The Minneapolis City Council is expected to decide once and for all Thursday whether lanes dedicated for buses on Hennepin Avenue will operate 24 hours a day or during only specific hours when transit is most used.
Bus lanes have always been included in the layout for the first major reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue through the Uptown neighborhood in more than 65 years. Until this spring, they had been slated to operate around the clock.
But then city officials and new Public Works Director Margaret Anderson Kelliher proposed the transit lanes be used only during part of the day and be available for on-street parking when buses are not running or don't run frequently.
In the works for more than three years, the Hennepin Avenue redo has been one of the city's most challenging. As transit advocates push for increased access, many businesses along the stretch between Uptown and downtown say they would lose customers if most of the parking spaces on the street were removed.
The latest change by Anderson Kelliher drew the ire of those who have lobbied for 24-hour transit lanes. Supporters for all-day bus lanes filled council chambers in May holding signs reading "Don't Delay the Bus" and "No Equity Without Full Time Bus Lanes."
A grassroots group from the Uptown neighborhood called Hennepin for People have staged a rally, and members and supporters have sent more than 20,000 e-mails to city officials urging them to keep all-day bus lanes.
The group said it believes enough council members will vote to keep the lanes exclusively for buses around the clock.
"This should have been laid to rest by Public Works. … We need the focus on how we can support local businesses during construction," said Katie Jones, a spokeswoman for Hennepin for People.
The proposed changes
Under the layout approved by the City Council, a large number of curbside parking spots will be removed and the space used for bus lanes, a protected bike lane, wider sidewalks and a center median for most of the corridor to improve safety by limiting left turns between Lake Street and just north of Franklin Avenue.
At the same time, Metro Transit is preparing to bring a rapid transit line to Hennepin Avenue connecting the University of Minnesota with downtown Minneapolis and the Southdale Transit Center in Edina.
Construction on Hennepin is slated to begin in 2024 and take two years.
While the street is being rebuilt, parking will not be allowed. As a result, "people will get used to no parking, but they will be super excited when construction is done and they have awesome new amenities," Jones said.
The loss of on-street parking "will be a distant memory," she said.
Todd Smith, who owns a building that houses a couple of businesses near West 28th Street and Hennepin, said not everybody who lives or works in the neighborhood supports 24/7 bus lanes.
"I don't know why it is a bad idea for a dual purpose lane. When buses are not running, it could be used for parking," he said. "I think it is a really good compromise. Let's see where we are in time."
The parking that exists
The city noted that there are 3,600 parking spaces in surface lots and ramps, and on side streets within one block of Hennepin Avenue.
The city also is devising a district parking plan to help offset the loss of spaces on the avenue. Smith said he wonders how that would work out, since he said private lots were included in the city's counts.
"Kowalski's does not want to share their lot with retail across the street," he said. "Or have people park at YMCA and go to the wine bar across the street."
Anderson Kelliher said in May that dedicated bus lanes could be in effect only certain hours at the start. But, she said, "it is the intention of the city to transition … to full-time bus lanes as soon as possible."
Shawn Phelps, who has owned Brass Knuckle Tattoo Studio at 2817 Hennepin Av. for 11 years, said he would like to see parking available during part of the day.
"People usually have appointments, and they're willing to park a little ways away," he said. "But if every business is fighting for parking, it's just going to make our clientele park further and further away."
Phelps also raised concerns about safety of customers who would have to park at a distance.
"We already have people that are being carjacked daily … in Minneapolis, which is already a scary place for some people, and now you're forcing them to park far away," he said. "Why not go to a shop in the suburbs? It's a little safer and that has a parking lot."
Janise Johnson, owner of Bodyology Mpls at 2736 Hennepin, said she opened her business in Uptown one year ago because of the district's trendy reputation, parking availability and hope that the area would soon recover from the pandemic.
She said she fears that City Council's failure to heed business owners' concerns would hasten the commercial hub's decline.
"There needs to be somewhere to park my clients' vehicles, because I don't know how else I'm going to stay in the Uptown area," Johnson said.