Finding space for bike infrastructure

1st Ave buffered lane - parking is allowed on weekends

Finding space for new bike infrastructure is always tough.  Usually existing streets aren’t getting any wider, and parking and drive lanes often take precedence in the minds of residents and policy makers.  Solutions that allow cars and bike to share space are becoming more common, like the wonderful Bryant Avenue bike boulevard.  So when you find a street with extra space, it’s kind of a miracle.

When I ride to work, I frequently use the 1st Ave S/Blaisdell one-way pair for going north-south.  Both of these streets recently received bike lane improvements, including a bit of protected bike lane on 1st Avenue, south of 33rd Street.  When I asked the project coordinator why 1st Avenue got the protected lane instead of Blaisdell, which has higher traffic volumes, his answer was “space”.  Here are some of my observations (as a cyclist and autoist) from using these streets:

  • It seems like overkill to keep Blaisdell a two-lane one-way street when both 35W and the Park/Portland one-way pair are so close.  Especially south of Lake Street.  Traffic engineers, weigh in here.  Is there any appropriate traffic volume that warrants this type of street design in an urban setting?
  • Speeding is frequently an issue on these streets, especially Blaisdell.  I do it myself, and the liberal use of “this is your speed” radar signs reinforces this.
  • Much of the bike lane on Blaisdell is filled with potholes, manhole covers, street detritus and sometimes parked cars.  In other words, it’s not very nice.
  • Riding next to traffic that is traveling 35-40 mph is uncomfortable.  I certainly wouldn’t take my daughter in a trailer or on her own bike on these streets.
  • In almost all places where it has been measured, auto traffic volumes on 1st and Blaisdell south of I-94 have dropped since 2006, in some places as much as 30%.
I think there is extra space on this pair of streets which could be used to make cyclists a lot more comfortable without impacting auto traffic significantly.  I’ll go out on a limb and say these might even have potential to increase property values by getting rid of the mini-freeway that is Blaisdell.  Here are some options I think might work, in preferential order.
  1. Turn 1st Ave into a two-way protected bikeway from 40th to 16th Street or maybe even Grant.  This could be with a raised curb, or just some paint and plastic bollards.  There would still be space for one auto lane in most places I think.  Turn LaSalle/Blaisdell into a two-way with one travel lane in each direction starting at Grant, with parking on both sides.
  2. Move the bike lane on Blaisdell behind a row of parked cars and adequate buffer space.  I say adequate to distinguish this from the 1st Avenue North design.  See these examples from Chicago.  Reduce car travel lanes to one south of 31st Street.
  3. Turn both 1st and Blaisdell back to two-ways where possible with one travel lane in each direction and parallel parking.  Give them the bicycle boulevard treatment a la Bryant.  Set speed limit at 25.
What do you think?  Doable?  What am I missing traffic people?

12 thoughts on “Finding space for bike infrastructure

  1. From a quick glance at the street ordinance, Blaisdell has an 80′ ROW, but only about 35-36′ existing curb to curb roadway width in much of the area you describe. Points out that these streets are being used in a way inconsistent with their initial design.

    That being said, I like option #1 but with slight modification. Make one of them a two-way street with one parking bay and make the other one a bicycle/ped only street…I’m sure that would be politically feasible. There’s alleys here, right?

  2. 1. Traffic counts practically everywhere have dropped since 2006. Engineers will disagree about whether it is appropriate to treat these lower volumes as the “new normal” or whether to treat them as an anomaly that will be corrected upwards as soon as “the economy recovers”. However, it is not uncommon at all to see traffic volumes trending downward on significant urban corridors over the past 10 years or so. On several projects, I’ve suggested making 20 year traffic projections continuing the downward trend – it never goes over well. Other engineers look at me like I’m stupid and clients think “Why did I hire this guy?”

    2. The biggest challenge to turning Blaisdell to 2-way is the one block between 29th & Lake where Southbound Nicollet traffic uses Blaisdell. Can we just get rid of that damned thing already? Please?

    • Thanks for advocating for the new normal, Reuben.

      It seems unreasonable to me to hold 2 miles hostage for the performance of one block (Blaisdell between 29th & Lake). Although I don’t think the full capacity of that block is often approached, it is worth it to me for that block to back up if less lethal speeds become more common on other parts of Blaisdell. Frankly I think it says something about the values of the engineering profession if they would sacrifice safety for capacity (and is probably unconstitutional if they do it on a state-aid route).

  3. Nice analysis, Brendon, and I like your 1st and 2nd suggestions (I’m not as pleased as you are with bike blvds). I would think that a two-way cycle track would take up no more than 15′ of streetspace, allowing for a lane or two plus parking for the whole length of 1st Ave except south of 38th.

    I think that the layout south of 38th (where there is only one through lane in addition to the bike lane) was testing the MSA waters. In order to receive state aid, a one-way road must have two lanes. The City was trying to argue that a bike lane could be defined as a lane, and now that they seem to have won, hopefully this sort of arrangement can be reproduced.

  4. Pingback: Time for a change on Park and Portland |

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