One of the most highly-used, dangerous, and non-ADA compliant streets in Minneapolis needs to change right now.
On my way to work yesterday morning, I witnessed a man in a motorized-wheelchair stuck on the sidewalk of Franklin Avenue (a bit west of Portland Avenue). He was not stuck because his battery died or because of heavy snowfall…
(What?! It could happen, we do live in Minnesota.)
No, he was stuck because the sidewalk is not wide enough for him to pass through. And it’s not like he just needs to roll up onto some grass.
There is a giant utility pole in the sidewalk that prevents anyone without the ability to turn their bodies from passing through.
Seeing his struggle this morning made me incredibly upset. Why? Let me count the ways.
#1 – I am continually amazed that a street with so much traffic has so few accommodations (read: actual sidewalks, bicycle lanes). Franklin Avenue is one of the heaviest trafficked streets for pedestrians and cyclists. In fact, that section of sidewalk that is impassable for anyone in a wheelchair is one of the busiest sidewalks in the city (Minneapolis Bike/Ped Count 2010).
#2 – Not only is there high-rates of usage, but the danger of that street is also heavily documented. And still we have utility poles in our sidewalks. Franklin Avenue is one of the most dangerous spots for bicyclists and pedestrians to do their moving-around business. A simple google search of “Franklin Ave Minneapolis cycling rates” spits back a mix of sources discussing how safe Minneapolis is for cyclists and reports on the high crash-rate on that street.
A high-profile crash that killed cyclist Marcus Nalls seemed to briefly reignite calls for bicycle lanes on Franklin Avenue, to no avail. One of the worst intersections in the entire city for driver-bicyclist crashes is the loathed, but highly utilitarian (for cars), five-point intersection near the West Bank (Franklin, Cedar, Minnehaha, etc.).
#3 – We have laws to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. So why is my neighbor stuck on the damn sidewalk?
Strictly focusing on the sidewalk issue on Franklin Avenue, I pondered how there has not been an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit slapped on the county and city for having obviously horrible sidewalk conditions for people that use wheelchairs and motorized scooters.
#4 – Working-class and poor people get the worst pedestrian amenities even though they are the ones that use the sidewalks the most. These despicable conditions are at its worst in the poorest area of Franklin Avenue. It is no coincidence that these narrow sidewalks are on the edge of Phillips (the stereotypical “bad” neighborhood south of downtown).
I have already spoken my mind about this with streets.mn, if you’d like to hear more about biked/ped inequity on Franklin Avenue. Perhaps you’re thinking, “but Melody, there ARE bike lanes on Franklin. And the sidewalk where I live near Franklin is nice and wide with bike racks even.”
My answer: Yes, good for you, you live in Seward. Or, oh yeah those sidewalks are nice and wide when you start approaching The Wedge, aren’t they?
#5 – I was not clear on who to call to issue a complaint. Franklin Avenue is tricky because it is under the control of Hennepin County, not the city. Plus, I have been to community meetings about changing Franklin Avenue. I have told the county how I feel. Sometimes I feel like the city/county does not take seriously our complaints, especially when we live in the “poor” areas of town. They assume we don’t have the resources to sue them for having 100% non-ADA-compliant sidewalks. They assume we don’t have the energy to fight. Which just makes me more angry, because they are often times right.
If anyone reading this has background on why Franklin Avenue seems to be at a standstill despite documented high-traffic, high crash rates, and obvious ADA-compliance problems, please get in touch with me. I would love to actively work on changing the streetscape or at least add some education to my anger.
Melody L. Hoffmann is a mass communications instructor at Anoka Ramsey Community College. Her book, Bike Lanes are White Lanes (University of Nebraska Press), comes out in Spring 2016. She lives in Whittier near 35-W and sporadically blogs at phmelody.com