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.”