Planned Removal of 26th/28th St Pedestrian Medians Indicate Need for Complete Streets

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?


Pedestrian medians make it safer for people walking and biking by narrowing the crossing for pedestrians, establishing the protected bike lane at major intersections (to reduce people driving in it), and slowing turning traffic. You can find more details from NACTO here.


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.


Author, Ethan, with his son in the pedestrian median at 28th Street and Chicago Avenue. If you look closely, you can see white construction markings indicating the planned removal of the median.

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.

Ethan Fawley

About Ethan Fawley

Ethan is the Executive Director of the Our Streets Minneapolis, which works for a city where biking, walking, and rolling are easy and comfortable for everyone. Ethan lives with his wife Lesley and toddler son, Quincy, in the Midtown Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. He loves Minneapolis and wants to see it be better for everyone. He is a big soccer fan, including a season ticket holder of Minnesota United FC.

45 thoughts on “Planned Removal of 26th/28th St Pedestrian Medians Indicate Need for Complete Streets

  1. Nicole

    “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.'”

    That’s great. Then they should leave the current medians in place, which are clearly working to protect people walking and biking, until they have a plan and funding for better-designed replacements.

    I’m so glad you’re bringing this decision to light before there were just removed. There was so much compromise on these two streets to begin with, that seeing them plan to unilaterally remove a hard-fought amenity is extremely frustrating.

  2. helsinki

    This seemed like quite a red flag:

    “turning movements are awkward due to the lack of radius”

    To my mind, it is precisely intersections with wide turning radii that are dangerous because they allow drivers to turn at high speed, thereby increasing the likelihood of any collision resulting in a fatality. In other words, it’s better for the turn to be awkward due to a tight radius because this ensures a slower turn.

    1. Liz

      When the article says “lack of radius” I assure you, it means the turn is awkward due to a tight radius. The one thing those medians accomplish is ensuring that turning vehicles are not taking that turn too fast.

      1. helsinki

        Right. Which is great. That’s why it I thought it was troubling to see that a stated reason for their removal was to widen the radius, easing the turn for drivers while lessening safety for pedestrians.

    2. Nathanael


      This behavior is totally unacceptable on his part. The medians were chosen through a long, intensive, democratic process of community involvement.

      He’s now trying to remove them because reckless drivers are running into them — so that those same reckless drivers can plow right through that location and run over the pedestrians who are standing in that location. Riiiiight. Does that actually make sense to anyone?

      He just disqualified himself for his job. Fire him.

  3. Rosa

    those meetings were so frustrating, because before we ever got there they had already taken all options that slowed traffic off the table. I went because I really really wanted safe crossings for 26th & 28th – specifically at 17th Ave, because it’s the bike boulevard I take toward downtown all the time. And they just said straight up, there was no stopping cars or forcing them to yield possible, no stoplights, stop signs, or yeild signs for the cross avenues. All that was on the table was bike lanes and *maybe* safety islands.

  4. Liz

    Has anyone else here actually tried to take a right turn around these things? The first time I took a turn around those traffic islands I knew something was wrong.
    I drive northbound on Bloomington Ave and take Right onto Eastbound 28th most weekdays.
    Even with the slowest turn speed, it’s impossible for me to turn into the right traffic lane without running my back tire over the island. No matter how tight I try to turn, I wind up in the left traffic lane. As do all the cars ahead of and behind me. I can’t imagine trying to get a school bus or truck around that corner.

    I think the city can make a better design that prioritizes pedestrian safety, keeps the cars going slowly, but without the wonkiness of the current situation.

    1. Rosa

      Yes, I live on Bloomington and have turned right in a car onto both streets at various places where the medians exist. I also cross them on foot pretty often, and have biked in the protected lanes a few times. I have managed to never run my tire over the median, though the first time I turned there I nearly drove right up on it.

      It’s a little disconcerting the first few times, but once I got used to them, it was fine. The giant potholes that were at the right side of Cedar & 28th last winter/spring were a way bigger slowdown.

      That said – I agree, there are probably a lot of better designs. But all of them would require enforcing cars stopping before the crosswalk at lights, stopping for unmarked crosswalks, and not turning when there are pedestrians trying to cross the street. And the city has been completely unwilling to do that enforcement. So they want all these passive “force cars to slow down and look” designs instead of the kind of ticketing that was used (for example) to stop people from turning left off Lake during rush hour.

      Just taking away what’s there without having a plan for actually implementing something for bike and pedestrian safety is saying that we’ll accept more deaths rather than driver inconvenience.

      1. Liz

        When they installed those medians, I was really surprised they didn’t change the intersection to No Right Turn on Red. I know that alone doesn’t solve the pedestrian safety issue, but I hope they consider it in whatever redesign winds up happening.

        1. Rosa

          that seems like a bare minimum change, doesn’t it? Though I’m not sure a sign with no enforcement would actually change behavior. It doesn’t seem to at other corners with those signs.

    2. Alex

      Part of the problem is that corner radii (the “square-ness” of the corner) have been getting wider and wider for years (another way to put it is that corners have been getting rounder and rounder for years. This takes corner space away from pedestrians and allows motorists to make “shallower” turns. So people aren’t used to making tight right turns. I live in a town where the downtown still has lots of very square corners and narrow roadways, and I see and experience drivers catching the corner all the time.

      But what’s the problem with that really? Eventually it will wreck your suspension? How does that compare with the public health effect of hostile pedestrian environments?

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Yesterday as I was riding home I saw a giant white SUV (Suburban?) make a tight left turn off of Chicago around a car that had creep forward on 47th attempting to see to turn on to Chicago. The driver handled it fine.

        Which is to say that people make tight turns like this all the time because there are other cars in the way, so why should we think they can’t make them around a median?

      2. Nathanael

        Having grown up in a place with lots of super-tight corners, often sharper than 90 degrees, I can say that it’s just a matter of knowing how to drive.

  5. Jeff Moses

    The bump-outs on avenues crossing 31st Street in the Uptown area seem to be navigable for cars. They were put in after a period with posts and painted stripes so drivers could get used to the modified turns. I wonder why (a) a similar learning process wasn’t used for these medians, and (b) now that they’re in place, wouldn’t it make sense to give drivers (and bikers and pedestrians) a learning period to determine if they can work, once we’ve had some more experience?
    Finally, before they rip these out, can we see exactly what they want to replace them with?

  6. Ethan FawleyEthan Fawley Post author

    I’m not a frequent driver, but I have turned from Bloomington onto 28th Street at least 2 times and haven’t had this problem. I’ve been in the car with my mom doing that in an SUV and she didn’t either. I’ve also seen hundreds of cars turn at Chicago and none of them hit the median. But certainly your experience is shared by some

  7. Ethan FawleyEthan Fawley Post author

    I received word that Public Works will not remove the medians until discussing with Council Members. Not sure the plan or next steps around that. I’m glad to hear they are slowing down to hear voices. And thanks to those who have expressed concern and to Council Member Alondra Cano who worked on this Friday night and Saturday morning. Thanks also to Council Member Lisa Bender who offered concerns as well.

  8. Aaron

    I’m an ardent bike/pedestrian infrastructure supporter, I live on 28th St., and I’m telling you the islands make turns really awkward. I REALLY hope these are removed or modified, and I think they could be modified to make everyone happy.

    1. Rosa

      Wasn’t making turns awkward part of the point, though? It forces drivers to slow down and look when turning, which is part of pedestrian safety.

      1. Aaron

        No, I’ve been conditioned to follow the law and stay in my lane when I make turns. When this project squared the corner, it made that exceedingly difficult, hence Minneapolis Public Works is planning to remove pedestrian medians. It’s not some conspiracy against pedestrians by lazy drivers.

        1. Kadence

          I believe that you’ve been conditioned to follow the law and stay in the rightmost lane when you make right hand turns, and to stay in the leftmost lane when you make left turns and for that I thank you for being a conscientious driver. Unfortunately, not everyone who drives a vehicle behaves as properly as you do and what no one else has mentioned here yet is that although the right hand turns around these medians have highlighted how infrequently many people driving vehicles in at these intersections are able to effectively take tighter right hand turns, the left turning vehicles are also making extremely shallow turns onto 28th, rarely turning into the leftmost lane(s). Yesterday I watched as many people driving cars southbound on Chicago made wide, sweeping left hand turns onto 28th into the rightmost lane, approaching the medians within inches. These medians not only protect me as a person riding in the bike lane from right turning vehicles, but also left turning vehicles at these intersections when their operators swing too widely.

        2. Nathanael

          Learn to drive. I know you think you know how to drive — you don’t.

          With a car with a significantly long wheelbase (I drive a “full size” car), you actually have to swing left a little bit before making a tight right turn, in order to avoid “cutting the corner”. Every commercial driver (with much longer wheelbases) knows this.

          With shorter wheelbases as in typical “compact” cars, you don’t have to actually swing out, but you *do* have to drive quite far forward, come nearly to a halt, and then turn very sharply.

          These are skills. Go to a parking lot. Practice. Learn them.

  9. Dennis

    The streets should be two-way ,not for drivers to speed thru.The one-way traffic limit transit access since the # 11 bus cannot run in both directions on 26th St .

  10. Stuart

    Turning movements invading on bike/pedestrian space is the very reason that the medians were installed. It seems odd to remove the medians because they are doing exactly what they were meant to do.

    I haven’t biked or driven through here since they were changed, though I used to go up and down Chicago Ave often. If the main culprit is the tighter than desired turn radius at corner of 28th and Chicago, then the obvious (to me) solution is to bump out the corner (and bus stop) on Chicago at the southeast corner of the intersection. This would push turning traffic further away from the median (solving the turning issue) and have the added benefit of shortening the crossing distance on the south side of the intersection. Chicago immediately south of 28th is quite wide.

    1. Nathanael

      “Turning movements invading on bike/pedestrian space is the very reason that the medians were installed. It seems odd to remove the medians because they are doing exactly what they were meant to do.”

      This is why Kottke should be fired. This is not merely odd — it’s malicious hostility to city policy.

    1. Kadence

      At least at Chicago and 28th, there are no Metro Transit bus routes that turn right from Chicago on 28th Street but that doesn’t completely answer your question. Yesterday, I noticed (new) red paint along the medians when I was biking along 28th and decided to film turning vehicles when I at 28th and Chicago. People driving larger hospital and emergency vehicles were mostly able to make the turn, perhaps due to their standard driving behavior (slow around corners) and ample practice driving larger vehicles. However, people driving cars and SUVs obviously had difficulty turning right and were not able to stay in the rightmost lane, but what I observed is that this appears to be due to these people approaching the intersection too fast and not slowing down enough to complete the turn.

      What I found more interesting is that people driving southbound on Chicago making left hand turns onto eastbound 28th also did not turn into their leftmost lane (where there are no medians and/or barriers to make their turns “awkward”). Pointedly, the left turning drivers were also making very shallow turns and, in almost all instances that I watched in a short few minute period, approached the median on the far right side of 28th quite closely. The median on 28th appeared to be the only reason why some left turning vehicles didn’t swing all the way right into the bike lane on 28th. As a person who bikes regularly on 28th, it’s disconcerting when people in vehicles swing far right within inches of my body as they turn left onto 28th.

      1. Joe ScottJoe Scott

        I’m guessing the reason for southbound Chicago drivers to wind up in the right lane of eastbound 28th is that drivers generally turn left onto 2-way streets more often than 1-way streets, so they’re conditioned to stay to the right when turning left.

        But to me, the question of whether cars and/or emergency vehicles and buses can make right turns from Chicago to 28th while staying in the right-most lane is a moot point. If they have a green light, why shouldn’t they just take a wider turn into the left lane? They’d be crossing the crosswalk on 28th in a place where they’d have better visibility of people in it. Drivers turning left from southbound Chicago would yield, which everyone is already used to doing when turning left.

        I observed the median at Bloomington and 26th for a few minutes yesterday. Every southbound driver turning right onto 26th from Bloomington wound up in the left lane, and it totally didn’t matter. However, for the brief time I was watching at least, the handful of cars that turned left from northbound Bloomington also wound up in the left lane of 26th. Which to me indicates that: these medians, despite taking up only about 25% of the width of the street, actually reduce the distance over which conflicts with pedestrians are likely to occur by as much as 75% compared to pre-bike lane 26th and 28th.

        1. Monte Castleman

          It’s illegal to turn into the left lane when making a right turn.

          §Subdivision 1.Turning at intersection. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection shall do so as follows:
          (a) … both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            Practicable… That seems to allow discretion of usability, just as the word “practicable” in the law regarding bicycle operation means bicycle drives can take the lane.

  11. Joe ScottJoe Scott

    I watched the southeast corner of Chicago and 28th for about 10 minutes earlier today around lunch time. The first thing I noticed was that when Chicago had the green light, about the same number of people walked across the crosswalk as drove through the intersection (I’m guessing mostly employees and visitors of Abbott Northwestern going to get lunch). So, good thing there’s some infrastructure making the crosswalks safer, because they’re full of people, at least some of the time.

    The other thing I noticed was that 90% of the vehicles turning onto 28th from either direction off of Chicago ended up in the middle lane of 28th. That seemed to be the case regardless of whether they were able to take the turn immediately or had to stop for someone in the crosswalk.

    The law really is immaterial here. Cops don’t have the traffic code memorized and they’re not going to pull someone over for some obscure infraction unless there’s some ulterior motive like racial profiling involved – but even then I would think they would try for something more straightforward than making a turn with a larger-than-practicable amount of distance between one’s vehicle and the right-hand curb.

    1. Monte Castleman

      I’m white and I got pulled over by (apparently bored) Richfield police for a burned out brake light. My mother got pulled over for burned out license plate lights in Galesburg, IL. But then again we’re talking about Minneapolis where something as serious as a car burglary isn’t enough to get the police motivated.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        I’ve been pulled over for no turn on red on a Sunday night in the winter when no one was around. So what?

        As to your slight toward Minneapolis police, I’d wager they keep themselves just as busy as other PDs in the region, and I doubt car burglaries (which happen in the suburbs, too!) get officers excited in the burbs, either.

        1. Monte Castleman

          So the point is you could get pulled over for small crimes and infractions like turning into the wrong lane.

          The cops that were lounging around and talking to each in the Lake Nokomis parking lot and told me just to call some number or other to report it rather than dusting for fingerprints or driving around to see if the thug might be breaking into any other cars, or even just writing up a report didn’t look too busy.

          1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

            I guess my point was more that minor infractions do get penalized sometimes, mostly at random. In Minneapolis, too. But like most minor rules of the road, cops don’t pull everyone over for every little thing. Like jaywalking or turning on red or rolling through stop signs or failing to signal when changing lanes or going 32 in a 30 or anything else. That’s true in Minneapolis and it’s true in Motley, MN.

          2. Nathanael

            There are real police departments and then there are “police departments” which are just street gangs.

  12. Biker confusion

    I’m confused why bikers need to ride on the same busy roads as cars. If you ride on a different street, your chances of getting hit by a car are less, right? It’s simple math. Ride on a parallel route. Yes, you have to stop more but would you rather stop more or get splattered by a car?

    I fail to understand why we’re making concessions for bikers on busy roads. I travel this road frequently for work and dislike the changes. Again, why do you have to bike on this particular road? The issue should be global warming and realizing that keeping a car moving is most efficient.

    Consider the next time you’re at a crosswalk for bikers. How many cars stop even though they have the right away? A lot more than needed. Yes, cars speed and don’t necessarily follow the law and neither do bikers. I also believe that if Minneapolis were to properly enforce the laws, we wouldn’t have bikers issues like this. Roads were meant for cars and busy roads should be left for moving traffic more effectively.

    I support bike lanes despite their arbitrary placement. Civil engineers have a difficult job and should be listened too instead of criticized for a bad design. When you buy a car or bike or anything, you don’t get to say ‘I want it this way instead’ – the dealer or manufacturer will laugh at you hysterically so why does the city and bikers and drivers get to say no to a plan? These engineers went to school for years and are licensed by the state – does that not account for anything these days?

    Bikes and cars can share the road but implementation can be done much, much better.

    1. Kadence

      Biker Confusion,

      If you fully read my response, I’ll buy you a beer at East Lake Brewery after we go on a bike ride around the neighborhood if you’d like. Even if you don’t fully read my response and stop here, I’ll buy you a beer at East Lake Brewery after we ride bikes on a circuit around Phillips/Midtown. Thus I begin:

      I’m confused by your oversimplification of reality that paints a false dichotomy of my lived experiences as a person who has regularly (several times per week) ridden a bike in and around Phillips for over a year now. You may not accept my anecdata and that’s alright if you don’t, but I’m an urban planner who went to school for years and that should account for something these days.

      It’s simple math, but my chances of getting hit by a person driving a car when I’m riding on a parallel street, say 24th or 27th Street, are not reduced because these streets are considered “less busy” in terms of how many cars travel along 24th and 27th Street. There are several other factors that contribute to or reduce my safety, but the top three limiting factors from my experience on these side streets include poor sightlines around stretches of parked cars (especially cars that park within ten feet of stops signs despite the clearly marked “No Parking within 30 feet”), people driving cars that run stop signs (regardless of where those stop signs are located) and/or drive unpredictably, and people driving cars exiting/entering alleyways with poor sightlines. These side streets were not designed with non-motorized travel in mind although this is precisely the purpose behind the nearby bike lanes.

      I could recount in great detail here the “near misses” that I’ve experienced along these side streets over just the past two weeks, but I want to make it clear that my choices as a person who commutes by bicycle are not as simple as “Stop More” or “Get Splattered By a Car.” I fail to understand why we’re not making more concessions for the safety of people traveling on bikes, foot, or in motorized chairs. I travel 28th Street frequently to get home and I like the changes. Can I get a third option where “Riding My Bike Anywhere, Anytime, Any day Shouldn’t Result in My Death or Physical Injury?” Again, why do you only give me the option of “Stop More,” or “Get Splattered by a Car?”

      I agree with you that the issue is about global warming and impending climate change, which is why we should make non-motorized forms of transportation that are not fossil fuel dependent safer, more convenient, and more efficient. The issue is realizing that reducing fossil fuel dependent cars is most efficient.

      I understand your frustration as a person driving a car approaching street-level trail crossings, but perhaps with more required driver’s ed maybe people driving cars will understand when it’s appropriate and safe to stop but this isn’t really relevant here because such an intersection where people on bikes must yield to people driving cars at 26th or 28th Streets does not (currently) exist. The history of advocacy of paved roads in America is quite fascinating and might not align with your current understanding, but here’s a quick article for your perusal (link: Feel free to find your own peer-reviewed sources.

      I support bike lanes despite their sometimes ill-design. Urban planners have a difficult job listening to the communities for which they plan but it’s worthwhile to balance technical design and community input. When your taxes support city infrastructure, you do get to say “I want it this way instead” – the urban planners, civil engineers, and policymakers may sometimes laugh at the more zany suggestions received but that’s our job: to listen and serve our communities and constituents.

      Bikes and cars can and should safely share the road but implementation can be done much, much better, too. Now let’s ride bikes and get a beer. Or tacos. We can get tacos, too.

    2. Liz

      Bikes ride the same roads as cars becuase intersections with signals are much easier and safer for bikes, same as cars.
      If the bikes on 28th bother you, why don’t you take your car down all those side streets?
      If it’s too much hassle, it’s not fair to insist someone else do it for your convenience.

    3. Rosa

      these particular streets are the ones that go through. Our neighborhood is super cut up on all the east-west streets, by 55 on the west and 35 on the east, and then by big institutions that take up more than one block all in between. If you take 24th you have to do the windy pedestrian bridge over 55 (which is actually pretty nice, though it slows things down considerably and requires crossing Cedar in a weird way because if you’re facing East it’s on the left – and of course that Cedar intersection is not very safe anyway) and going West you have to take the frankly terrible pedestrian bridge over 35. That bridge is all stairs – it’s like if instead of having an underpass at Lake street there was a barrier and every driver had to get out and push their car through.

      It was actually hilarious going to the community meetings about 26th and 28th and seeing how many car drivers thought 27th or 25th were viable alternate routes. It’s like, you live here and you don’t use them, or you would KNOW why exactly they don’t work.

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