picture of the red light

Signal Timing Transformed My Everyday

picture of the red light

This light to cross Hennepin at 22nd stays red for an eternity (in January, or when it’s raining).


I’ve lived three doors from the intersection of 22nd Street and Hennepin Avenue South for 19 years. I have to cross Hennepin to get to 90 percent of the places I go. For 19 years, my every-day getting-around has been ruled by the insistence of that stoplight rushing drivers north and south along Hennepin, telling me to wait, wait, wait, Wait, Wait, WAIT, WAIT until it’s my “turn.” WAIT. … Ok, now hurry up and go.

Hennepin through-travelers get 75 seconds of green – no flashing red hand – but those crossing Hennepin are offered merely 10 seconds of green, before the warnings return.

I’ve been running to catch that green light for 19 years. When I crest the hill heading west from Lyndale, when I turn from the Bryant Bike Boulevard onto 22nd, when I exit my alley to head to Bryant, when I turn off Colfax on my walk home from the park, as I head to the bus stop just across the street, I always peer ahead to see if it’s green and if I should CRANK IT/RUN to catch it! sprint Yes, I curse under my breath when I miss it.

[Confession: because the red is SOOO long, I push the yellow on my bike. When I’m walking, if it hasn’t turned yellow, I’ll jog. If I see my bus coming, I play frogger.]

The Transformation

A couple years ago, during the nicest part of summer, I was walking home through the Wedge. I saw the green from a block away and sighed. I’d never make it and would have to wait minutes to cross, carrying my very heavy groceries. But then… as I approached the corner, it turned!

After a couple of days paying close attention, I was sure. The signal timing had changed, and it was cycling more frequently.

This may sound a little extreme, but it has transformed my experience of getting around.

I stopped worrying about the light. I didn’t crank on my pedals to catch it if there was any hope. I relaxed, and stood on the corner carrying my 25 pounds of groceries knowing that soon it would be my turn.

I could cross just to window shop — unthinkable if I had the long wait for the light to change. I wanted to thank someone at the City, but I was sure it was a mistake and I didn’t want to alert them to it.

I figured I was the only person nerdy enough to have noticed. I mean, it’s just a traffic light. No one pays attention to traffic light timing. I assumed that until I chatted with my neighbor downstairs. She walks more than I do, and she was even happier about it than I was. She’d already called to thank the City. [Note: She’s a better person than I am.] I discovered that even my housemate who’s not a “noticer” had noticed. She mentioned that it was easier to catch her bus to work with the lights changing more often.

Near the end of the summer, I was starting to think there wouldn’t be another winter of just missing the light, freezing while waiting for it to change. Then suddenly the lights were perma-red again, how they’d always been.

My peering ahead, sprinting, cranking, pushing the yellow, froggering to catch the bus, habits returned instantly.

Now, I fondly remember the summer when crossing Hennepin was no big deal, could happen any time. The summer when people crossing Hennepin mattered almost as much as the drivers hurtling along it.

a different picture of the red light

It’s back to being red all the time. Patience, people.


P.S. My hope is pinned on Minneapolis’ maybe someday Complete Streets policy, which rumor has it includes reevaluating red light timing.

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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