Trees, Buses & Bikes: We Can Have It All!

By Alex Gedstad, Sierra Club Green Transportation Intern and Youth Environmental Activists Minnesota (YEA! MN) Leader

Alex Gedstad

Alex and his dad on Sierra Club’s Bike Tour in 2012

Last month, over a hundred people filled the basement of Minnehaha Communion Lutheran Church to share their thoughts and questions with Hennepin County on the Minnehaha Avenue Reconstruction Project in South Minneapolis. County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin sat in on the meeting, and stated that he does not support the protected bikeway for everyone (or cycletrack). Commissioner McLaughlin listened intently, and heard from the Sierra Club and many others that the protected bikeway is the most bike-friendly option.

I recently sat next to him on the METRO Red Line rapid bus on its opening day. He is a major champion for transit in our region – and especially for the critically important Southwest Light Rail Transit.  I hope he will soon become a stronger advocate for attracting more bikes and pedestrians to Minnehaha Avenue with a cycletrack.

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As I expected, not counting the baby boy who came in a stroller, I was by far the youngest in the meeting room, and the only person representing youth. I am a high school student.  I attended because I’m a protagonist for the cycletrack option, reflecting the youth community’s wishes, because a cycletrack is a proven method to encourage more people to ride their bikes.  Students who bike to school are proven to have better behavior, longer attention spans, significant improvement in grades, and not surprisingly, are healthier than their peers.

So a cycletrack is a no-brainer, right? Well, according to County planners, this option will cut down over fifty additional trees, which no one wants. Pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders especially want large, mature trees to stay because they make the street cooler, and protect from wind, short cloudbursts, and the sun.  A strong urban tree canopy also helps us be resilient to climate change.  However, over half of these fifty trees will need to be taken out because of large, over-designed bus bays.

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This over-designed bus bay (in pink) requires cutting down three trees (shown with Xs through them).

These bus bays are extremely long and wide, and seem to be designed for Bus Rapid Transit, where larger and much more frequent buses stop for passengers so auto traffic doesn’t get backed up behind the bus. However, the most frequent headway during the rush hour for this bus route is only every 20 minutes. For the rest of the day, these standard-sized buses come every 30 minutes, which doesn’t remotely warrant large bus bays that eliminate so many trees.

Other negative impacts of the bus bays include slower and less reliable schedules due to the fact that the bus has to find a gap in traffic to pull out, despite the fact that the bus usually carries more people than there are in the of traffic behind it.

These trees are a neighborhood value, and we can protect that value and enhance the neighborhood with a better designed cycletrack option.  Other myths held about this cycletrack option are debunked by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.

Do you want to ride with your family to Minnehaha Falls park one day on a separated bikeway, free from speeding traffic?  If so, take action today!

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