pedestrian Advisory Committee also recommended pursuing option 2C and per their resolution does not offer support for the final layout. The CARAG neighborhood organization also voted for a different design concept that meets the broad community feedback while still maintaining some parking.

We normally hear that better street designs can only come during a full street reconstruction where Public Works is not constrained by curb and utility locations and costs. But here we have such an opportunity, and the design puts parking and the possibility of a handful of aBRT stations above the safety and convenience of people on foot and bike. We can do better, the city council should demand better. Please pull this from the consent agenda and turn it back to staff for a major revision.

Thank you,

Alex Cecchini