This article was written by Naomi Crocker
From Basset Creek Trail to 44th Avenue North, many Northside residents will have noticed the changes being implemented as part of the Queen Avenue Bicycle Boulevard project over the last few months. Construction for the project kicked-off in late April and is scheduled to conclude at the end of July. Abdullahi Abukar, the project’s construction engineer, recently noted that progress is on track, and that the City is well-prepared to mitigate any last-minute delays should they arise in the final stages.
When all is said and done, the new Queen Avenue Bicycle Boulevard will run 38 blocks, spanning 40 distinct intersections along a four-mile stretch of Queen Avenue North. Similar to other bicycle infrastructure projects the City has implemented in recent years, the Queen Avenue boulevard will efficiently create, in Abdullahi Abukar’s words, “a highly functioning bike facility with major safety features, but without major infrastructure. We’re not spending millions of millions on small space. It will be a big, beneficial change for relatively little investment.”
Although the construction phase of the project has been comparatively short, the amount of time the City has devoted to receiving input from multiple stakeholders has been significant. “The idea is to hit every person who could be affected. Input is important,” said Abukar. His role as construction engineer has involved managing the entire construction phase of the project, including the coordination of federal funding sources, ensuring adequate correspondence between city, state, county and local contractors, and keeping public stakeholders in the know.
Throughout the project, the City has used several different formats for gathering questions and feedback from key stakeholders. This has included online surveys advertised during public meetings, physical mailers sent to Queen Avenue residents, one-on-one meetings with local business owners, project presentations from city employees at several neighborhood association meetings – Harrison, Jordan, Victory and Cleveland among others – and information tables in parks along the bike boulevard’s route. There were also recurring feedback sessions with Minneapolis’ Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC), Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT), Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board (MPRB), and Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS). The hope is that consistently gathering and responding to stakeholder feedback, especially early in the process, can lead to a result that incorporates multiple viewpoints and is of most benefit to the greatest number of people.
One of the primary concerns that came through from stakeholders via nearly each of the feedback platforms was safety. As a result, the City is actively including “traffic calming features” such as curb bump-outs, pedestrian safety islands, traffic circles, flashing beacons – which can be activated by both cyclists and pedestrians at busier intersections – and lanes of roadway designated specifically for cyclists, clearly labeled with both signage and road-surface markings. Of particular note, is the section of the new bike boulevard that includes safe crossing over the busy Olson Memorial Highway via a designated path that jogs for one block to Penn Avenue, then back to Queen Avenue for a more streamlined and protected experience.
Calming traffic along Queen Avenue won’t only increase safety for those using the bicycle boulevard, it will also impact pedestrians and local residents who drive. City planners and engineers across the Twin Cities metro area have recently begun incorporating bicycle boulevards as a way of diverting heavy, often unwanted, commuter traffic away from residential streets and toward roads that can be more intentionally designed to accommodate a higher volume of cars. The goal of the Queen Avenue Bicycle Boulevard project is to divert commuters away from Queen Avenue toward the adjacent Penn Avenue, whose infrastructure allows for a higher daily capacity of vehicle and bus traffic.
In the broader picture, the Queen Avenue Bicycle Boulevard also ties with the City’s plan to increase bicycle infrastructure and connect as many of its bikeways together as possible, safely linking access to public services and destinations such as parks. The City continues to hold virtual community meetings every other Thursday to share Queen Avenue project updates and answer questions. Anyone interested in participating can find info at minneapolismn.gov/government/projects/queen-ave-n-bike/. The Queen Avenue Bicycle Boulevard is slated to fully open by July 29.