St. Louis Park City Council members are considering bikeways on Monterey Drive, Beltline Boulevard and 36th Street.

The project, which would cost more than $7 million, are part of the city’s Connect the Park project that calls for sidewalks every quarter-mile and bikeways every half-mile.

Monterey Drive would be changed to include on-street bike lanes from Excelsior Boulevard to north of Park Commons Drive in an initial phase in 2020. Left turns onto northbound Monterey Drive or westbound Park Commons Drive would be prohibited, which city staff members acknowledged will result in more U-turns at Excelsior Boulevard.

“The roadway width and signal timing are planned to be modified to safely accommodate these U-turns,” a staff report states. “This U-turn is similar in operations and dimensions to all the U-turns that occur along Excelsior Boulevard from France Avenue to Dakota Avenue.”

Traffic on Monterey in the area would be reduced from four lanes to three lanes. The project would also include improvements to a sewer main and pavement rehabilitation as well as removing a sign banning right turns from eastbound Excelsior Boulevard to eastbound 38th Street during red lights.

In 2021, the city would add on-street bike lanes north of Park Commons Drive through the intersection of Beltline Boulevard and 36th Street. The project would include a roundabout at Monterey Drive, Beltline Boulevard and 36th Street.

“This roundabout would have a lot better functionality for both pedestrians for bicyclists, as well as traffic operations,” said Jack Sullivan, senior engineering project manager, at an Oct. 7 council meeting.

Pedestrians would be able to use rapid flashing beacons when crossing at the roundabout. The number of lanes on Monterey would be reduced from four lanes to three lanes, and pedestrians would be able to use center refuge medians.

Vehicles would not be able to turn left onto southbound Monterey Drive from the Melrose Center as a result of the change. The project would also involve sewer main and pavement work.

Also in 2021, the city would add on-street bike lanes along Beltline Boulevard from 36th Street to Park Glen Road, tying in with work on the Southwest Light Rail Transit Beltline Boulevard Station. Vehicle traffic on the road would be reduced from four lanes to three lanes.

In 2022, the city would add on-street bike lanes to 36th Street from Beltline Boulevard to Wooddale Avenue. On-street and off-street bike routes would lead to the light rail line’s Wooddale Station. A left-turn lane from eastbound 36th Street to northbound Xenwood Avenue would be added. In recommending both through lanes and turn lanes on that part of the project, Sullivan noted the extra traffic near Highway 100 and Target.

The three-lane configurations envisioned on Monterey and Beltline would include a lane in each direction along with a continuous left-turn lane along the routes.

In response to a question from Councilmember Anne Mavity, Sullivan said no changes are proposed to the Trader Joe’s access to Park Commons Drive. He suggested that a ban on left-hand turns from Park Commons Drive to Monterey Drive could ease congestion near the popular grocery store. Much of the traffic backups have resulted from drivers waiting to turn left onto Monterey Drive at busy periods of the day, Sullivan said.

“The belief in the traffic study modeling showed that as you prohibited this movement from happening that some of those delays or queues or backups that happened there today would resolve themselves,” he said.

Councilmember Tim Brausen noted that city leaders had been discussing a ban on left turns from Park Commons Drive since he joined the council in 2014.

Further down Monterey Drive, Sullivan said the roundabout near the St. Louis Park Recreation Center would be a key to reducing the number of traffic lanes because vehicles would not need to queue up for up to 2 minutes for red lights.

“The traffic signal itself starts to become almost a bottleneck of sorts,” he said of the current configuration at Monterey, Beltline and 36th Street.

Pedestrians would no longer have to cross four lanes at a time, and the rapid flashing lighting they could activate would alert drivers, he added.

Bicyclists could maneuver on the road through the roundabout, where traffic would be traveling about 15 mph, or use multi-use off-street trails in the area, Sullivan said.

Input from speakers

Speakers at the Oct. 7 public hearing differed in their reactions to the plan.

Resident Ron Hobson said he liked the overall design, including the roundabout and the reduction of lanes. However, he said preferred a raised bike facility instead of plastic posts dividing bike lanes from vehicle traffic. He said he worried that a swerving vehicle could go through the a plastic post but said a driver would be less likely to do so with a curb protecting bicyclists. He pointed to a newly installed raised bike lane on Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis as an example.

“You feel quite a bit safer,” Hobson said. “Anything to make it a safer, friendlier bike ride would be appreciated.”

Resident Patricia Carlson objected much more strongly to the plans. Having only one main travel lane per direction on streets that are currently four lanes in each direction will cause “a serious backup,” she said.

Carlson compared the plans to the lane reductions on 26th Street and 28th Street in Minneapolis. She pointed to backups at traffic lights on the two streets and noted she had to pull into the bike lane to allow an emergency vehicle to pass.

The Bridgewater development will add cars to the area, and more U-turns at Excelsior Boulevard will delay other drivers, Carlson continued. She predicted the changes would delay emergency responders and frustrate Trader Joe’s shoppers.

Carlson also questioned the safety of the planned roundabout for pedestrians.

Currently at the traffic signal, Carlson said, “I can see if anyone’s coming down Beltline and going to hit me. It’s much safer than crossing after a roundabout. We have a lot of very impatient people that don’t care.”

She added, “I take my life for my hands every day when I walk in this city, and you want us to walk. How many of you bike or walk to your work every day? Every season? How many of the city staff bike or walk to their work every day, every season? And you expect us to do this? Obviously, I’m very upset.”

Lou Miranda, a member of the Edina Planning Commission who own Luigi’s Best in St. Louis Park, expressed support for the proposal.

“This plan is definitely much improved from what we have today, and I think St. Louis Park does a really wonderful job of trying to get bikeability and walkability into the city,” said Miranda, who noted he occasionally bikes to work from Edina.

More bicyclists are attempting to use 36th Street due to the closure of the Cedar Lake LRT Regional Trail, he added.

“There’s a lot of traffic, and the traffic is moving very fast,” Miranda said.

Given a lack of crosswalks along 36th Street currently, he said, “It just makes it a very dangerous place to be, and so I’m hoping you guys can make this, you know, a little bit safer than what we have there today.”

Claudia Johnston-Madison, a member of the St. Louis Park Planning Commission, said staff and commissioners have looked at plans for the area for years.

“I’m going to tell you I like this plan,” Johnston-Madison said. “Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect. But no plan is perfect when you’re dealing with pedestrians, cars and bicycles all in this heavy corridor of traffic, redevelopment and all of that.”

She added, “It’s as close to perfect as we’re going to get in this corridor. I hope you seriously consider it.”

Council comments

Mavity questioned the removal of the sign banning right turns on red at 38th Street, a request by Hennepin County, which owns the traffic signal. Mavity said she believes the sign “has had an enormous positive impact in discouraging traffic from going down 38th Street.”

Mavity also said she is a “mildly open-minded skeptic” that the U-turn at Excelsior and Monterey would function effectively. She said she is concerned about potential conflicts and safety issues with bicyclists at the intersection and said the city would need to ensure that trucks and other long vehicles do not attempt a U-turn there.

Mavity said she supports the roundabout because it would reduce traffic backups and idling and encourage a more consistent traffic speed. She said she hoped the pedestrian lights would increase safety for people on foot. She shared Hobson’s concern about the bike lanes and said she wants to ensure that “whatever gets approved has a much more protected environment.”

Planners will also have to consider how entrances and exits to businesses along the routes will affect bicyclists, Councilmember Margaret Rog said. They will have to consider bus stops that could be affected as well.

Rog noted she has heard concerns about the lane reductions.

“It is a significant change for folks,” Rog said.

For pedestrians, though, Rog said, “I see many of these changes as improving the pedestrian experience.”

Councilmember Rachel Harris, who said she has heard calls as for more protected bike lanes, said such bike lanes would cost more but would feel safer. She said more protected bikeways could encourage more people to bike and to bike with people of multiple ages.

Councilmember Steve Hallfin focused on the roundabout in his comments.

“I’m really jazzed about the roundabout,” he said. “I really think that that’s going to make that area a much more vibrant area.”

Mayor Jake Spano pointed out that the project would involve two county roads, improve access to two light rail stations, involve freight rail crossings, connect to the recreation center and cross a state freeway.

“Everybody’s got their own opinion, but that’s a lot of stuff to try and fit in a 10-pound bag,” Spano said.

The council is slated to vote on the project Monday, Oct. 21.

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