Bicyclists want to safely access the bicycle lane and the construction company wants access to their trucks as they work on a house that doesn’t have parking immediately in front of the property. The two-way bike lane was opened up earlier this year, which runs from 28th to 40th Street on Blaisdell. It’s one of a few fully protected bicycle lanes in the city with a cement curb.
After bicyclists started complaining about the parked trucks in October, construction company JOE BUILDER applied for and was granted an obstruction permit. The permit allows the company to obstruct the bicycle lane from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. through November. The company trucks are often parked in the lanes outside of the permitted hours. When I visited after 3 p.m. on November 21, the trucks were still parked in the bike lane. According to city staff, the bike lane obstruction requires a bike lane closed sign at the end of the block, too.
On November 15, the conflict between the bicyclists and JOE BUILDER escalated when the construction company erected a perimeter around their trucks.
“I left room [in the bike lane] before, but they vandalized my truck so then I set up a whole perimeter,” Wolney said.
“It didn’t feel safe,” Laura Mitchell said about riding in the obstructed Blaisdell bike lane. “The space left available was not enough for two bicyclists to pass.” Mitchell compared the Blaisdell bike lane to I-35. It’s a major arterial route for bicyclists, according to Mitchell.
Blaisdell vehicle traffic runs south-bound only, which creates an issue when a north-bound bicyclist has to leave the protected area because the bike lane is blocked.
Mitchell also mentioned how sensitive bicyclists are on Blaisdell because of the long standing issue of vehicles parking in the bike lane. Now that the bike lane is protected with a cement curb, she and others are frustrated that the bicycle lane is even available for permitted parking.
“Joe The Builder [sic] trucks often block protected bikeways in Minneapolis, forcing commuters and families out of a protected bikeway and facing oncoming motor vehicle traffic,” Aaron Shaffer wrote in a Google review for the company. “They're a danger to the community.”
Mitchell said it was very difficult to maneuver her cargo bike around the obstruction, with her two small children in tow.
“It’s an irritating situation, because I’m just trying to do my job,” Wolney said. “Half the time there’s no parking spots here. I got a permit and I’m paying for it.”
Ok, so, the city issued the permit, and the construction company is legally parking there.
What about a sign alerting people that the lane is closed ahead?
According to city staff, the construction company’s permit has a special condition to post signage.
“The city did ask me to put up signs,” Wolney said. According to Wolney, when he put out the signs, the bicyclists started “freaking out.” A road closed sign was visible in Wolney’s trailer as we talked.
“So if I don’t put up the signs, and I park like this, so they can get by, they don’t call,” Wolney said as he motioned to his trucks that were parked up on the inner curb of the bike lane.
The permitting staff informed Wolney that if his team is closing the southbound bike lane, “they should provide a bike lane closed sign at the intersection to the north” and vice versa if the northbound lane is also closed, according to Sarah McKenzie, media relations coordinator with the City.
“Staff visited the site again today and the northbound bike lane was open, but the southbound lane was again closed without signage,” McKenzie said over an email. “Staff again spoke to the contractor.”
Despite numerous visits from the City and the Minneapolis Police Department, Wolney is still legally permitted to park in the bike lane.
“Actually a couple of [bicyclists] rode by and gave us a thumbs up,” Wolney said of his current parking set-up. “Hopefully it will be peaceful enough so I can finish my dang job.”
Mitchell still has questions, though. What is the bar for approving a permit that blocks a protected bike lane for an extended amount of time? What can the City do to make this a safer situation in the future?
Aaron Shaffer, a bicyclist who utilizes the Blaisdell bike lane, reached out his councilmember about the issue. “When I spoke with [City Council President] Jenkins' office, it felt more like I was suggesting how they might change the permitting for the future rather than make a change right now,” Shaffer, said.
Mitchell said she wants to see more action from the City’s Vision Zero program. “Vision Zero can’t just be about putting the infrastructure in place and hoping for the best,” Mitchell said. “We also need to monitor and address problems that come up, in partnership with Public Works.”