Washington Avenue to get protected bike lanes

Design details have yet to be finalized but the county provided this template. Street-walking ghosts not included.
Design details have yet to be finalized but the county provided this template. Street-walking ghosts not included.

Washington Avenue is going to suck less -- especially if you're a pedestrian or biker.

That's because Hennepin County approved plans this week to widen areas for walkers and add protected bike lanes to connect downtown to the Mississippi River and U of M.

SEE ALSO: U of M cops writing $98 tickets for sidewalk bikers

The lanes will be built on either side of Washington between Hennepin and 5th Avenue South, separated by a two-foot buffer. Construction begins in 2015. Later, improvements will be extended from 5th to the 35W Bridge.

The plan complements the Minneapolis Downtown Council's goal to reshape the city's central business district by 2025 while doubling the area population from 35,000 to 70,000 residents. At the moment, Washington Avenue stands like a hurdle to the riverfront. Because of reduced space for car lanes, pedestrians will end up walking a shorter distance across the street.

The push to improve Washington Avenue gained momentum last year when the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition collected 500 handwritten letters from people who live, work or shop along the street.

"There were a variety of perspectives," said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the coalition, "but generally people were interested in how could we make this greener, more friendlier for people who are walking and biking -- a better place overall to be."

What now for motorists? Well, a 73-page analysis commissioned by the county suggests that, even with two fewer lanes, estimated increases in traffic over the next couple decades will be mostly offset by a retiming of the lights, more turn space and a new 35W on-ramp that's due open in 2014.

In crafting the plan, the county organized several meetings with the public and invited bikers, walkers, drivers, residents and business owners to attend. Conclusion: everyone has an interest in fixing the avenue.

"I give the county board a lot of credit for breaking the mold a little bit," said Steve Cramer, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. "The downtown business community is behind this, as is the bike coalition. Sometimes those are strange bedfellows, but this time they came together."

The plan goes next to the Minneapolis City Council for municipal consent.

-- Follow Jesse Marx on Twitter @marxjesse or send tips to [email protected]

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