Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
YWCA Minneapolis generously supports MinnPost’s metro news coverage. Learn why.

Five takeaways from Minneapolis’ new plan to boost street safety

The Vision Zero effort has uncovered where serious collisions most often occur, including Lake Street in south Minneapolis.
MinnPost file photo by Tony Nelson
The Vision Zero effort has uncovered where serious collisions most often occur.

Minneapolis transportation leaders unveiled a three-year plan Tuesday to boost street safety with lower speed limits, new traffic enforcement officers, additional crosswalks and other roadway changes. Here are the plan’s biggest takeaways, traffic trends that motivated the proposals, and when residents could begin noticing different rules for getting around the city:

The number of people killed or seriously injured in traffic crashes in Minneapolis has gone up

Between the mid-2000s and 2013, the number of severe or deadly collisions on Minneapolis streets decreased, according to city data that transportation leaders shared with City Council members Tuesday. But in 2014, the trend reversed — cause by a spike in vehicle vs. pedestrian crashes specifically —  and 2016 and 2017, the city saw the decade’s highest number of incidents in which someone on any mode suffered a serious injury. Last year alone, three people died walking in Minneapolis, and traffic engineers recorded more than 330 additional injuries among pedestrians. 


“Those are not numbers,” said Ethan Fawley, of the city’s Public Works Department, which is leading the plan. “Those are lives — those are people, families forever impacted.”

The troubling trend is the reason for the plan, called Vision Zero, which is part of a nationwide initiative to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and injuries in its roughly 35 participating cities. Fawley and city staff spent the past two years compiling the data to create the draft proposal, which will guide how the city spends money on road safety improvements between 2020 and 2022.

Minneapolis is preparing to lower speed limits.

As Minneapolis’ Vision Zero program coordinator, Fawley and local transportation leaders statewide lobbied state lawmakers this spring to allow large municipalities to establish their own speed limits on city-owned streets, rather than relying on state law. They were successful, and the city of Minneapolis does not want to waste time with making the changes official on the streets it owns. (The reduced levels would not apply to Hennepin County roads or state Interstates.)

“We know that [lower speeds] will save lives,” Fawley said, pointing to studies that show how the severity of crashes often correlates with drivers’ speed. “Higher traffic speeds [make] it harder for somebody to stop, so increases the likelihood of crashes and … increases the chances that a crash could be deadly or lead to severe injury, and that is especially true for people walking.”

Minneapolis’ Traffic Operations Engineer Steve Mosing said reduced speed limits make sense for his city, in particular, due to the complexity of the system including electric scooters, app-based ride shares, protected bike lanes and a street grid system with intersections at every 300 to 600 feet.

But it’s not yet clear where, and to what extent, drivers would have to adjust their speeds under the new proposal. A separate ordinance would determine those details, pending City Council approval.

Currently, Minneapolis transportation officials are in talks with those in St. Paul so that they create a consistent plan for new speed limits across the cities, as well as analyzing traffic on a street-by-street basis (most have speed limits between 20 and 40 mph). “It’s important for the city of Minneapolis to have a defensible … study with integrity that’s based on engineering,” Mosing said. “The actual physics and the environment of the roadway plays a huge role.”

Fawley said he hopes to have specific recommendations for reduced speeds by early next year, on which the council will vote.


The first priority is addressing the most dangerous roads and intersections.

The Vision Zero effort has uncovered where, exactly, serious collisions in Minneapolis most often occur, whether because of speeding, distracted driving or other risky behavior: intersections (many of which with light signals) and on streets with higher speed limits (more than 25 mph) and traffic volume. 

The plan categorizes those areas as “high-injury” corridors, which make up about 10 percent of all streets in the city — such as University, Central, Lowry, Hiawatha, Hennepin and Franklin avenues, as well as Broadway, Lake and 38th streets.

Over the next three years, crews will go corridor by corridor in those areas to change street designs or add new traffic features to try to keep people of all modes (by car, foot or bicycle) safe. Various pools of municipal money could pay for the improvements, though the overall financial plan is unclear  considering the early stage of Vision Zero and how it fits into other safety efforts already under way.

Among changes to the busy streets, crews will convert some four-lane roads (two lanes in each direction) — which could include Lyndale, Third and Hennepin avenues, as well as 31st Street East — into three lanes (one lane in each direction with a center turn lane). They’ll also install new traffic-calming features such as bollards or delineators in place of parking spots so that parked cars don’t block pedestrians trying to cross the street, as well as adjust the timing of signalized intersections and add medians in some areas to separate opposing lanes of traffic.

City of Minneapolis
“Putting these types of devices in creates a culture where the most vulnerable piece of the population, which would be our pedestrians, is better acknowledged on our street system,” Mosing said. By 2022, they are hoping to have made improvements to hundreds of intersections alone.

The city is also planning to paint more crosswalks on roads, under guidelines in the draft plan, and update city rules regarding private development to ensure that developers follow traffic-safety standards in their building designs.

Looking at development trends and travel patterns, a Vision Zero engineer — whom the city has yet to hire — will come up with specifics for the roadway changes, Mosing said.

At a Transportation and Public Works Committee meeting Tuesday, when the Vision Zero team presented the draft plan to council members for the first time, elected leaders expressed support for the effort’s plan to modify roadways with additional signs, signal adjustments or new features.


“The more we can manipulate the environment and change the environment to change behavior, the more effective that we’re going to be,” Council Member Cam Gordon said at the meeting. “When you make something structurally impossible to do, people aren’t going to be able to do it.”

The mayor wants a new traffic enforcement unit within The Minneapolis Police Department.

Vision Zero sets a framework for following through with a 2020 budget request by Frey to grow the Minneapolis Police Department’s number of traffic enforcement officers from zero to three.

As part of his citywide funding plan for next year, the mayor announced last month he wants to create a new “Accident Reduction” unit within the police department to monitor for law breakers on the road. 

It’s not a novel idea in Minneapolis: The city had a traffic-enforcement unit until 2003, when it eliminated the team “due to reduced staffing levels,” Frey’s budget says. Since then, patrol officers have been in charge of citing roadway users for violations, which can include red-light running or speeding, on top of answering 911 calls.

Pending approval from the City Council in December, Frey’s budget proposal would set aside $355,000 annually, as well as a one-time boost of $207,000, to create the new officer positions and pay for squad cars. Existing sworn cops would fill the openings, and the mayor wants the new team to work with the police department’s existing Traffic Investigations Unit.

MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Ethan Fawley, Minneapolis Vision Zero program coordinator, and Steve Mosing, Minneapolis traffic operations engineer during Tuesday night's unveiling of the street safety plan.
The investigations team includes just four people who responded to 4,491 hit-and-run crashes,  609 DWI cases, 181 dispatch calls in which drivers fled the area, 126 squad accidents and 8 deadly collisions last year alone, Frey’s budget says.

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, Council President Lisa Bender, who represents neighborhoods south of downtown, voiced skepticism of the increased focus on traffic enforcement. She said she’d like for the extra attention from officers to focus specifically on areas where the most crashes occur for the best chance of more citations curbing accidents and ensuring equity, yet she still has concerns over the amount of city dollars for the efforts versus other safety improvements.

To address those concerns, Robin Hutcheson, the city’s Public Works director, emphasized that the city is in contact with transportation officials in St. Paul, which currently has a traffic enforcement unit. There, officers base their work on input from traffic engineers, as well as data specific to the capital city and compiled by a University of Minnesota researcher. 

“They saw a pretty dramatic increase in compliance,” she said of the new approach, adding that Minneapolis may try to get the same type of U-led study to help the enforcement efforts.

Minneapolis is preparing for automated enforcement technology even though state law doesn’t allow it (yet).

Vision Zero sets the groundwork for installing technology on streets and sidewalks that aim to catch illegal behavior by drivers, while freeing up officers for other things. The technology could be cameras at signalized intersections to catch red-light runners or speed trackers on neighborhood streets to ensure motorists obey the limits, but the plan does not include details.

But current state law does not permit the technology, and opponents for years have argued that the recording devices infringe on their privacy. 

The city of Minneapolis (alongside other jurisdictions) has tried for years to advocate for a change to the state statute, with no success. For now, though, Fawley said traffic engineers are launching a study to determine how they would roll out the technology if, or when, state lawmakers come around to it. 

“People should expect that, you know, we are focusing on those [illegal] behaviors so they can address their behavior,” Fawley said.

Looking ahead

Vision Zero is just one piece of the city’s transportation plan. The newly released draft plan fits within broader policy frameworks, such as Minneapolis’ Transportation Action Plan and Minneapolis 2040, which establish long-term goals for street design and traffic improvements as the city grows. Vision Zero also builds upon already-established safety efforts at both the local and state levels. 

Once the city closes a public comment period on Oct. 16, Fawley’s team will revise the draft plan based on the feedback and then present a new version to the council in late 2019 or early 2020. They are set to go through the same steps in a few years and create another plan that builds on the latest plan’s proposals.

Hutcheson, the city’s director of Public Works, described the plan as a catalyst to “refine and accelerate” the overall push for better street designs and traffic features to keep people safe. Because one traffic-related death or injury in Minneapolis is one too many, supporters have said. 

“This list of folks who died on our streets last year — that is unacceptable,” Fawley said. “Together, we can do something about it.”

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by lisa miller on 09/18/2019 - 10:27 am.

    Certainly lowering the speed and looking at congested areas would help in reducing accidents. However, the policy makers are incredibly blind to the fact that there are many not currently following the laws–driving too fast, running red lights, turning from non turn lanes, etc..
    So Lisa Bender does not think added enforcement would help? Certainly more education is needed, but at some point enforcement does send a clear message. If someone is clearly violating the law and putting others at risk, why not use law enforcement. If the issue is with the police, then increase training. It’s at a point where people’s safety is at risk.

  2. Submitted by Pat Berg on 09/18/2019 - 10:46 am.

    Bollards

  3. Submitted by Colin Brownlow on 09/18/2019 - 10:52 am.

    If Minneapolis or other cities are really looking to cut down on serious injuries and fatalities they really need to look at intersection design – specifically replacement of stop light and stop sign controlled intersections with roundabouts. That eliminates T-Bones and stop sign running right away.

    • Submitted by Katie Jones on 09/18/2019 - 05:22 pm.

      That definitely is a good treatment for vehicles, but it makes for tricky intersections for peds and bikes (and the like).

    • Submitted by Mike Hogan on 09/19/2019 - 03:29 pm.

      Cross those intersections on foot is dangerous, especially when drivers no longer come to a full stop.

  4. Submitted by James Baker on 09/18/2019 - 12:41 pm.

    One of the larger threats that I notice walking around Uptown is drivers waiting to cross oncoming traffic to make a left or right turn—they’re often watching traffic, while not keeping an eye on pedestrians in the crosswalk. If a driver is scooting through a brief break in the oncoming line of cars and there’s a person in the crosswalk, there’s going to be a crash, either taking out the walker or stopping across the oncoming traffic. Walkers will likely lose that one.

    Walkers really need to monitor that situation carefully, as I have learned after a few close brushes. I’ve made it a habit to always visually look around the entire intersection before stepping onto the crosswalk. Several times, I’ve noticed people in a social group stepping onto a crosswalk oblivious to the dangerous setup I mentioned about to unfold.

    Even at light-controlled intersections, like the notorious Lyndale and Lake that last year was singled out as the most hazardous for pedestrians in Minneapolis, drivers will turn across crosswalks in front of pedestrians when the walk light is lit.

    As drivers have the power advantage, they should reasonably be held responsible for protecting the safety of pedestrians—the reality is walkers really need to take that initiative to stay safe. Perhaps an in-your-face public service campaign for “be a safe walker” would help to make that point. Staged setups in a campaign could show the danger. Might help.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/18/2019 - 12:57 pm.

    MinnPost readers who have time for recreational reading ought to take a look at a book that lays out virtually every argument made by the people quoted in Jessica’s MinnPost piece, plus a few more from the people not represented. If you’re interested, I highly recommend it:

    “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City”
    by Peter D. Norton

    It’s from the MIT Press, and is now a decade old, but in examining the urban street environment as the automobile (and the trolley, the bus, etc.) became more and more prominent in the urban streetscape, the book shows the development and refinement of the arguments from both sides in Jessica’s piece, and in the process shows that most of them are at least a century old or more. Drivers (a century ago, they were more commonly referred to as “motorists,” a term that’s still used, but not as often as it used to be) blame pedestrians and cyclists; pedestrians blame drivers and cyclists; cyclists blame drivers and pedestrians. Perhaps the most basic issues boil down to: Who are the streets in the city for? Who should have access to them? Which uses of the streets should have priority? And at least as important, who gets to decide these things?

    Arguments that drivers are going too fast, or that pedestrians are inattentive, or that cyclists ignore the rules, or that intersections (or roads) are badly-designed, are all anecdotally at least partly true, and are also at least a hundred years old. Obviously, we’ve still not resolved them.

    • Submitted by James Baker on 09/18/2019 - 08:59 pm.

      I think a simpler way to think about is: those with the greatest power advantage should have the highest level of accountability—”should”, while those who are most vulnerable where there is risk, are going to need to take necessary care to protect themselves. Careless driving behavior should bear the burden of legal accountability; while I don’t think people could be fined for not protecting their flank from impetuous drivers.

      But like I mentioned above, a public service campaign that shows how vulnerable walkers are in many settings (based on statistics), might increase the alertness of walkers (or bikers) to the hazards of not paying attention in situations where the risks can be life-changing, or ending.

      That’s an acknowledgement that a certain hopefully small percentage of drivers will put you at risk if you’re not paying attention. Addressing the problem from that end could be inexpensive and might also increase safer driving.

  6. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 09/18/2019 - 01:24 pm.

    I don’t see where lowering the speed limit will change already established behaviors. But I do think it will raise revenue by giving the police more reasons to ticket. Adding the traffic control officers seems to go along with that. If they are so worried about pedestrians instead of hiring three traffic control officers they should hire three more beat cops to walk around downtown during prime mugging times.

  7. Submitted by Paul Flaming on 09/18/2019 - 02:43 pm.

    A lot of stop lights could be replaced with 4 way stop signs. People don’t accelerate to “beat” stop signs. It also enables pedestrians to cross sooner because they don’t have to wait for the light to change.

    • Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 09/22/2019 - 07:20 pm.

      Paul Flaming: You are correct that drivers don’t have to try to beat 4–way stops. They often simply ignore them, driving through without even slowing down.

  8. Submitted by Jeffrey Jacobson on 09/18/2019 - 03:08 pm.

    While speeding can contribute to increased vehicular incidents, it’s not the singular reason. Municipalities must consistently enforce laws that set a minimum distance vehicles can be parked from intersections, alleys, driveways, etc. When vehicles are allowed to park right up to the corner, crosswalk or driveway, it is impossible to see around these vehicles. Obstructed views cause drivers to commit unsafe acts/decisions which leads to more near misses and/or accidents. Remember that for every accident there were multiple (often dozens of) near misses that (thankfully) never made it to an actual accident. Add a sidewalk and bicycle lane to this blind spot and there’s a recipe for disaster.

    • Submitted by Mark Snyder on 09/19/2019 - 09:04 am.

      As Ethan Fawley pointed out, speeding makes everything else worse. You have less time to stop to prevent a collision and when a collision does occur, there’s a greater impact and more damage. Focusing on speed reduction is the fastest way to improve safety while we wait for the city to figure out how to pay for street and intersection redesign.

  9. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 09/18/2019 - 03:08 pm.

    “What are you doing?”
    “Looking for my keys. I dropped them over there.”
    “So why are you looking here?”
    “The light’s better.”

    When I’m in the car, on my bike or on foot I don’t see a lot of speeding cars but I sure see a lot of bad driving. The hazard is in the form of unexpected behaviors by drivers who are oblivious or distracted, who aren’t fully processing their visual environment, and who simply don’t appear to have a sense of how they should move their vehicle through space in a way that signals their intentions and avoids gratuitous disruption of others’ movements. I see a lot of red-light and stop-sign running, not by speeding cars but by folks who are just not grasping that there’s a red light or stop sign in front of them. Since everyone pretty much has a right to a driver’s license, I don’t know how one fixes that, so we might as well reduce speed limits, I guess.

    • Submitted by Mark Snyder on 09/19/2019 - 09:08 am.

      One idea I’ve had and I’m not sure how realistic this is, but to somehow incorporate a requirement for retesting or refreshing driver skills/awareness of traffic laws when renewing drivers licenses. Almost nobody seems to know that state law requires drivers to stop for crossing pedestrians at ANY intersection (Minn. Stat. 169.21 subd. 2), not just marked crosswalks. Highlighting this and perhaps topics like zipper merging, how to behave at roundabouts, etc. could be helpful.

  10. Submitted by Benjamin Osa on 09/18/2019 - 04:06 pm.

    I agree with Lisa above. They need to go back to reexamining the use of red-light cameras. Running red lights, even with several pedestrians and bikers observable and present on the cross street corners, is a very common occurrence on the main street arteries in Minneapolis.

    People are in a rush, and I get it, but the risk of killing a vulnerable infrastructure user is too great to save 1-2 minutes at a stop light. These people should get tickets and the collective behavior will change after the first round of tickets.

  11. Submitted by Phyllis Kahn on 09/18/2019 - 04:44 pm.

    How about starting by enforcing the “NO scooters allowed on sidewalks” law?

  12. Submitted by John Kantar on 09/18/2019 - 07:38 pm.

    If there were bicycle only streets instead of reducing space on major thoroughfares to allow for bicycles (for example make 27th for bicycle only instead of altering 26th and 28th to accommodate both cars and bikes) it would be less stressful and safer for automobile drivers, bicycle riders, and pedestrians. It would also make it easier to identify infractions and their causes. Reducing speed is always a good safety idea.

  13. Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/18/2019 - 10:28 pm.

    I cross fairly regularly at Blaisdell and 34th. The intersection has the flashing lights trigger for pedi to push when they cross. The flashing lights it acknowledged by 50% of drivers and bikers when triggered at the intersection. The key is the driver closet to the intersection stopping. If that drivers does then others have to of course. If not a torrent could ensue as often does. I have never seen a patrol car at that intersection. All the laws one would want could be on the books but enforcing them after the fact does no good for the bodies.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/19/2019 - 08:39 am.

    “Walkers really need to monitor that situation carefully, as I have learned after a few close brushes. I’ve made it a habit to always visually look around the entire intersection before stepping onto the crosswalk. Several times, I’ve noticed people in a social group stepping onto a crosswalk oblivious to the dangerous setup I mentioned about to unfold.”

    Not to blame pedestrians but parents used to hammer into their kids heads the practice of looking both ways before crossing the street…. it’s kind of a: “duh” isn’t it?

    Yes, drivers are distracted and overwhelmed, especially in complex or busy intersections. Yes, even at slow speeds getting hit by a car or a truck can cause serious injury. Knowing this, why would anyone step into a street without making sure it’s safe to do so?

    I know I can be a cranky old man, and it’s not scientific, but I swear more and more pedestrians are sauntering out into traffic without even looking or considering the possibility that they’re stepping into moving traffic. Now we have scooter riders in the mix doing the same thing.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t lower speeds but obviously posting lower speed limits doesn’t actually slow traffic down. As far as I know the speed limit on every parkway in MPLS is 25mph… is anyone driving below 35?

    It would ironic if the speed limit on Hiawatha were reduced to 30 mph. After all the big rationale for building that urban hi-way was to get to the airport faster. If you go back and look at the Environmental Impact Statement you’d see that planners claimed the new hi-way would be safer for everyone as well. Both car and pedestrian accidents have increased substantially since they rammed that project through sacred land over by the water falls and the oak savanna.

    Better designs are always a good idea but you can’t make the world idiot-proof. No matter what your design is if someone steps in front of a moving car or train they’re going to get hit.

    I’m looking for the research here that tells us why these accidents are increasing? Pointing to “research” regarding speed limits alone is inherently problematic (What speeds? How much? What kinds of street and roadways? etc. etc.).

    You need to look at those accidents and find out what happened, not merely count the number accidents and fatalities. If there’s a significant increase something must have changed. The streets are the same streets and the speed limits are the same speed limits so off hand I’d say you’d start by looking at traffic levels and pedestrian levels, and driver and pedestrian behavior.

    • Submitted by Mark Snyder on 09/19/2019 - 09:41 am.

      That’s actually part of the Vision Zero plan is to “Improve the quality and timeliness of relevant traffic safety data.” What the data shows so far is the top five unsafe behaviors on Minneapolis streets are: red light running, speeding, unsafe turning (e.g. not looking for pedestrians first), driving under the influence and distracted driving.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2019 - 09:37 am.

        Mark,

        There’s data collection and then there’s data collection.

        “” What the data shows so far is the top five unsafe behaviors on Minneapolis streets are: red light running, speeding, unsafe turning (e.g. not looking for pedestrians first), driving under the influence and distracted driving.”

        THAT’S not data collection, that’s a mundane observation that requires no data. Those are ALL well known behaviors that have caused accidents ever since people started driving automobiles. If THAT’S all your “data” can reveal you’re not trying to collect data seriously, and your not going to explain why these accidents are increasing. And again, those observations are all directed at drivers, as if drivers are ALWAYS primarily responsible for collisions with cyclists or pedestrians.

  15. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 09/19/2019 - 10:13 am.

    What changed in 2014, that made traffic so dangerous?

    My guess is, increased construction on city streets, on several main thoroughfares at the same time, routing all traffic into fewer routes.

    Turning Lake, Hennepin and Lyndale into one lane each way? Driving in over-built Uptown is awful as is. Lake is awful all the time. Cutting the available thoroughfares in half? Where is all that traffic going to go? Into urban planning fairy land, apparently.

    Otherwise, if these new changes work as well for Minneapolis traffic as light rail worked for moving traffic on Hiawatha 55 (the most frustrating road in all the Twin Cities), then I will assume it will take twice as long to get across this city as it does now.

  16. Submitted by Susan Doherty on 09/22/2019 - 01:46 pm.

    A big part of the problem now is that drivers aren’t following posted speed limits and there isn’t a Traffics Enforcement Unit to ticket speeders. What good does it do to reduce the speed limit if we can’t even enforce the limits we have?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2019 - 09:40 am.

      Cops write traffic tickets all day long. People have been driving the way they drive for a 100 years and everyone’s been complaining about for just as long. This can’t explain the “increase” in accidents.

  17. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 09/22/2019 - 07:12 pm.

    In my experience, it is not the drivers who are driving 30 MPH and obeying the other traffic laws who are causing the accidents. It is those who drive 40-45, who do not even slow down at intersections controlled by stop signs, and who generally drive with no concern for other drivers, bikers or pedestrians around them.

    They do not obey the current laws — whatever makes you think that slower speed limits will have any effect on their driving habits?

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2019 - 10:07 am.

      Arthur, you assuming that ALL accidents are the result of criminal drivers. ANY driver can miss is stop sign, or exceed the speed limit on occasion. And you don’t have to be speeding to hit something that unexpectedly rolls or walks in front of your car. Physics is physics, no car or truck can stop on a dime even if they’re going the speed limit.

      Recently I was driving to the grocery store and as approached a intersection with a green light; a teenager obsessed with his cell phone stepped out from a truck that was waiting to make a right turn. I was able to stop but even though I honked repeatedly just let this kid know how close he’d come to getting hit the kid simply would not look up from his cell phone. Fortunately there was cop sitting in the intersection coming from another direction and he stopped and chewed the kid out.

      That kid stepped right in front me, and I wasn’t speeding, I wasn’t distracted, I wasn’t ignoring any laws… but for literally one or two seconds I wouldn’t have been able to stop and we would have been sitting in that intersection wait for an ambulance… pure luck. And of course if I’d been distracted for just a couple moments… And remember no ALL distractions are negligent, you’re supposed to check your rear view mirror, you’re supposed to notice check engine lights, etc. etc.

      People aren’t always lucky.

      I wish I could say this is the only experience I’ve had like this, and I know there are readers who’ve had similar experiences.

Leave a Reply