Open Streets – Minnehaha, and some further comments on the Blue Line and environs

I went with my family to attend Longfellow neighborhood’s Open Streets on Minnehaha on Sunday August 11, 2013. I hadn’t been to an “Open Streets” before, though I had been to various events where streets were closed, and this was like that, but more spacious and far more bikey.

OpenStreetsLongfellow

We drove to near the northern entrance, since we don’t really live within walking distance (certainly not for the 3 year old). We entered on the north side, at Lake Street and walked down to 46th Street. From there, we walked along 46th over to the LRT station, which we took back to Lake Street station, whence we returned to the Open Streets festival and onto the car to return home.

Closing streets like this once a year is a great thing. Maybe we should go all in and close all streets in Minneapolis one Sunday just to see what happens. Obviously you cannot get the concentration of people on any street, but it would be an interesting experiment.

This one is clearly driven by the bike folks. The various Bicycle Liberation Fronts were all active. Also ran into a bunch of people I knew, so a disproportionately large percentage of attendees were either transportation professionals or advocates. Also we had an almost impromptu Board Meeting of Streets.MN, but could not quite gather a quorum.

There was a nice demo of the proposed CycleTrack on Minnehaha (And why is this even an issue? Make it a demonstration project and study it to see if it works as well as bike lanes on either side according to various criteria.)

My sense is that the activities were too diffuse for pedestrians. At the speed of bicycles, the distances were appropriate (and I saw lots of bicyclists riding back and forth a couple of times, but the 2.5 miles over which this stretched there was a lot of “dead space” for a street festival.

Why were there so many police? Was someone expecting trouble? This seemed far more than necessary for traffic control. Maybe some were expecting a street fight between the many Mayoral candidates and their tee-shirted hordes?

Also, as my wife bemoaned “where are the food trucks?” I would have expected more for this crowd of people. I know the local restaurants (and the American Legion – which offered an excellent value for drinks and hot dogs) didn’t want or need the competition, but the art festivals had food trucks. Was there some prohibition, were they not invited, or did they just not want to come?

The kids did enjoy the bouncy house and the inexhaustible on-street tap-dancers, as well as some of the musicians and the skateboard demonstrations.

Also there seem to be a lot of yoga studios, massage, acupuncture and alternative medicine places here. I am not sure what it says about Longfellow, but it is a lot like 1970s Northern California in that regard.

So as we reached the end of the trip near 46th, we chose to take the LRT back rather than retrace our steps.

My god, the pedestrian streetscape at the LRT stations is abysmal. And I don’t just mean the lack of integrated street-fronting land use, I mean simple things, like pedestrian crossing signals.

At 46th Street and Hiawatha, we pressed the actuator. While the traffic light turned green, the walk signal did not. This occurred even though we had a protected movement. So I crossed against the pedestrian light, but with the green light, otherwise I would be stuck on the East side of Hiawatha Avenue for a long time. I don’t know what the standard signal pattern is here, and maybe it was screwed up by the LRT vehicle coming from the north forcing the gates down sooner than the engineers thought that pedestrians would be able to completely cross, but it seems it was optimized for cars and against pedestrians.

I had never stopped at this (46th Street) station before. Why are the benches in the areas that are unheated/unshaded, while the heated/shaded area is standing room only? Seems needlessly hostile to patrons, and is unlike at least some of the other stations. Also, why do the electronic message boards not know when the next train will arrive? This is 20 year old technology, developed well before this line was built. Still, far better than typical Minnesota bus stops.

At Lake Street station we exited. I had never had cause to walk around here either. This is worse than the area around 46th.

There is an up, but no down escalator. OK, I have seen this at stations before, it saves money, and my home station Franklin Avenue has no escalator at all. When you exit, and want to go east, first you have to cross freeway exit ramps. Technically Hiawatha Avenue is not a Freeway, and Lake Street is supposed to be an urban street, so I am unclear why this is a SPUI. More importantly, why do I get a pedestrian signal on one ramp, (the west-bound ramp from Hiawatha to Lake) but the other is catch as catch can with a “yield” sign for vehicles exiting Hiawatha going east onto Lake Street? They should at least have a stop sign or signal, given this is an urban environment with a transit stop.

(To be clear, this has all been noted before, see e.g. the Comments on Sam’s post. I have suggested studying grade separation before, and I still think the current situation is just a compromised and dangerous mess.)

At any rate, we did eventually all make it across alive, and walked along an unpleasant-ish segment of Lake back to the festive Open Streets area in front of Gandhi Mahal. There we partook of liquid refreshments and made our exit.

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8 Responses to Open Streets – Minnehaha, and some further comments on the Blue Line and environs

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary August 11, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    Technically Hiawatha Avenue is not a Freeway, and Lake Street is supposed to be an urban street, so I am unclear why this is a SPUI.

    That one’s been bugging me for a while. A freeway-style interchange for two non-freeways is inappropriate, and really quite hazardous for any bikes that dare to continue on Hiawatha (crossing exit/entrance ramps).

    At least they had the decency to install push buttons to cross Lake Street at the SPUI, even though (unlike a diamond interchange) there are no compatible vehicular movements. I believe this is the only SPUI in the metro that allows that kind of movement. Also one of very few SPUIs without double left-turn lanes.

    By the way, yield signs are pretty much standard practice for right-turns exiting a SPUI, and a signal for right-turning vehicles exiting the freeway is not necessarily an improvement. They did this for WB 494/5 vehicles turning onto NB Lyndale at that SPUI. Double right-turn lane, controlled by a light. Unfortunately, cars make right turns on red from both lanes (it’s illegal to do so from the left right turn lane, but MnDOT refuses to put any signage there to remind motorists of this). The competing RTORers extend well into the crosswalk.

  2. Reuben Collins
    Reuben Collins August 12, 2013 at 1:01 am #

    I don’t love the SPUI, either, though I suspect it probably provides a better pedestrian environment than any other interchange or at-grade option. I think SPUI’s can work pretty well for pedestrians, at least the ones traveling along the minor arterial, rather than across….

    There are a lot of open streets events this year. I wonder if we will start to see open streets fatigue. Peak open streets?

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke August 12, 2013 at 7:29 am #

      I don’t think peak open streets will be a problem. They do this in many other cities on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis.

      e.g. SF: http://www.sundaystreetssf.com/ NY: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/summerstreets/html/home/home.shtml

    • Froggie August 12, 2013 at 8:12 am #

      As I recall, the decision to go with a SPUI was because Hiawatha Ave would have needed to be 6 through lanes + 3 turn lanes wide (so 9 lanes total) otherwise. Agree with Reuben in that the SPUI provides a better pedestrian environment, such as that is. Could certainly be some improvement, though…saw that myself during a 2011 bike ride through there. At the time, signage to continue on the Hiawatha LRT path was non-existant (has this changed?). Also noted the pedestrian buttons. IMO, they could considerably improve the situation by simply making the walk signal a default part of the signal cycle, instead of “on demand”. That’d be a good start, at very little cost. The signal would probably have to go to a 4-phase to accommodate bikes/peds crossing Lake, but I don’t think this would be a significant issue.

  3. David Levinson
    David Levinson August 12, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    My problem isn’t the SPUI per se (it might be better than a simple Diamond), but why the Yield sign, rather than a pedestrian-favorable, either stop or signal for right-turning traffic off Hiawatha. Even a pedestrian actuated stop on-demand beacon is preferable to this. An automated one would be better still, I am thinking something like a Puffin crossing http://www.mtc.ca.gov/planning/bicyclespedestrians/tools/european/

  4. Moe August 12, 2013 at 10:22 am #

    My biggest takeaway from Open Streets is just how nice it can be to walk the two miles from my house to Harriet Brewing when you don’t have to deal with cars.

    RT tweeted about how Minnehaha is an underrated Ave in Mpls. Well, yeah, it wouldn’t be if the Hiawatha Line and surrounding areas got the attention it needed once the tracks were down and trains were running.

  5. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg August 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    I find it interesting how events like Open Streets remove us from our comfort zone and typical means of getting around and try something new. When that happens, people see their city in a new light, both good and bad. While it is wonderful once a year to simply have the novelty of walking down the middle of a major street and see people have fun like on Minnehaha, we also experience approaching the 46th Street light rail station on foot for the first time, as David did. Spot on observation – the pedestrian area around 46th and so many other stations is abysmal. One reason is federal funding addresses the line itself but no placemaking around stations, and without really extensive TOD district planning with very expensive financing to pay for streetscaping, nothing good has happened, and continuing to foster a cars-first mentality on Hiawatha doesn’t help. Hennepin County is promising some crosswalk improvements this year or next, and David, when they are done I’ll invite you back out to “kick the tires” as they say!

  6. spiderleggreen August 14, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Good to have the car driver perspective on Open Streets! Lot’s of whining from someone who drove to it.

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