Hiawatha Avenue Crosswalk Improvements*

The Hiawatha Avenue crosswalk improvements at 38th, 42nd and 46th Streets are largely complete. For a reported cost of $850,000, curb bumpouts have been created in most places to reduce crossing distance, pork chop islands have been enlarged and center refuge islands widened, curb cuts are now ADA compliant, the crosswalk along the south side of 46th Street has been restored, and new crosswalk activation buttons (“beg buttons”) are in the process of being installed. As well, new trees have been planted along both sides and in the median of Hiawatha.

I’ve been active for several years with the Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association working with the Corcoran Neighborhood Organization, Longfellow Community Council, City of Minneapolis, State of Minnesota and Hennepin County in particular to see this project through. So let’s take a photo and video tour of the results.

First off is perhaps the biggest success of the whole project: restoring the Hiawatha crosswalk on the south side of 46th Street. This crosswalk was removed around the time light rail service began because a second left turn lane from westbound 46th to southbound Hiawatha was added. Crosswalk restoration was not originally part of the Hennepin County plan for this project, but I successfully lobbied past-councilmember Colvin Roy to restore the crosswalk. You’ll notice the “no crossing” signs are still up and beg buttons/Walk signals have yet to be installed, but I’ve been assured these matters will be resolved soon.


For bikers on the Hiawatha bike trail, the center medians at the 38th, 42nd and 46th Street crossings have been removed. Overall, these crossings are improvements for cyclists, although, as you can see below, some infrastructure remains smack in the middle of the bike travel “lane.”


I noticed two things at 46th Street. One is that, with the new adhesive crosswalk “keys,” stop bars have not been added as part of the project. Regardless, vehicles do not always honor the crosswalk.


I sincerely wish crosswalks could look more like this.

Pennsylvania Avenue - Washington DC

Also, notice the woman in the distance. She is not crossing at the new crosswalk, and I bet she didn’t cross at the old one, either. She crossed using a “desire path,” or the shortest distance between two points – in this case the 46th Street station and Walgreens across Hiawatha.


This is not unusual. Just look at the desire paths in the snow last winter at the “45th Street Crosswalk” of Hiawatha. People just cross wherever they can. This is an ongoing issue that needs addressing (median fences and pedestrian overpasses are NOT the answer).


At 42nd Street, I took a video biking the RiverLake Greenway crossing of Hiawatha Avenue. (This wasn’t specifically addressed as part of this pedestrian improvement project, but is worth watching to understand what it’s like to bike this section of 42nd Street.)

Along Hiawatha, trees have been planted. You see, the original trees, planted around 25 years ago when Hiawatha Avenue was rebuilt, are still scrubby little guys and don’t produce much shade.


So, new trees have been planted along both sides of the street…


…and in the median itself. The presence of trees in the median is a first. These trees are a combination of Eastern Redbud (20 to 30 feet tall at maturity), Pinnacle Oak (can grow to 50 feet), Hackberry (not very tall), Cockspur Hawthorn (could grow to 30 feet tall) and Maple (a nice boulevard tree). So yes, there will be more shade. When and whether it will be meaningful remains to be seen.


Farther on at 38th Street, here we have pedestrians crossing in an orderly fashion, having applied to do so. Success!


Note the crosswalk is completed but Walk signals are not automatic. One of many requests made by SENA and the Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee was that Walk signs come on automatically so pedestrians don’t have to apply to cross the street. Furthermore, we requested Leading Pedestrian Signals (the Walk sign comes on a couple seconds before the green light). So far, this has not occurred, although physically the new signals can now be programmed to do so, given the political will.


A reason I was given by traffic engineers for resisting the automatic Walk signals, versus beg buttons, is all the times that there is no pedestrian present. In these situations, the signal would still need to count through its phase, all the while cars with impatient drivers would be stuck waiting for their turn. This is a polite way of saying cars still take priority at these intersections. (Using bumpouts to reduce crossing distance is also a clever way to reduce wait times for drivers!)

Lastly, a before and after image. Below is the Hiawatha Crossing at 38th Street I frequent the most before…

Hiawatha Crossing

…and after.


Here is the video of my first crossing of Hiawatha at 38th Street, taken a couple weeks ago (crosswalk striping has indeed been redone since then). And here is a video taken intentionally marooning myself on the center “refuge” island (Hint: don’t get stuck on the refuge island – this is a seven-minute video).

For the record, following a late 2011 post with a seven-point plan for Hiawatha and a post I wrote in fall 2012 requesting improvements as part of this project, SENA formally requested additional changes. As well, the Pedestrian Advisory Committee made the following statement:

“Recognizing both the challenges of making any changes to the configuration of Hiawatha Ave. and the fact that opportunities to make such changes come only rarely, the Pedestrian Advisory Committee recommends that additional pedestrian improvements be considered. In line with the wishes of the Standish-Ericcson {sic} Neighborhood Association, the Minneapolis Pedestrian Committee recommends that Hennepin County and Minneapolis Public Works include any or all on the following bullet points as part of its crosswalk improvements:

  • Install continuous path crosswalks
  • Reduce curb radius at corners
  • Reconfigure right turn slip lanes
  • Install automatic walk signals, not push button activated
  • Incorporate leading pedestrian signals
  • Restore the crosswalk along the south side of 46th Street (across Hiawatha)”

One of the above bullet points was implemented as part of this project. In a meeting with city and county officials early in 2013, I pressed the issue of reducing the turn radius at corner – making it a sharper corner to reduce vehicle turning speed and improve pedestrian safety. I was patiently told by a traffic engineer that trucks need to be able to make that turn, and the radii must remain a soft curve. Twice since the curbs, etc. have been rebuilt I’ve had two relatively close calls with cars turning right to head southbound on Hiawatha Avenue, the very corner I was trying to convince the traffic engineer to make sharper (and as you saw in the “marooned” video, cars do take it fast). I’m prone to cursing at cars that threaten to kill me. Remember that old Bill Cosby routine where he thinks his name is Jesus Christ and his brother is named Goddammit? After these two close calls (in which my kids were with me), I’m beginning to worry they thinking the same thing as Bill Cosby and his brother. Kids shouldn’t feel the need to curse like a sailor when crossing the street. After all, crossing the street is a right, whereas driving a vehicle is a privilege, but at least a truck can safely round that corner without getting stuck!

Ten years after light rail service begins and $850,000 later, here you are. As a project to marginally improve the pedestrian environment while not impacting traffic flow, this project is a success. As a means of making the Hiawatha Corridor and Minneapolis a more walkable, livable city this project doesn’t move the dial. And that is a real shame because people now LIVE on Hiawatha Avenue at Longfellow Station. It may not happen before my children become adults, but it seems like the only way to meaningfully improve Hiawatha is for MnDOT to decommission it as a Highway and convert it to a proper boulevard. Our grandchildren will thank us.

What do you think?

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is www.joe-urban.com.

33 thoughts on “Hiawatha Avenue Crosswalk Improvements*

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    As you said in another time and place, this is simply a project designed to build “pedestrian improvements” only insofar as they allow traffic engineers to optimize vehicular movements on this traffic sewer.

    As long as we allow state and county DOTs to have any influence on any piece of pavement in an urban area that’s not a freeway (and even giving them that inch is dangerous) we will have awful outcomes. It’s time for us to create the political demands necessary for state and county DOTs to become a shell of their former self. They have no place in a civilized society. They have devolved us from the civilization of place we enjoyed a century ago.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      What’s interesting is the choices we’ve been presented with in recent months and years. The choices become so painfully limited when the proposed roadway “improvement” must maintain the same Level of Service for vehicles.

      With Hiawatha the choice was basically how to accommodate pedestrians a little better while not slowing traffic or crimping turn radii. A boulevard of some kind should still be part of the options.

      With the Hennepin/Lyndale “clusterf$@% (City Pages’ words, not mine!), the choice was little sidewalk changes around the edges but not a rethinking of the public space overall.

      And now the 26th and 28th Street “improvements” will accommodate perhaps a bike lane without slowing traffic measurably, whereas converting those streets to two-way should be a choice.

  2. Nicole

    I can’t believe this is all we got for $850k. So frustrating.

    We took the 32nd St crossing a few weeks ago going from the Farmer’s Market over to Peace Coffee. There’s a (newly?) striped bike lane two blocks in (of course, nothing to actually ease the crossing of Hiawatha itself!). There were 4(!) cars blocking the bike lane waiting to turn right. We weaseled around them dinging our bells and generally making nuisances of ourselves to make a point that they were in OUR lane. And then…my daughter dropped her shoe. We stopped, in the middle of that bike lane, with cars in it, and some idiot had the nerve to honk at us for being in his way!

    A few blocks down the disaster that’s currently Minnehaha Ave, and we couldn’t wait to get back across and onto saner city streets again.

    It’s worth noting that my son was able to ride independently from our home by Lake Nokomis all the way up to the Midtown Farmer’s Market with no issues, but we had to tow his bike and insist he ride with us to go a few blocks to pick up a couple pounds of coffee.

    That doesn’t sound like an improvement, does it?

      1. Nicole

        We’ve started going all the way west to 21st Ave in order to get on the Greenway and use the Sabo bridge if we must cross. It’s longer, but MUCH calmer and more pleasant to ride. We treat Hiawatha as a highway that is only to be ridden along or crossed under extreme duress. These “improvements” have done nothing to change that.

  3. D Maki

    Thanks for pointing out the awful bicycle crossing at 42nd Street and Hiawatha. This supposed “bicycle greenway” has no safe crossing at Hiawatha. As you note, it is entirely unclear what a bicyclist is supposed to do. I suppose vehicular cycling advocates will say we should “take a lane” and hold up fast moving traffic behind us, but with motor vehicle drivers already enraged by long train crossing waits this prospect is formidable at best. I do it when alone (and have been cursed and honked at many times for my efforts), but wouldn’t dare with the grand kids in tow. It is very disappointing that Hennepin County traffic engineers continue to design almost exclusively for motor vehicle traffic. Sadly, lack of political leadership at the County and City level continues to hold back development of more livable neighborhoods.

  4. Monte

    Should have asked about testing out microwave pedestrian sensors. Then pedestrians wouldn’t suffer the horrible indignity of pushing a button (and honestly is this something the general public actually cares about or just urbanist ideology?- As a member of the public for 40 years I never gave it a thought) and drivers wouldn’t sit there burning gasoline whether or not a pedestrian happened to be there.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      Honestly I don’t know how many drivers are aware of how often their vehicle activates a sensor to give them a green light. Yes it is urbanist ideology, but also an equity issue. In one sense, cars, too have to “apply for a green” by rolling over the sensor. The difference is it doesn’t require any extra effort – all a driver has to do is stop at a red light and the sensor gives them a green. As a pedestrian actually having to push a button to cross a street, I find it insulting.

      1. T

        I think I’m gonna have to agree with Monte here. If it really is such an insult to push a “beg” button, then pushing for automatic/microwave pedestrian detection (at the busiest intersections at the very least) should have been high on the list. It doesn’t make sense to have the cycles run extremely inefficient walk times if there’s no pedestrian there, just as it doesn’t make sense to give wasteful green time to a cross street if there’s no car there. The logic is the exactly the same.
        Looks good though, love the trees in the median.

      2. D Maki

        For bicyclists, pressing the “pedestrian” sensor button heading west on 42nd Street is tricky at best, downright dangerous at worst, and not really possible if you have children or a trailer in tow.

        1. T

          I guess I don’t get to bike down there too often, would a bike signal/push button like the one on Broadway and 5th work there?
          Looking at Sean’s comment below, why is it necessary to stop on green to push the button? Why not just go through on the green? Isn’t this a shared lane?

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            Beg buttons are insulting at best. They are insulting as a pedestrian because walking is our default human condition and should be the default mode given priority on urban streets.

            On bikes, it’s very difficult to access beg buttons in a safe way. Most crossings at Hiawatha have right turn lanes. And the beg button is usually on the base of the mast for the street you’re begging to cross. And there’s usually no curb cut right at that spot. It’s very difficult to do on a bike. If there HAS to be a beg button (and there doesn’t have to be) then there should also be one on a median accessible by cyclists in the rightmost through lane.

          2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            I think we’re talking about apples and oranges here.

            My comment referred to cyclists traveling along Hiawatha Avenue — thus crossing 38th, 42nd, etc — and riding on the sidewalk/shared-use path along the west side of the street. Cyclists riding on the sidewalk are required (theoretically) to use beg buttons.

            Cyclists riding in the street may go on green — regardless of whether they’re riding on the street on Hiawatha or on a cross street.

            There is no reason a cyclist should need to use the beg button to cross on 42nd (unless they’re riding on the sidewalk). If the signal is not detecting bikes, that’s a separate issue that can be resolved with additional pavement loops, or video detection (if there isn’t already video detection). As I recall, Hiawatha intersections have very prominent loop sensors installed on top of old pavement. Aligning my bike tires has resulted in a green consistently.

            1. Nicole

              Wait, where are the loop sensors for cyclists? On Hiawatha, or on the shared use path?

              I curse those beg buttons every time I ride that trail. They make me furious. In fact, the only time they ever actually get pushed is when my daughter is along and she insists on pushing buttons because she’s five. If the light is green, I’m going. There’s no excuse for those things on the cross streets, and I will not beg to cross the street on a green light. (Not to mention, in the winter, you often can’t even get to the buttons).

              1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                I’m referring to crossing Hiawatha while following 42nd St (or any cross street). There are loop sensors clearly visible on the roadway surface. There are also visible ones on Hiawatha in the travel lanes, but not the shoulder. There are no loop sensors on either street’s sidewalk

            2. T

              Got it Sean. I think I skimmed your comment while I was typing and wanted to figure out what you were getting at, my bad.

              Matt, as a pedestrian, I just don’t get the hate on push buttons. I just extend my arm and I wait my turn just like every other mode in the system. If there were weight activated pedestrian detectors (or something more advanced) would people complain that it’s unfair to stand on the detector space? Vehicles have detectors they need to activate just as pedestrians do. This area doesn’t have the pedestrian density to always fit a walk time when it doesn’t make sense to, so what other option is there besides push buttons?

              1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

                When someone has to get out of their vehicle, or at least roll down their window, then I’ll accept that there’s some sort of equity.

                The option is a walk signal on every phase. This would also send the message that cars aren’t more important than people walking.

                1. Monte

                  Or pedestrian sensors.. that way neither cars nor pedestrians would have to push a button to register their presence. They had a hard enough time getting the signals on Hiawatha to work right without putting in pedestrian recall for pedestrians that may or may not be there

                  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                    If we’re really going to go down this road, then, shouldn’t a detected pedestrian only result in giving a walk signal — and not a green light? It’s a particular unfairness where a walk signal grants drivers a nice, long green light (even if none was present to actuate the green light on their own) while a driver present at the light does not create a walk signal for pedestrians.

                    Or, we could just include a walk signal whenever it’s not a major slowdown, and use pedestrian detection at other times. In the case of Hiawatha, give pedestrians along Hiawatha a walk signal at all times.

            3. brad

              the sensors at 38th have never triggered a green for my bike. doesn’t help that sometimes cars don’t pull up far enough to trigger them either!

  5. Alex Maier

    First of all let me say thanks for your efforts! I bike along Hiawatha everyday as part of my daily commute between East Nokomis and Downtown. The curbs are much improved, the old layout cause many a bent bicycle rims. I do agree new beg buttons and light poles do cause the need for swerving, made worse when facing oncoming bikers/pedestrians. New boulevard trees are a nice addition (feels like less of an oppressive stroad).

    A suggestion for a future post that I’d be inclined to do if I was more of a writer: the terrible bike/pedestrian infustucture of Hiawatha bike trail going down and back up Lake Street. Bikers going northbound are forced to share narrow sidewalks with pedestrians (It’s not safe for anyone!!). Those of us going southbound usually just ride on the exit/entrance ramps dealing with cars flat out flying 40mph+ because it’s still better than dealing with unpredictable pedestrians on a narrow sidewalk, that also may include oncoming bikers.

  6. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Were the engineers only opposed to pedestrian recall (automatic walk signal) for crossing Hiawatha, or also for people crossing side streets along Hiawatha. I’m sympathetic to the desire to require a button push to cross Hiawatha. But Hiawatha’s green is more than long enough to accommodate crossing 35th, 38th, etc without any added time for a ped signal. Since bicyclists are “supposed” to ride on the sidewalk here (the curb bumpouts make shoulder riding even more difficult than it was before), this is an added problem. Legally, a bicyclist must stop on a green light, press the beg button, and wait for a new cycle with a walk signal. That’s absurd.

    I was extremely underwhelmed by the project. They really couldn’t remove the porkchops and use standard right-turn lanes instead? (They did at 28th St, with a fairly wide curb radius, and it seems to work fine, despite Hiawatha’s skew.)

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      Sean, the resistance to the pedestrian recall (automatic walk signal) was primarily for crossing Hiawatha, due to the distance and the corresponding requirement that those signal phases would always be long. I think the impulse is to ensure Hiawatha moves as well as possible.

      Just to be clear, if I’m cycling along the Hiawatha Trail, I have to obey the pedestrian signal even if my light is green? Wow. Maybe bicycle traffic signals need to be installed.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Yes, it’s mostly a failure of state law. 169.222, subd. 4(d) says that a cyclist riding on the sidewalk or crosswalk is subject to all relevant pedestrian rights and restrictions. 169.06, subd. 6 requires that pedestrians obey ped signals wherever they’re installed, so it is technically illegal to cross on green if you’re facing an upraised hand.

        An added absurdity is that it is illegal to enter the intersection when the hand is flashing or countdown has begun. Obviously this law has not caught up with the technology: a main benefit of a countdown is that it allows pedestrians entering the intersection late to make a decision if they have enough time to cross. I have never personally known a cyclist or pedestrian to get a ticket for crossing on a vehicular green without a walk signal.

        But since the law is as it is, it seems that engineers should make an extra effort to include ped recall, especially when it doesn’t interfere with the normal operation of the light (as I think would be the case for the Hiawatha MUP).

      2. brad

        bike signals would be good. as it is, most hiawatha trail riders seem to act like the default is green unless there’s actually cars moving through the bike lane’s path. although, the signals are such a mess as it, who knows if they’d work sensibly?

  7. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Also: what’s the plan for tree maintenance? Without adjacent property owners who care about the appearance, I hope the city/state/park board intends to water and prune those trees… at least for a couple years, but given the stressful environment, possibly in perpetuity. The dead and weedy plantings along Hiawatha from the original construction are a disgrace — ugly even for people who only care about the driving environment.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

      There is no change to the maintenance plan for the new plantings. Therefore, unless corporations or neighborhood groups “Adopt a Median,” there is no reason to think maintenance and pruning will be any different than what we’re used to.

  8. Jamie

    I’m sure all of these intersections will get better and easier to cross as light rail ridership decreases, and shorter trains run less frequently.

    As someone who crosses Hiawatha at 35th and 32nd every day, I’ve noticed fewer trains and fewer riders every year. Soon, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will buy a car for everyone. Then the LRT lines will be removed, and no one will ever have to wait 7 minutes for a 10-second chance to cross a 6-lane highway again. We’ll all be cruising at 60 mph in our air conditioned Suburbans. Just like the city and county planners predicted!

  9. brad

    one small positive: this morning at 38th, it looked like they’re starting to paint the stop bars

  10. bptenor

    Minneapolis plants the smallest trees I’ve ever seen; the bamboo support sticks have larger diameters. These same sticks were planted on the Washington transit mall mall at the U, and the majority instantly died.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      From my understanding of trees and transplanting, I believe that in general, smaller trees have better odds of survival (at least from water/neglect… presumably the larger ones might hold up better to physical contact/abrasion). According to this chart, the larger the caliper of tree, the longer it takes for the root system to regrow to “normal” after planting.

      That said, the trees pictured do seem exceptionally small. My boyfriend just got a new boulevard tree this summer in front of his normal, residential lot, and the tree was 1.5-2″ in caliper — definitely larger than these. Although larger transplants might require more supplemental watering, etc, they would make more of a dramatic statement in the corridor immediately.

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