Hennepin Avenue redesign, bus lane additions pass Minneapolis City Council

A controversial part of the redesign of Hennepin Ave through Uptown Minneapolis received approval from the Minneapolis City Council Thursday, setting the stage for implementation of a project that has been long debated.

Thursday the project was approved by a vote of 11-2, with members Lisa Goodman and Robin Wonsley being the dissenting votes.

The new design of Hennepin Avenue will reduce vehicle traffic from four lanes to three during the 1.4-mile stretch, while adding protected bike lanes and a dedicated bus lane that will be in service at least six hours a day. 

It’s the bus lanes portion that previously held up the project, with proponents arguing to have them dedicated to public transit on a 24/7 basis.

"The resolution in front of us today is not perfect; it’s not the outcome I wanted… But we met somewhere in the middle — it’s a culmination of a lot of compromise," said council member Aisha Chughtai, noting she will continue to advocate for 24-hour bus lanes throughout the city in the future. "This resolution provides a path forward, and that’s really important to keep this project moving."

Wonsley shared her disdain for a compromise that she felt did not accomplish the goals of her constituents.

"What is in front of us is not a compromise. It is the result of personal politics and deference to the status quo," she said, claiming there was consensus initially that 24/7 bus lanes would be the best path forward.  

Negotiations needed for approval

The bus lanes aspect has been a back-and-forth negotiation for months between city officials and public stakeholders, with the council voting to approve the redesign of one of the city’s busiest streets – including 24/7 bus lanes – in June.

But then Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey sent a letter to council members informing them he had vetoed the resolution that directed the City Engineer to establish parking restrictions on Hennepin Avenue South between Douglas Avenue and West Lake Street, per council’s approved layout – an aspect necessary for the bus lanes. 

Taken up during its June 30 meeting, the council then failed to secure a two-thirds veto override by a vote of 8-3. 

During a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee hearing on July 28, the committee passed the previously approved redesign to now include a dedicated lane for buses that's enforced for "a minimum of six hours a day as dedicated to transit priority." 

At the meeting, council president Andrew Johnson noted that the agreement amounts to a compromise between the council and mayor’s goals.

However, as the dissenting vote, council member Wonsley said, "compromise usually means that both sides have made concessions… and it’s unclear who has made concessions really beyond the transit-dependent riders."

"I'm really sorry this is the best outcome we can get in this moment," said council member Chughtai at the meeting, a staunch advocate for 24/7 enforcement who ultimately voted in favor of the agreement.

Throughout the process, businesses along Hennepin Avenue have also fought the redesign, citing the reduction of parking as problematic for their patrons.