In a Sept. 9, 2021 email to the Uptown Association and other parties, Interim Public Works Director Brette Hjelle stated in defense of Public Works’ recommended Hennepin Avenue designs that, “Our streets will be designed to address a climate emergency by emphasizing low or no carbon travel. “Our streets will add protection for people walking and bicycling (and) provide space for other important corridor amenities and features such as greening.”
Public Works has never tried to answer the question of whether its recommended design advances these goals or moves in the other direction. The clear answer is Public Works’ recommended design moves in the other direction from these goals.
Public Works’ design will increase carbon emissions. U.S. Department of Transportation data shows that urban transit produces greater carbon emissions per passenger mile than cars. Locally, the Metropolitan Council 2040 draft transportation plan Table 12 shows that its proposed bus-rapid-transit will increase total on-road mobile source emissions including automobiles in 2040. Thus, Public Works’ design will result in increased emissions from bus-rapid-transit as well delayed cars idling on the avenue and detouring through neighborhoods.
Bike and pedestrian safety
Public Works’ sidewalk designs along Hennepin Avenue will increase bicycle and pedestrian accidents and injuries. By removing parking, the design sets up Hennepin Avenue as a freeway with expected higher speeds since it ignores the recommendations in “designing roads that guide drivers to choose safer speeds” as cited in the MnDOT Traffic Safety Fundamentals Handbook. The two-way bikeway design next to a sidewalk can also be expected to increase bicycle and pedestrian accidents and injuries according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studies. Public Work’s touted sidewalk curb extensions are shown on side streets instead of for crossing the busier and wider Hennepin Avenue where they are most needed.
Public Work’s design reduces maintainable greenspace on the avenue to less than half of its current potential. The project FAQ asks, “How will greening be added to the corridor?” and then doesn’t answer the question. Presumably this is because the design reduces greenspace with narrower boulevards and a large portion of the design’s “potential greenspace” in areas such as medians that will not be maintained by the city or anyone else.
Minneapolis Public Works’ use of city plans and goals to justify a flawed design for Hennepin Avenue is clearly not appropriate. Public Works needs to push the reset button and provide a new design that will be a win-win for the avenue and the city’s goals.
Tom Fletcher is a 30-plus year owner and manager of vintage apartments and commercial properties on Hennepin Avenue and a City of Minneapolis Lowry Hill Special Service District advisory board member.