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Is Minneapolis doing enough to make the city pedestrian friendly?

Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Health Department
This popular pedestrian intersection on Glenwood Ave. and Dupont Ave. N. lacks a visible crosswalk and signage between the bus stop and the community center across the e street.

Longtime north Minneapolis resident Donna Hemp struggles every winter to reach the bus stop near her house, her only way around the city other than walking.

“People just don’t get out there and clean up the snow,” said Hemp, who’s blind and relies on public transit to get around. “There’s a lot of foreclosures and abandoned houses — especially since the tornado of 2011 — so there’s nobody to clean up the snow.”

Hemp clears her own walkway, but struggles during heavy snowfalls when many of her surrounding neighbors don’t or can’t shovel their property, she said. She ends up calling the city to help her at least once a year, she said. “It’s embarrassing that we got to do that,” she said.

And while the City of Minneapolis has been making active efforts over the last year to fund pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects, some residents said the city needs to do more to prioritize making its transit ways more pedestrian friendly, especially in areas of the city where residents are more dependent on public transportation.

Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Scott Engel said the most important thing for the city to be prioritizing right now is making poorly designed roads safer for pedestrians. On the north side in particular, he said, many of the main thoroughfares are designed to get motorists in and out at high speeds, which makes crossing for walkers dangerous.

“It almost feels suburban, the way the roads are built,” Engel said. “Plymouth Avenue and West Broadway and Highway 55 …. A comfortable, connected, walking network is not there.”

Other issues involve roads that have narrow sidewalks or no sidewalks at all, he said, and intersections that are too complicated or too long for safe pedestrian crossing.

According to Minneapolis city data, there were 363 accidents involving motorists and pedestrians between June 2014 and June 2015, 20 percent of which happened on the north side.

Minneapolis Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Matthew Dyrdahl said the city is aware of barriers facing walkers and issues like narrow or missing sidewalks, unfriendly pedestrian intersections and clearing walkways of snow and ice are all priorities for Minneapolis’ 2016 planning. “Those are things we are exploring how to tackle,” he said.

Over the last 10 months, Dyrdahl said, Minneapolis has been working with the Pedestrian Advisory Committee and other pedestrian advocacy groups to identify which areas in the city have issues and just what those issues are so they know how to address them properly. And this winter, the city has launched a study specifically geared toward winter maintenance, he said. “We want to make Minneapolis one of the best biking and walking cities in the nation,” Dyrdahl said.

City’s not moving fast enough?

A look at Minneapolis’ 2016 budget shows the city plans to allocate tens of thousands of dollars to reconstructing specific roads around the city, which is when most pedestrian infrastructure is renovated. The city is also putting more than $20,000 into sidewalk repairs.

But some pedestrian advocates said that’s not enough for what they say is a walking system that needs a lot of love.

“If you look at all the money poured into the Vikings and the Twins stadium, and the LRT planning, it’s so disproportionate to what could be spent and do so much good and benefit more people,” said Minneapolis Highrise Representatives Council executive director Barb Harris.

The Minneapolis Highrise Representatives Council (MHRC) worked with Minneapolis last year to survey 10 different high-rise apartment complexes to help identify walking barriers for their residents — who are mostly elderly and disabled. The survey, she said, showed that most of their residents reported trouble getting around in the winter, walkways in disrepair and feeling unsafe crossing intersections.

Engel said the city does make pedestrian infrastructural improvements, but not in a systemic way, and it often takes too long in between each improvement.

“The city doesn’t seem to have a real coordinated effort to make improvements for pedestrians beyond when a road is going to be reconstructed,” he said. “So, every 50 or 60 years a road gets fully reconstructed and the city will improve the sidewalks.”

There are more than a dozen specific road reconstructions projected for funding in 2016, according to the mayor’s recommended budget.

Part of the problem is the issue lacks a large, coordinated advocacy effort, Engel said. If Minneapolis residents rallied around walking the way they rally around bicycling, he said, the city would likely be pushing pedestrian renovations faster.

Harris said there is a growing pedestrian advocacy community, but they’ve had to build it up from scratch. And part of that is getting people dependent on public transit into advisory committees to help shape policy, she said, such as people of color and people with disabilities.

“Pedestrian advocates are becoming more vocal and more focused,” she said. “But the changes aren’t happening fast enough.”

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Robert Albee on 12/23/2015 - 11:26 am.

    Is Minneapolis doing enough to be pedestrian-friendly

    This story only scratches the surface!

    When you consider the huge outlays of $$ for making Minneapolis a more bike-friendly city, you see the disproportionate focus on sidewalks and intersections. Consider how many cyclists there are compared to pedestrians, yet the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has lobbied Minneapolis City Council to the nines, without much regard to those who must rely on their own feet to get around.

    If only the Bike Coalition has the interest in working with the walkers and would use some of their “moxie”, we’d be farther down the line. I also wonder about all the grants that the City has gotten for bikeways and how many grants they’ve applied for to increase expenditures on our walkways… It’s time to get AARP and other elder and “handicapped-advocacy” groups into a coalition similar to the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition and start demanding some equity for pedestrians!

    • Submitted by Wayne Coppock on 12/23/2015 - 05:51 pm.

      100% agree

      The city has gone out of its way lately to add bike infrastructure, largely due to the successful lobbying efforts of the MBC and other groups. I know they have a narrow mission, but it seems like pedestrian issues are a natural fit with a lot of their goals. The ideal hierarchy of consideration for users should probably be in order of most common/accessible to the general population to the least. So something like: pedestrians > transit users > bikes > cars. Unfortunately it seems to go exactly the opposite way now and we end up with an unsafe transportation system that is laughably bad for a city with aspirations of grandeur.

      As things stand now I have to constantly invoke the threat of ADA violations to 311 to even get them to pay attention to pedestrian issues. Compliance with the letter of the law but not the spirit is despicable, and in most cases they aren’t even in compliance with the letter anyway. But the way they add push buttons (required by ADA!) whenever they rebuild an intersection, yet make zero attempt at adding curb outs or other traffic calming measures (not required! but they certainly make things safer) shows you exactly where their priorities are.

      We should be thankful for the light snow so far this year for no other reason than it takes most of the winter harassing 311 to ever get them to resolve un-shoveled sidewalks. The fact that their turn-around time is weeks and they have a warning as the first step instead of just clearing it is totally unacceptable. I guess anyone who isn’t able-bodied enough to climb over the snow or slip their way across the ice is just out of luck for the months it takes the city to address the issue. I’d be interested to know if their extremely lax enforcement of shoveling rules could be grounds for an ADA lawsuit, actually.

  2. Submitted by William Lindeke on 12/23/2015 - 11:54 am.

    Hennepin County

    It’s worth making the distinction between city and county roads. Many of the worst designed streets for people on foot, including the examples listed above, are designed by Hennepin County, which is a completely separate public works department from the city. Changing them to make them safer for the people in your story will require the “buy-in” from County Commissions, the majority of whom do not represent Minneapolis and are more likely to prioritize higher speeds and wider roads over crosswalks and sidewalks.

    That’s starting to change, but it’s important to get the conversation started with the County Commissioners, not just the City Council.

    • Submitted by Robert Albee on 12/23/2015 - 06:47 pm.

      Pedestrian-Friendly Minneapolis?

      Funny, but my feet cannot tell the difference between City and County, so let’s talk to who’s in charge, regardless of ownership and maintenance assignments…

      • Submitted by William Lindeke on 12/30/2015 - 02:01 pm.

        That’s my point

        Calling out “Minneapolis” might actually be counter-productive if the real problem is Hennepin County commissioners and public works’ decision-makers who don’t live in the city.

  3. Submitted by Stephanie Sarich on 12/23/2015 - 02:10 pm.

    Safety when getting off the bus/transit stops

    It can be downright dangerous when everything is plowed over and you can’t wait at the designated bus stops. You’re literally left off right on the highway (such as when coming from Wayzata to Byerly’s), with traffic coming at you.

  4. Submitted by David Markle on 12/23/2015 - 06:33 pm.


    The city’s street alterations in Cedar-Riverside, particularly on Cedar between 3rd and 7th, resulted in a modest possible gain in pedestrian safety at 5th (vacated) and Cedar, near Palmer’s Bar, and–in my opinion–worse danger along the rest of this strip because of worsened congestion during afternoon rush hour. Drivers seem testier and more willing to crowd intersections and take chances.

    • Submitted by William Lindeke on 12/30/2015 - 02:04 pm.

      “Drivers seem testier.”

      Then the problem is the drivers, who need to relax. Rush hour and congestion aren’t going away in this hugely-important and dense neighborhood. I think the re-design is a huge improvement and a social justice issue.

  5. Submitted by Joe Musich on 12/24/2015 - 09:19 pm.

    Enforcement could …

    or should improve to create safety for walkers. Cars and bikes beating crossing walkers at turns are depandable regular occrences. You can read the drivers lips – “I ain’t waiting for this walker and lose my turn to turn, dammit!” The intersection by Traders Joe’s along Excelsior Blvd is death defying for a walker. Just put a cop car or cop in uniform 10 min a day at the right time with a ticket book in hand.

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