Minneapolis Public Works is planning to remove pedestrian medians from 26th and 28th Streets. This planned removal is both frustrating for its impact for walking and indicative of the opportunity and need of a robust Complete Streets policy in Minneapolis.
(Note that local Council Member Alondra Cano is trying to stop their removal until further dialogue can happen and hopefully will be successful. Thanks to her for stepping up quickly. I hope that Public Works will change their decision and work with the community to figure out a solution for everyone.)
What are the Medians?
Why is Public Works planning to remove the medians?
Public Works Director Steve Kotke says: “The reason for removal of these medians are that vehicle turning movements are awkward due to the lack of radius on the medians and drivers are confused about where to turn resulting in some turning into bike lane. We have had a number of accidents where vehicles have run into the medians which is a concern for pedestrian and vehicle safety. We are also concerned about winter and the impact of snow on the visibility of the medians, the ability of snow plows to avoid being caught by the sharp edges, and windrows that will form and inhibit crossings for pedestrians.”
Mr. Kotke also says “we believe there are other designs that can be installed, such as large pedestrian bumps outs, that will create a safer intersection.” And that Public Works made a technical mistake in their design and “As we continue to try new and innovative ways to improve both bike and pedestrian environments in our transportation system we are going to run into these situations occasionally, we will learn from these experiences and then move forward to make the necessary multi-modal improvements our system needs.”
Medians installed after significant community engagement
In 2013, the City was planning to install protected bike lanes and some walking improvements on 26th and 28th Streets in coordination with a repaving project. Likely fearing push back for doing something new, they ended up delaying that and decided that they needed significant community engagement.
In that community engagement, they heard (among other things) that crossing 26th and 28th Streets has long been a problem and making that safer and easier long a priority in the local neighborhoods. In 2012, a young boy, Jose Manuel Parra Hernandez, was killed trying to cross 26th Street near a park. That intersection is still a point of frustration in the community as is currently the focus of a neighborhood survey.
There were literally dozens of community meetings leading up to the changes on 26th and 28th Street. The medians were presented as an idea fairly early on in the process and were sold as a big pedestrian improvement. They received community support. The community wanted additional pedestrian improvements, but were told that there wasn’t funding for them.
What concerns me about the decision and process of decision
I’m concerned that this decision is being made from an auto-oriented mindset. There is no apparent consideration of the impact removal will have on pedestrian safety or on more people driving in the bike lane. I can say with 100% certainty that removing the medians will make it more likely that my wife, my son, or myself will be hit on our way to daycare. That fact does not matter in this decision.
The reality is that if drivers are hitting the medians, they clearly are not paying proper attention. They could have all too easily hit a pedestrian in the exact same spot. We should design streets in neighborhoods that expect–and compel–drivers to pay attention. We should not design streets that tell drivers “it’s just fine to speed around corners on your cell phone” and then when a pedestrian is hit just say “I didn’t see them!” and move on.
It’s also maddening that this decision clearly runs counter to adopted policy and goals about improving pedestrian safety. And it runs counter to months of community meetings and promises made in the lead up to 26th and 28th Street improvements. Railroading through a change without so much as asking anyone in the community’s opinion (Public Works stopped by local Council Member Cano’s office to inform her of the decision without asking her opinion or even explaining any detail) is also terrible given the process to get to this point. Spending a bunch of money to remove them when the community has repeatedly heard “we don’t have money” is also super frustrating.
And finally, I am perplexed at how there seemed to have been technical mistakes on this since I know that there was an extremely thorough process around the decision and maintenance staff and others were involved. How’d it go so wrong? How can we not have that happen in future?
Can Complete Streets make a difference?
The City is currently working on a Complete Streets policy. This instance has reminded me of the importance of a strong Complete Streets policy because clearly we still have a really long way to go to actual change streets to support everyone no matter how they get around and not just speeding cars. We also have a ways to go on the process of how we make decisions and how we meaningfully engage the community.
The initial draft of the Complete Streets policy shows some promise, but some concerning things as well that could be used to reinforce a decision like this one. Regardless of the final policy, it will be the details of how it will be implemented that will matter. That is going to require significant work and leadership from the top of Public Works to continue to evolve the department’s culture to be less auto oriented, community engagement wary, and risk adverse. I’ll admit that this median decision and how it has gone down means my trust of that long-term work is not what it was two days ago.