Minneapolis Default Modal Priority (draft) pedestrian, transit, bicycle, freight, motor vehicles

The Draft Complete Streets Policy is a Good Start for Minneapolis

Since the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) first recommended the City of Minneapolis pass a “Complete Streets” policy in 2011, the city has been slow to actually pass and institutionalize it. I’m happy to announce that things are moving again! I attended an informal gathering to review the as-of-yet not public policy draft where the general consensus was, “A good start.”

I’d walk, bike, ride a bus, or drive here. How about you?

Admittedly, it was difficult tracking down some of the history of this. I did find references to the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition report from the BAC in December 2012, notes from the BAC recommending to return it to staff for more work in October 2013, and another Coalition post in July 2015 showing that it’s back on track.

There is no formal public engagement process planned, but the Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC) and the BAC have been getting periodic updates. PAC member Shaina Brassard and BAC fan club member Ethan Fawley did arrange for an informal work session to review the latest draft. City staff and elected officials indicated they’d welcome feedback, and I attended the work session with about 20 other people.

A Good Start

I found plenty to be pleased about. In particular, I like the “Default Minneapolis Modal Priority” front and center (see image). I also liked:

  • the clear call to develop networks for all modes,
  • the plan to develop performance measures to evaluate the policy’s success, and
  • an accompanying set of “Companion/Action Items” that include
    • a Complete Streets checklist for projects,
    • a winter maintenance evaluation, and
    • a planned review of signal timing (my favorite)

Minneapolis Default Modal Priority (draft) pedestrian, transit, bicycle, freight, motor vehicles

The Default Modal Priority in the most recent draft I’ve seen.

Room for Improvement

On the other hand, we saw significant room for improvement, especially around four big themes.

  1. All vulnerable road users, including people riding bicycles, should be higher priority than any motorized vehicles – transit included.
  2. The draft didn’t actually apply the default modal priority. While instances were found throughout the draft, my favorite example states “modal hierarchies will be developed for each project or initiative…” What’s the point of a default modal priority if it’s not applied by default?
  3. Green infrastructure should be referenced. The trees and landscaping “that provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water,” also makes our city a more pleasant place to walk and bike and wait for the bus or train.
  4. The policy is aimed at integrating Complete Streets into planned projects, and there’s a need to proactively address existing safety problems and network gaps. Safety issues are identified in City-produced reports on bicyclist-motorist crashes and pedestrian traffic crash trends. (These media write-ups pull out good charts, create interactive maps, and list problem places.) The City documented gaps in its Master Bicycle Plan (pp. 150-153).

Defaulting to the Default: Our Suggestions

Several smaller groups were going to meet to make more specific recommendations on topics, including the 2nd, 3rd and 4th in that list. I was part of the “default modal priority” group, along with Clark Biegler and Neal Baxter. Our team of three agreed on a few principles:

  • A DEFAULT modal priority should be the default unless there’s a PAC/BAC (or other open) review of demonstrated, documented reasons to diverge from the default.
  • COST is not a reason to diverge from the default. After all, we don’t cut out stoplights where they’re required (or even where they are unnecessary) because they’re too expensive, so why would we cut out the part of designs that save lives? [Note: We also thought it was odd the policy implied Complete Streets would be more expensive, as generally the spaces that serve people walking and biking are cheaper to build than the spaces serving drivers and their cars. Examples here.]
  • SPACE CONSTRAINTS are also not a reason to diverge from the defaults. Minneapolis hasn’t allowed this to limit our road-building in the past and this more recent – if defeated – St. Paul proposal shows we still don’t. Why begin to apply this in a policy designed to address the basic needs of vulnerable road users?

Possibly my favorite recommendation from our group reads, “When tradeoffs between modes must be made, the default modal priority will determine the final design choice.” (I can dream, right?)

What Do You Think?

I hope the other small groups who met after the larger meeting will share their own suggestions in the comments and their corrections to my summary of the meeting.

I also thank the City Council and Public Works staff for pushing ahead on this and for insisting on a good policy. I hope they’ll share what happens next and when we can expect to see a policy adopted.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

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