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Hennepin Avenue needs a holistic redesign, not another Public Works mistake

Given the disastrous outcomes of Phase One, the city owes all stakeholders residents, businesses and visitors a better plan.

A detail of a rendering of the recommended design layout for reconstruction on south Hennepin.
A detail of a rendering of the recommended design layout for reconstruction on south Hennepin.
City of Minneapolis

Hennepin Avenue is the historic artery in the middle of Minneapolis, and Uptown has been the beating cultural and activity heart of the city for a long time. However, the proposed Hennepin Avenue redesign that the city is barreling toward will be an unnecessary repeat of another failed Uptown project.

At this critical moment, we must remind city leaders, as well as those who disagree with us; it is possible to want changes to Hennepin Avenue, but also feel that the proposed plan is not the answer. The city must do better.

Many of us remember the recent “Phase One” of the Hennepin project that stretched southward from Lake Street to Lakewood Cemetery. It altered Hennepin Avenue radically in terms of its design and abruptly in terms of its implementation. By many accounts, it was a failure in many different ways. Given the disastrous outcomes of Phase One, the city owes all stakeholders residents, businesses and visitors a better plan, not a repeat of the last one.

While people of many differing viewpoints have been getting more involved recently, our organization has been involved since the beginning of the Public Works participation process. We’ve spent hours in meetings, corresponded with Public Works staff many times, suggested our own concerns and those of our neighbors, as well as proposed other options and suggestions to Public Works staff.

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Just as was the case with Phase One, our concerns have not been heard, and have not been Incorporated. When asked, Public Works staff have not sufficiently provided answers to a host of critical questions that are at the heart of the goals they are claiming to be pursuing.

Since “prosperity” is one of the City’s Transportation Action Plan goals, how does the evidence from Phase One (such as reduced revenue for the businesses, decreased property values, increased assessments, job losses from closed or diminished businesses) inform the decision-making this time? What are the specifics of the climate benefits, from a plan that will likely create gridlock and idling cars on the avenue? How does this project incorporate the “new normal” that we might have once the pandemic recedes? For example, how does this plan incorporate potentially different downtown commuting patterns? What are the time benefits of 24/7 bus lanes, compared to other measures such as the current cyclical bus lanes that share with parking, the fewer stops they are proposing as part of BRT (bus, rapid transit) traffic signal timing, locations of stops, etc.? Why can’t this project accommodate electric cars, which will be a critical part of changing America’s fossil-fuel consumption patterns? Isn’t that a more realistic vision of the future than exponential increases in year-round bike ridership in the Minnesota climate? 

Aaron Meyers
Aaron Meyers
The 2018 parking study being used for the project counts more than 3,000 spaces, but omits that more than 2,500 of those are private off-street stalls that are not publicly available, and more importantly, Public Works does not have a strategy to make them available. Why can’t Public Works staff provide a more realistic study?

Annually, thousands of visitors spend millions of dollars in Uptown. To date, Public Works staff has not taken the time to understand the economic impacts, talked to individual business owners on the avenue, or been transparent about the economic and environmental impacts. They have shown through their words, processes and, ultimately, this plan, that they just don’t want to hear ideas different from their own.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. A survey we conducted in 2021 of Hennepin retailers showed that more than 30 independent, locally-owned businesses said they would seriously consider leaving the avenue if such a radical and abrupt plan is adopted.

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Many city policies have laudable goals. But implementation of those policies is critical, and the implementation of this project is missing the mark, just as it did before. The path we are on, which looks remarkably like a repeat of Phase One on a much larger scale, is a disastrous course for this vibrant commercial district unless Public Works staff realize they must meaningfully incorporate other ideas, or the leaders in the mayor’s office or city council intervene.

Many of us have new ideas for Hennepin Avenue that are different from what it is today, and have expressed them over the past year and half. The design that Minneapolis Public Works staff has produced is not the right solution. Rather than take a victory lap now as some are suggesting, it’s time for those at Public Works to roll up their sleeves and meaningfully incorporate other ideas into their plans for a more holistic Hennepin redesign. Hennepin Avenue cannot handle another massive Public Works mistake. We cannot repeat another Phase One.

Aaron Meyers is president of the board of the Uptown Association, a nonprofit organization of about 100 members that also produces the Uptown Art Fair. He is a resident of south Uptown.