Downtown Minneapolis streets switch to two-way trafficby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — Weather forced crews to wait until Sunday to post new signs and paint new stripes to Hennepin and First avenues in downtown Minneapolis as the streets prepare to handle two-way traffic.
The conversion was supposed to be complete by Saturday afternoon, but dry conditions are required. A city spokesman says the conversion will be done by Sunday, weather permitting.
Hennepin and First have been one-way streets for nearly 30 years, but city officials decided to make the change to reduce the need for drivers to make trips around the block to arrive at their destinations. Officials have said the change will also improve travel for bicyclists and pedestrians.
City crews have already been changing traffic signals and adjusting the street layout in a few places. They'll work Sunday morning to finish the job, and motorists should be able to travel both ways on each street by mid-afternoon on Sunday.
Some businesses have expressed concerns about the changes, including how parking will be handled on First Avenue.
The street will still have meter parking, but not during rush hours, when parking on both sides of the street will become traffic lanes. In addition, the parking is being placed away from the curb to allow for a bike lane on each side.
Some businesses are concerned that the lack of parking during rush hour could make it harder to attract late-afternoon happy hour crowds. And nightclubs such as First Avenue and the Fine Line Music Cafe have said changing the street configuration on First Avenue means there will no longer be a convenient spot for bands to unload equipment for shows.
"Getting (bands) in and out and keeping them as close as possible to our business is going to be a challenge," said Dario Anselmo, owner of the Fine Line and president of the Warehouse District Business Association.
Anselmo said businesses in the area are also concerned the changes will create increased congestion, which he said could cause public safety concerns and keep some customers away. "It's a wait-and-see with a little bit of anxiety thrown in," he said of businesses' attitudes.
City officials say giving drivers in both directions access to Hennepin and First avenues will benefit businesses, because customers will have more direct access to them.
Anselmo said city officials have done a good job of working with businesses to find solutions, and he expects there will be room for changes if certain aspects of the reconfiguration need adjusting.
"They, like anyone else, aren't going to know what's going to happen until it fully happens," he said.
Another new feature on both streets is "bike boxes" that will allow bicyclists turning left to move in front of other traffic. Cars will have to stop farther back from the stop lights to allow room for turning bicyclists.
On Hennepin Avenue, bikes will share the right lane in each direction with buses and vehicles turning right.
City officials say the project, which costs about $3 million, will also benefit pedestrians by including pedestrian countdown timers on new traffic signals.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)