Construction officially started this week on phase two of the Bryant Avenue South reconstruction. On March 31, Public Works announced changes to phase two of the design. Bryant Avenue was reconstructed from 50th to 42nd Street last summer utilizing the original design approved in 2021.
The changes to phase two of the design include removing chicanes along the street, shifting the bicycle lane next to the street, and widening driveway windrows.
According to Public Works, the Minneapolis Fire Department struggled to access reconstructed parts of Bryant Avenue this winter due to the narrow width of the street and drivers who parked their vehicles away from the curb. By shifting the two-way bike lane next to the street, emergency vehicles will be able to utilize the raised space to access potentially tight spots down Bryant Avenue.
During a stakeholder meeting last week, the City’s Director of Transportation Planning and Programming, Jenifer Hager, acknowledged her department’s oversights in not addressing the emergency vehicle access issue earlier in the design process.
The original Bryant Avenue layout was approved by City Council and Mayor Jacob Frey in 2021 after community engagement and debate.
Starting at 42nd Street, the bike lane will shift to the outer part of the sidewalk. According to project staff, the revised two-way bike lane design "will be substantially the same width at 10 feet with some of the 8 feet pinch points being longer or shorter as the revised design details are completed."
At the April 6 Bryant Avenue reconstruction stakeholder meeting, Public Works staff referred to the redesigned bike lane curb as “mountable” for emergency vehicle access. The sidewalk curb height will still be 5 inches high.
It’s “not a mountable-mountable curb,” Bryan Dodds, City Engineer and Deputy Director of Public Works said at the site of the reconstructed Bryant Avenue on April 11. There will also be three feet of concrete between the raised sidewalk and the driving area. Parking will be allowed on the opposite side of the street only. Phase one of the reconstruction alternates parking on both sides of Bryant Avenue.
Dodds also pointed out that Public Works had to install bollards at the end of each sidewalk block along the already-reconstructed Bryant Avenue to keep drivers from driving on the bike lane and sidewalk. By separating the sidewalk and two-way bike lane in phase two, Doddss said, “there is less real estate to feel like you can drive where people are walking.”
Driveway windrows will also be widened to allow for easier access to and from driveways along narrow sections of Bryant Avenue. In phase one, the pre-existing driveway widths were replicated, according to Dodds. Without getting into geometry calculations, the narrower street can necessitate wider driveway windrows to be able to angle vehicles in and out of the driveways, especially when other vehicles are parked on the street.
Many people asked about the removal of chicanes in phase two of Bryant Avenue’s reconstruction at the April 6 stakeholder meeting.
Quick note: chicanes are a fancy word for a slight turn in the road meant to slow a driver’s speed.
“What additional traffic calming features can we expect to make up for the lack of chicanes?” a meeting attendee asked.
The easiest way to visualize the difference between chicanes and bump outs is to imagine trying to drive directly down the street. On a street with a chicane, the driver has to make a slight deviation in their path. With a bump out, the driver is still able to drive directly down the street. Chicanes lead to slower vehicle speeds due to the path deviation.
According to Dodds, the chicanes were used in phase one to inhibit parking. In phase two of the design, parking is shifting to one side of the street, removing the need for chicanes as a parking inhibitor. Bump outs are being added throughout the street design but details on where is not fully known. Limited design layouts are available at this time.
Residents concerned about traffic calming measures raised concerns with Public Works staff about the potential safety issues in removing chicanes.
“Without traffic calming, drivers have fewer restrictions on speed and the street will be less safe for everyone,” a resident said at the April 6 stakeholder meeting.
Another person in attendance shared their support of the chicane removal. “Glad for the removal of chicanes. Bryant from 43rd to 50th [is] too narrow. I have seen vehicles get stuck going through,” they said in the chat.
Some of the phase two design plans are available within the April 6 stakeholder meeting presentation. According to Dodds, the project team is handing over designs for phase two to the contractor as fast as they have them. The project team is working its way north so plans around Lake Street will be coming at a later date.
Residents express frustration
Over 130 people attended the regularly scheduled Bryant Avenue stakeholder meeting to voice their frustrations over the last minute changes to the plan.
A majority of the resident feedback focused on frustrations over how the changes to the Bryant Avenue reconstruction project were made.
“I am wondering how long changes to Phase II have been in the works?” a meeting attendee asked in the meeting’s chat function. “It was quite surprising to see major changes announced one week before the project is scheduled to break ground, with limited to no public input in the changes.”
According to project staff, work began in January to evaluate changes to phase two of the reconstruction. The decision to implement the changes was made in March.
During the meeting, many people expressed concern over the the lack of community engagement about the changes when compared to the level of community input that was given for the initial design voted through at the City Council level in 2021.
“How can this project be changed last minute from the plans?” another meeting attendee asked. “With extremely limited engagement and overturning the city council's approval?”
In response to overturning a council decision, Hager said the changes were not significant enough to warrant a reapproval.
“The design revisions continue to align with the project’s goals, with our [Transportation Action Plan] and design guide and don’t substantially change what’s included in the original design,” Hager said.
An additional statement sent to Southwest Voices, staff said, “The changes do not substantially change the project goals or elements but involve adjusting the location of the boulevard green space and design details of how elements are built.”
City engineer Stephanie Malmberg and project manager Manbere Wodajo helped lead the one hour meeting alongside Hager and Dodds. The large attendance numbers were unusual for the weekly meeting scheduled during construction season.
“The construction meetings are not the place for this discussion,” Hager said at the meeting.
A dedicated discussion about the quick changes is planned for April 20 from 6:30 - 8 p.m. on Microsoft Teams. People interested in attending should check the project website for a link closer to the date.
Council and staff changes
When the Bryant Avenue reconstruction plan was voted through in 2021, the City Council had a vastly different makeup. Lisa Bender was the City Council president and six councilmembers are now no longer in their positions. The two lead planners on the Bryant Avenue project, Trey Joiner and Elizabeth Heyman, both left their jobs with the City of Minneapolis in 2022. Mayor Jacob Frey appointed Margaret Anderson Kelliher as Public Works director early in 2022. Robin Hutcheson was the Public Works director from 2016-2021. Brette Hjelle was interim director inbetween Hutcheson and Anderson Kelliher.
Bryant Avenue reconstruction continues through this summer. Weekly construction meetings are held via Microsoft Teams at 1 p.m. every Thursday.