We have something to celebrate in Uptown! While it sometimes feels like we are drowning in bad news, I’m here to give kudos where they are due and to celebrate Minneapolis municipal work done well.
The City of Minneapolis Public Works recently released its final design recommendation for the Hennepin Avenue S. reconstruction project between Lake Street and Douglas Avenue. Public Works staff are recommending permanent dedicated bus lanes, wider sidewalks, more greenery and dedicated left-turn lanes (no more getting stuck behind left-turning vehicles!). The layout also includes dedicated delivery and passenger drop-off areas, shorter pedestrian crossing distances and a two-way, curb-level bike lane. Construction has been delayed a year to 2024 after consulting with the local business community still recovering from the pandemic.
The city’s plan is great. Still, I want to address the elephant in the room: parking. Hennepin Ave is going to look different than it does now. There are currently more than 3,600 parking spaces on and within a half block of Hennepin. The city’s parking study shows that even in the busiest times, parking demand does not exceed 73%. Slightly less than 10% of the corridor total (roughly 340) parking spaces are slated for removal, all of which are directly on Hennepin.
There will still be delivery and drop-off zones either on Hennepin or on side streets to serve businesses. This leaves a substantial buffer of available parking spaces while devoting more public right-of-way for greater accessibility, safety, trees — things that create an inviting human experience in this neighborhood corridor. Better yet, similar redesign experiences in places like Toronto, Canada, and Dubuque, Iowa, have resulted in greater economic activity — a promising outcome from a battered pandemic economy.
For generations we’ve overlooked safety in designing our city streets. This 1.4-mile stretch of Hennepin in particular is home to three of the top 25 most dangerous intersections in the city. At the center of this recommended reconstruction, however, are safety and community. This design adds bump-outs to increase visibility of pedestrians, and limits speeding and drag-racer donuts with a center median.
Jefferson School will gain a safe bike route to school for students and staff with a protected bike lane in front of the building. Similar to Lyndale Avenue south of 31st Street, dedicated left-turn lanes and a single lane of vehicle through traffic will provide better predictability for travelers. Changes in on-street parking will minimize cars and the people exiting them from being sideswiped. Hennepin Avenue can become a model of people-centered street design — a place people want to visit and spend time.
With this design, my neighbor, Tim, who has a disability and walks with a cane, can be assured that the route 17 bus he catches won’t be caught in traffic. My neighbor, Dawn, who is 85 and who hasn’t driven a car in 50 years, can more safely walk to Kowalski’s via a new signaled intersection on Fremont Avenue for her regular grocery trip. And my neighbor, Phil, who totes his kids in his cargo bike, can access new destinations along the corridor.
Of course, no design is perfect. The tail ends of the design lack a dedicated bus lane. And long pedestrian crossing distances near Lagoon Avenue are a concern, among others. Still, it’s a major improvement that recognizes residents’ diverse needs and provides real transportation options.
The Hennepin Avenue project has rightfully received much attention in its redesign. This is the first major redesign project since the city adopted the Transportation Action Plan and declared a climate emergency. As with any significant capital project, there have been dozens of public meetings, hundreds of comments submitted, and plentiful area signage engaging the public.
The outcome for Hennepin is an indicator of how seriously the city plans on taking its road design policies and climate commitments. If Hennepin is the measuring stick, I’m happy that Minneapolis is standing tall. The city is soliciting comments through Jan. 28 and holding a virtual open house Jan. 13 on the recommended design. Go to https://www.minneapolismn.gov/government/projects/hennepin-ave-s/ for more information.
Katie Jones lives in Lowry Hill East and is a member of Hennepin for People.