American Boulevard's innovative pedestrian treatment

Minneapolis Announces Adoption of Bloomington Pedestrian Plan

Hodges eagerly showing off new signage to promote the project Minneapolis announced today that they will be adopting the City of Bloomington Alternative Transportation Plan, as well as many engineering practices of Bloomington, to enhance pedestrian safety and comfort along Minneapolis roadways. Bloomington has long been known as a regional leader in pedestrian-friendly roadway design and planning.

“Ever since the opening of the Hiawatha Line, we’ve watched scores of Minneapolitans drive to their nearest park-and-ride and take the train down to East Bloomington’s distinctive urban center, just to experience the sublime pedestrian environment of 8-lane, 40+ mph roadways,” mayor Betsy Hodges said in a press conference Tuesday. “It’s time to bring that kind of distinctiveness to Minneapolis.”

New Campaign Launched, 48th and Chicago Selected as Pilot

The new campaign will be called, “Yesterday’s Stroads, Tomorrow’s Innovation.” It will begin with a pilot project at 48th and Chicago, an intersection that the Star Tribune once called a “pedestrian hellscape.” On-street parking will be eliminated, and additional right-of-way will be acquired at all four corners of the intersection.

The improvements will include one of Bloomington’s most treasured features: the free right turn. Rather than simply crossing the street at a right angle, pedestrians will detour slightly out of their way to cross at a 45° angle. After reaching the porkchop-shaped refuge island, they can press a beg button and eventually receive a walk signal. After making it across eight lanes, they’re just another 45° detour and free flow of traffic away from their destination.

“Finally, we were able to answer the age-old question: Why did the pedestrian cross the stroad?” chuckled Gene Winstead, Bloomington mayor, explaining the pedestrian enhancement to “So they could cross it two more times!”

48th and Chicago before: a barren and unwelcoming landscape for pedestrians

48th and Chicago before: a barren and unwelcoming landscape for pedestrians

Rendering of proposed improvements, including enhanced porkchop islands, stamped concrete, and double-left turn lanes

Rendering of proposed improvements, including enhanced porkchop islands, stamped concrete, and double-left turn lanes

Current NW corner of 48th and Chicago

Current NW corner of 48th and Chicago

Artists' rendering of NW corner after proposed improvements

Artist’s rendering of NW corner after proposed improvements


Boulevard Trees Removed

Plantings will also be reworked along most streets in Minneapolis. “It’s never made much sense, but someone somewhere in our history thought that it made sense to plant trees between the sidewalk and the street. Now we know that pedestrians far prefer stamped concrete. Trees belong in the median, where they can be appreciated by cars,” explained Hodges. Starting in 2015, city crews will begin removing boulevard trees and widening Minneapolis roadways to accommodate planted medians.

American Boulevard's innovative pedestrian treatment

Actual, unphotoshopped image of American Boulevard’s innovative pedestrian treatment


Residential Improvements, Too

Pedestrian improvements won’t be limited to major streets, either. Over the next five years, most residential sidewalks will be removed, except in select areas where there are no possible walkable destinations. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned as an older suburb,” Winstead said, “it’s that people really like walking in the gutter. Sidewalks, boulevard trees, outdoor dining… no, none of it compares to that authentic feeling of mashed-up leaves stuck to your shoe, or of pulling your 5-year-old out of the way of a fast-moving car. Our pedestrian innovations help people feel truly alive.”

The remaining sidewalks will be cleared at city expense, since homeowners’ ability to clear snow has suddenly been limited to their own driveway and walks.

Sean Hayford Oleary

About Sean Hayford Oleary

Sean Hayford Oleary is a web developer and planner. He serves on the Richfield City Council, and previously on the city's Planning and Transportation commissions. Articles are written from a personal perspective and not on behalf of Richfield or others. Sean has a masters in urban planning from the Humphrey School. Follow his love of streets, home improvement, and all things Richfield on Twitter @sdho.

20 thoughts on “Minneapolis Announces Adoption of Bloomington Pedestrian Plan

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  3. Monte

    This is all (although I boulevard trees would be nice) why I like living in Bloomington instead of Minneapolis. I like free right turns, beg buttons, wide stroads, et al so I’m glad I have a choice rather than every area being like Minneapolis. (And Bloomington already clears what sidewalks they have at city expense). The rare time I’m actually walking I don’t think it’s a big inconvenience to take a few steps to the left and push a button or walk across an extra couple of lanes compared to the massive amount of time they save me the 99.9% of the time I’m driving. I think it’s been several years since I’ve walked anywhere from my house. I don’t knock urbanists livestyle as much as they knock mine; I’m just glad we have choices.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      My issue with Bloomington is that they really take things to the next level — to a point that really does not benefit motorists, yet costs a lot to build and maintain, and makes walking less safe and pleasant.

      There are portions of American Boulevard that have as little as 8000 cars a day — yet are still 5-7 lanes, plus a median. My personal favorite stroad is 28th Avenue S, which has 1800 (yes, 1800, not 18,000) cars a day, and is freshly built as a 7-lane divided highway. Naturally, there was still no room for boulevard trees. It seems odd that you say they benefit you 99.9% of the time — because even if you do drive a car 99.9% of the time, the huge capacity investments probably benefit you 1% of the time. Most of the time, you’re driving on a wide-open, unused roadway, or waiting at a red light for a high-capacity protected green arrow.

      Free rights do provide some convenience to the motorist, but it at a significant safety cost to everyone. While many agencies use them in select situations (e.g., where two streets meet a very sharp angle, or where a right turn is the route to continue along a main highway), Bloomington’s goal seems to be to have them at every signalized intersection. Even far more exurban municipalities (e.g., Apple Valley, Maple Grove, Eden Prairie) use them less than Bloomington.

      > I think it’s been several years since I’ve walked anywhere from my house.

      You don’t think that’s a bad thing? Is that really a reflection of your own free choice (that you would have made in any situation), or is it a result of an unappealing pedestrian environment?

      1. Monte

        I live just south of the Oxboro area, so the free rights benefit me every time I drive, and unlike the examples on American they had an extremely positive effect on traffic, although I suppose you could make the argument it only benefits me for the couple of minutes I don’t spend at the red light itself if I happen to hit one of them since my trips tend to be 15 minutes or longer. I recall many of time wishing they were there and I was elated when they finally built them.

        As far as walking, I can’t think of what I would do differently if my neighborhood was different. Maybe if the McDonalds, Burger King, and such were a few minutes walk I might walk there rather than drive, but I don’t go to bars, coffee shops, cafes, neighborhood type shops and whatnot either on foot or in the car. As I telecommute now, besides quick trips to the fast foods most of my trips are the weekly grocery run to Wal-Mart, trips to Valleyfair or bicycle trails in the parks in the summer, trips to visit my parents in Shakopee, or longer road trips. Even if there was a grocery store just down the block (and there’s one about a half mile away my sister walks to occasionally) I’d rather load up a weeks worth in my Jeep than make multiple trips and haul them home on foot or my bicycle.

        1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg


          Of course you don’t walk. You’ve proven this self-fulfilling prophecy of transportation and land use decisions that ensure everyone drives. It’s not just the horribly unfriendly (to pedestrians) roads in Bloomington, but that zoning ensures everything is so far from everything else the distance alone is daunting.

          I admit to walking on occasion in Bloomington, but it’s when my Jeep is at the dealer being repaired and I need lunch at Jimmy Johns. All I have to do is cross American Boulevard but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone because it is a pretty hostile environment. It’s a shame the new Gennessee Apartments we’re built to be mixed-use yet Penn and American weren’t improved for pedestrians.

          (What makes me cringe is how the crosswalk from the porkchop island at Penn and American doesn’t line up with the sidewalk connector to Jimmy Johns and Caribou. This is evidence of how little the city regulations and designers of that property regard pedestrians – they basically raise a middle finger to them – and we wonder why nobody walks.)

          Next time I get my Jeep worked on I may pick up my Jimmy Johns by car first before dropping off the car, thus saving myself from having to pass through that hostile environment on foot. Luckily I live in Minneapolis and can go for days without using my Jeep, thus reducing the need for maintenance!

          Self-fulfilling prophecies all around!

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            I mostly agree with you, Sam, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that there is always low-hanging fruit. American Boulevard does not need to be Hennepin Avenue to be better. For Bloomington, the lowest-hanging fruit is those porkchops.

            Monte, I think you’re comparing free rights to having no right turn lane at all — or NTOR setup. Obviously that would be best for pedestrians, transit, etc, but a baby step might be just going to conventional right-turn lanes. If you look at nearby Penn and 76th in Richfield, there are right turn lanes at three legs of the intersection, and a free right at the fourth. The only difference for motorists legally is that they are not required to make a complete stop at the free right. Regardless, they must find a gap in traffic. For pedestrians, it is much safer-feeling, since they need only cross the street once, and do not have to wait for a signal in the middle of high-speed traffic. Is that complete stop (and slightly slower turn) really an unreasonable burden on cars?

            (There are also a handful of free rights in Bloomington — like at Lyndale and American — that are truly free rights, with no yield signs and an auxiliary lane. These freeway-style features are rarer, and seem to generally fail due to motorist behavior — we’re accustomed to having to stop anyway, so we do even if there’s no yield sign. This use of auxiliary lanes creates an added challenge for cyclists, for whom the farthest-right lane comes and goes almost at random. I’ll hold some personal resentment for this design, since I was once pulled over on bike by Bloomington PD for not riding in an auxiliary lane that was about to turn right, when I was headed straight ahead.)

    2. Alex

      Can you explain what choices you think we have, Monte? For example, I don’t feel like I have a choice of where in Minnesota to live without a car; rather, I feel like I’m required to either live in a small portion of Minneapolis or else buy a car. And I don’t feel like I have any choice if, for example, I want to visit my mother at her house in Plymouth, but to drive there. And, more specifically to the geography at hand, because Bloomington chooses to build infrastructure that makes walking unsafe and unpleasant, I don’t feel like I have the choice to accept invitation to visit my friends who live in Bloomington at their homes.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        These are good points, Alex. A broader point would be that people don’t choose communities based solely on their Walkscore, bike lanes, or sidewalk coverage. In fact, except for the last item, I suspect most home buyers don’t give it much thought. That does not mean people don’t care about those items — simply that most folks aren’t accustomed to that being a major part of their home selection process.

        People choose communities to live in based on where they work, where their kids go to school, where their family obligations are. Telling them they have the “choice” to live in Minneapolis is not the same as allowing them transportation choices wherever there is.

        (It’s also an odd contrast of Bloomington to Minneapolis, since Bloomington works on perhaps “95% car priority” and Minneapolis works on, I don’t know, “70% car priority”. Cars are still the main concern of traffic engineers, even in Minneapolis. And it is still very easy to keep a car (or three) at your single-family home and drive everywhere you want in Minneapolis. It’s just that cars are slightly closer to balanced with other modes.)

      2. Monte

        Well, the counterpoint is if the entire metro area is designed to be pedestrian friendly (and thus slow down car traffic) in case there’s a pedestrian now and then, I don’t have a choice where to live if I don’t want that. If urbanists want to remake Minneapolis streets I don’t really care too much, because I only drive through on the freeways unless I’m going to Lake Harriet to ride my bike. I’m wasn’t aware that there was a shortage of choices to live without a car, and if there are maybe we need more of them, but I don’t want a shortage of car-friendly areas to live in.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          I’d see where you’re coming from if Minneapolis designed for cars like Bloomington does for pedestrians — providing narrow, circuitous, and dangerous paths for cars, while pedestrians’ every whim was accommodated. If this were the case, you probably would see about as many people driving in Minneapolis as you see walking in Bloomington. Instead you see substantial amounts of driving in Minneapolis — generally moving motorized traffic with less paved surface, more cost-effectively.

          As I said, I think Minneapolis streets primarily cater to cars — they’re just somewhat more balanced than Bloomington streets. The question isn’t whether we need to go to the extreme of car-friendly or the extreme of ped-friendly — it’s whether it’s worth it for more cities to go to a Minneapolis-type middle ground.

          Again, let’s look at the low-hanging fruit first. Do you benefit from a 7-lane 28th Ave? And are free right turns really that much better than conventional right-turn lanes? Are auxiliary lanes really necessary on city streets? Simply ceasing the overbuilding of new streets and toning down the highway-like intersection designs would do a great deal to make Bloomington more balanced.

          1. Monte Castleman

            One thing to note is 28th is kind of a special case because of the Mall of America. I rarely use it so I can’t speak as to whether the width is justified or not. Even with 5-6 lanes there’s a lot of traffic on 98th near where I live in the Oxboro area. It may be more the intersection spacing and the way things are laid out, I’ve wondered if Lyndale would do better with the center lane being shared between turning and through traffic (and agreed that an auxillarly lanes on Lyndale aren’t needed- they could be cycletracks instead, and a ban on right turns from 98th into the shopping center where there isn’t room for a right turn lane. I do feel the free right from NB I-35W to EB 98th is unsafe even for vehicles, with the hill and railing on the overpass it’s difficult to see cars on 98th, and I’ve seen several accidents there.

            1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

              I think you’re thinking of 24th Ave — even wider, but it at least has heavy flows of MOA traffic, so it makes some sense. 28th Ave only services a couple industrial sites and a park-and-ride.

              Glad to hear we align on at least some free rights. A cycletrack along Old Shakopee and 98th would be game-changing for bicycle access in this area. But a well-designed cycletrack (or even MUP) is definitely contingent on eliminating porkchops along the route. Very awkward and dangerous for the bicyclist to have to wind their path around the skewed crosswalks at free rights.

  4. Monte

    As far as the idea of conventional right turn lanes as opposed to free rights- I suppose I could live with that provided the volume of turning traffic wasn’t exceptionally heavy, and if there was also a green right turn arrow to allow traffic to not stop if there was a nonconflicting left turn (in which case there wouldn’t be pedestrians crossing anyway. 90th and Lyndale going north is one example of this.

  5. Truth

    As long as there’s free parking and free turning, I’m there! This would set Minneapolis for the 21st century.

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