Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and city council members reached an agreement Thursday to allow dedicated bus lanes on the rebuilt Hennepin Avenue — but only for 6 hours a day.
The council’s public works and infrastructure committee approved the measure by a 5-1 vote. It fell short of the 24-hour bus lanes that transit advocates and some council members wanted, but it is still expected to improve transit access along the Uptown corridor.
“We’re really excited. This is a big win for the city,” Frey said in an interview after the vote. “It touches on every aspect of prioritizing bus service, protected bike lanes and corporate accommodations. We’re thrilled. It’s what we hoped for.”
The compromised plan will be submitted to the full council for final approval.
“It’s a compromise, and a compromise doesn’t mean you get everything you want,” said board member and committee chair Andrew Johnson. “It’s a deal that we think a majority of the city council and the mayor can support. It’s the next best thing to accept and push through.”
The Hennepin Avenue reconstruction project, slated to begin construction in 2024, includes reducing the busy thoroughfare between Lake Street and Douglas Avenue to one lane of traffic in each direction and adding bike lanes, bus lanes and wider sidewalks. Metro Transit simultaneously plans a new bus rapid transit line on Hennepin Avenue connecting the University of Minnesota to downtown Minneapolis and the Southdale Transit Center in Edina starting in 2025.
In June, Frey rejected the idea of 24-hour bus lanes, noting that public transit doesn’t run all hours of the day. At the time, he said the 24-hour bus lane project “would ignore countless small businesses, many of them BIPOC-owned, who have compromised both for the protected bike lane and donated priority to bus lanes at the expense of a substantial amount of parking. “
The council failed to override the mayor’s veto, which sent the project back to committee.
Council member Aisha Chughtai and others have spent hours negotiating with Frey and his administration in recent weeks in an effort to reach a resolution. The agreement triples the number of daily hours that transit vehicles can operate in a dedicated lane and implements quarterly assessments to assess transit operations. Chughtai called these “meaningful engagements.”
“I’m sorry this is the best result we can get right now. That’s all I could get the mayor to move on this issue,” she said at the committee meeting, in a nod to supporters of 24-hour bus service. ways. “All-day bus lanes shouldn’t be controversial.”
But they have been a major sticking point in what city officials have called the most complex street project in history. Bus lanes have always been part of the physical design, but there’s never been a consensus on how they should work. Supporters for and against the bus lanes have held rallies and spoken out throughout the design process, which began about 3 years ago.
Councilman Elliott Payne, who voted for the amended proposal, expressed disappointment and expressed concern that the vote is delaying the city’s response to climate change.
Council member Robin Wonsley cast the lone dissenting vote, which she called “this committee’s most important vote this year.” She said residents dependent on public transit lost the most in the deal.
In his veto letter to council in June, Frey said the city could still meet its climate and transit goals while preserving a reasonable amount of parking and providing transit service to 24 hours a day. And bus lane hours could be extended in the future, said public works director Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
Thursday’s vote simultaneously addresses the need for security and sustainability, the mayor said.
“We wanted a decision based on metrics and data, not politics,” Frey said.
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