Are you sick of roadwork yet? Me, neither. Lucky for us there’s more coming. Luckier still, the project in the works for the parallel one-way stretches of Hennepin and 1st Avenues from Main Street to 8th Street SE will be on the less invasive side.
The keyword here is “less” invasive, as there is still a lot of work to be done. Hennepin County Project Engineer Josh Potter called the upcoming corridor improvements a retrofit, rather than a total reconstruction. Planning for this project began in 2020, and will continue through 2022. The actual construction itself will not begin until 2024, and is scheduled to last about a year. The county wants to hear from you on how they can tailor this retrofit to best serve the neighborhood.
Hennepin County is the lead agency behind the Hennepin and 1st retrofits, in partnership with the City of Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, MetroTransit and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The improvements will focus on traffic signal upgrades, lane line adjustments, bike lane additions and handicapped accessibility. In addition to the stretches of each road between Main and 8th, the part of Main Street that connects the two corridors is also included in the planned improvements. Because this project is classified as a retrofit, the scope of the work is limited to spot fixes and upgrades rather than a complete overhaul like we’ve seen downtown.
The primary goal of the retrofit is to incorporate multiple modes of transportation onto Hennepin and 1st’s corridors. The main draw of the neighborhoods in the area is the mixed land use and general walkability, so pedestrian safety, public transit and bike usability are going to be key features. For drivers, the improvements are also expected to ease congestion and make intersections safer as well.
“We heard pretty consistently that people were pretty uncomfortable,” said Hennepin County Community Liaison Haila Maze regarding the feedback she and a team received from the neighborhood earlier this year. Drivers commented on bad sight lines at intersection, and congested traffic flow in particular. Pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders generally felt the same; crossings feel unsafe, and the flow of traffic is hectic.
The biggest challenge the county faces is narrowing down its options. With prior feedback in mind, they have put together two tentative plans, but they still need further input before final tweaks are made.
A short presentation and listening session was held via Zoom on Nov. 17 where community members could hear the two options and voice their opinions and questions. Option #1 would remove street parking from the right side of each corridor and replace it with a bike lane, leaving three travel lanes, still all in the same direction. Option #2 would be the same as option one, except the rightmost travel lane would be reserved for public transit vehicles, leaving two general use traffic lanes that would not have to contend with bus traffic. The latter option is compatible with the E Line Bus Rapid Transit route that is coming to Hennepin Avenue sometime in 2024. One option shows the bike lane protected by delineator posts, the other only by paint on the street.
Both options include installing a section of bike path on the stretch of Main Street that connects Hennepin and 1st. This path will connect two larger networks of bike routes from St. Anthony Main into the St. Anthony West neighborhood, and will generally make it easier for both bikes and pedestrians to get across the two major thoroughfares. Both options will also address congestion at the three-way intersection of Hennepin, 5th Street and Central Avenue.
“That intersection really is a bottleneck, so cleaning that up will help everyone travel a lot faster,” said Maze.
The potential fix for the intersection would remove 5th Street from the equation, extending the block to connect to the pedestrian triangle that sits between the three streets. This would be a boon to drivers on Hennepin and Central, giving them one less street to cross and simplifying the traffic signals at that intersection; however, drivers on 5th would have to turn onto Central and travel for a block before turning again to get back on course.
Neighbors in attendance during the Zoom presentation were amenable for the most part. Most of the questions and concerns were related to parking, which will take a big hit no matter which option is chosen.
Residents of an apartment complex at the corner of 2nd and 1st voiced concerns that the bus station slated to be built in front of their building would obstruct delivery vehicles and residents trying to get into and out of the parking garage. Others expressed concern about how the decrease in parking could impact local businesses.
“While we’re cognizant of people traveling through the neighborhood, we want to know about access and parking, as it’s a big part of why we choose to live here,” said local resident Louis Lang.
Patrick Born, who lives at 2nd and 1st, said, “I would be a user of the E Line. I think it’s a great amenity for the community. But there are some serious concerns about the bus station … There’s a lot of competition there.”
Born and others were thankful to the county for being so open to their feedback, and were confident a solution to their grievances would be found.
For those unable to attend the meeting on the 17th, a recording is available online, as well as other information about the project. You can find a detailed list of information at hennepin.us/residents/transportation/Hennepin-and-first. The recording, a copy of the presentation slides, and a link to a comment form can be found under the “public input” section. The window to leave feedback will be open until Dec. 17. The project is expected to move out of the planning phase and into the design phase in early 2022.
Below: One of the design concepts for a revised Hennepin Avenue, which would remain a one-way street with a designated bus lane and protected bike lane. (City of Minneapolis graphic)