Our chance to make Hennepin Avenue lovable is coming.
I love living on “Hennepin Avenue,” a Minneapolis landmark so important I need say no more. Everyone has attended a show at one of its grand historic theaters. Or waited for a bus there. Or done the company/birthday dinner at Fogo de Chao. Or attended MCTC. Or visited the Central Library. Or walked across it to get to a Twins game, First Avenue, or the Fed. Or my favorite, attended the Pride Parade–the one day a year it’s a street for people.
364 days a year, Hennepin Avenue is not a nice place to be. It’s dominated by four to five lanes of cars driven by people who are mostly trying to escape. I give you that the sidewalks ARE full of people, but only because it’s where the thing they want happens to be. They are also nervously darting across the wide street, rushing to catch a bus, watching for the inattentive turning drivers although they have the walk sign. It’s been like that for a long time.
Let’s fix that.
Only half of the people using Hennepin are trying to escape in all those car lanes. Let’s give the half of people experiencing the Avenue on their feet, through their ears, and on their bikes a place they want to stick around (source below).
The City is planning to reconstruct Hennepin Avenue through downtown in 2020, and they will begin visioning and planning what will come early in 2016. It’s the sort of rebuild that happens only every 50 years or so.
Let’s grab this opportunity to reinvent Hennepin. We don’t have to start our visioning and planning from scratch.
Hennepin Theatre Trust worked with partners Walker Art Center, Artspace and the City of Minneapolis to “gather input and ideas to plan the re-invention of Minneapolis’ oldest street,” (summary here). Their broad engagement process resulted in a plan that will “create an urban corridor defined not only by its cultural amenities but by green space, courtyards, event space, restaurants, and street-level shops that would connect everything together.”
Count me in for that.
The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition (who tipped me off to this process) invited volunteers to a visioning session, too. In our 90-minute session, we didn’t get as far as the Hennepin Theatre Trust, but the image evoked in that session looks pretty similar in character:
What we’re all describing is a sticky street. According to Brent Toderian, “A street is sticky if as you move along it, you’re constantly enticed to slow down, stop and linger to enjoy the public life around you.” Sounds lovable to me.
Let’s make Hennepin Avenue sticky. Let’s make it a place full of people, because theater-goers want to stay after their show ends, workers want to linger before busing home, or families want to sit outside to read their new library books. Let’s make Hennepin Avenue a place to be seen, a place where waiting and people watching is pleasant. Let’s get a street we love.
The ~half of people on Hennepin Avenue walking and biking give the street life. Let’s let them love that street life. Every day.
Cross-posted at the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition blog.
(1) Thanks to the streets.mn writers who pointed me to these data sources. Maybe one of them would be interested in doing some real analysis.
Pedestrian and Bicycle Counts, 2007-2014 via City of Minneapolis
Transit Stops Boardings and Alightings (Fall 2014) via Minnesota Geospatial Commons
Minneapolis Traffic Count Management via City of Minneapolis
- Rough numbers ahead! This is not my day job.
- For MetroTransit numbers, I included only those getting on and off the bus on Hennepin between Washington and 12th. That undercounts riders who go through downtown (like me, when I’m heading from Uptown to Northeast or Dinkytown). Given my rough approach, I’m rounding. Average weekday boarding/disembarking 24,000 people. On weekends, 11,200 on Saturday and 8,000 on Sunday.
- The Bike/Ped counts have annual counts on the Hennepin Bridge, and counts every three to four years for two other locations along Hennepin. Daily biking + walking people at the bridge were 3,440, at 12th Street 4,970, and at 7th Street 8,380.
- The traffic count management data for this stretch is all 2010 or older. Hennepin converted from one-way to two-way in 2009. The numbers vary widely, mostly by block but also by year. Typical daily averages were in the 17,ooo-22,000 range, but they ranted from 10,500 to 27,000.
This makes me think of the underwhelming Hennepin Avenue farmers market last summer. The sidewalk is way too narrow for the vendor tents, plus people waiting to make a purchase, and people walking by behind them. Because there are signals are timed for long cycles, it takes a long time to cross the street. It’s not practical to have the farmer’s market on Hennepin on every other block like on Nicollet (where it’s always on the wide sidewalk side). It took me about as long to visit 2 blocks of farmers market on Hennepin as 4 blocks on Nicollet. I probably saw 1/4 of the vendors I would have on Nicollet. And I bought 1/4 as much too.
Faith, I understand that some wanted to take away the FM in its entirety for two seasons and the compromise was to put it on Hennepin. Maybe it would work better next year if there were vendor stall maximums that would leave adequate room on the sidewalks. Vendors would have to go with skinny tables an awnings.
The vendors can’t make their displays any smaller than they already are on Hennepin. The farmers market would work much better at the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza. There is a ton of empty space to work with and it would be much easier to shop than Hennepin since there wouldn’t be any streets to cross.
This is really important. One big issue I see is that Hennepin has for a long time been the site of a struggle about “who belongs” downtown, and whether or not it will be a street that welcomes people of all races and backgrounds. I have the suspicion that some people don’t want to expand the sidewalk or public realm on Hennepin because it’s used by more people of color than many other streets downtown. That was a big subtext that i came across during my research into the history of “Block E”, and I don’t think the issue has gone away.
Just something to think about as the conversation proceeds.
Do you see “One” on the Coalition vision? There were multiple similar comments to yours. It needs to be a place that’s open and welcoming to ALL people. The discussion was explicit about people of all races and incomes, as well.
Were people of all races and incomes included in the discussion? Without broad representation, the discussion may not have adequately addressed the needs of all people.
Mike, I’m not suggesting the Coalition meeting was representative of all races and incomes in Minneapolis. (Nor do I think it should be the Coalition’s responsibility to achieve that.) Simply that Bill’s point is important, and that it was a concern identified as important in the Coalition’s meeting.
I’ll add that the Coalition meeting did include people of multiple races, ages spanning several decades, different income ranges (although not as low as we might like), and family/household types. Better than one might think — but obviously made up of Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition volunteers interested in Hennepin Avenue.
I was most surprised (and pleased) that the vision WASN’T focused on bike amenities, but instead it was focused on transforming the street – radically. Bike stuff was hardly mentioned.
It seems like the Nicollet resdesign is struggling with the same issue, and not handling it very well from what I’ve seen.
Having lived near Hennepin until recently, I can tell you I heard my neighbors verbalize this struggle.
I’d hope that the crowd that’s concerned about attracting the “wrong” people could be convinced that more people overall would alleviate their concerns.
I guess it depends whether the concerns are actually grounded in safety (I’ve been harassed walking down Hennepin at night) or just racism.
Hennepin Avenue is perhaps the one real opportunity for dedicated bus lanes through downtown. I’d be ok with cyclists using those lanes too, as I don’t think there will be room for any type of protected bicycle infrastructure, if we also want wider sidewalks.
We need to get serious about dedicated (or even semi-dedicated) ROW for transit. Hennepin is where that can happen.
I know this is going to come off poorly worded, but bike activists do a poor job of making sure that we also see transit improvements in this city, even though many cyclists are also transit users. Bike advocacy groups need to be more cognizant that we do not have a transit advocacy group, and do not destroy the opportunity for dedicated bus lanes on Hennepin by demanding protected bicycle infrastructure.
I wish there was a transit advocacy group!
TLC is useless apparently. I almost never see/hear them actually doing anything useful. They could seriously learn something from the bike coalition, because there is pretty much zero effective lobbying for transit users with the Minneapolis city government.
TLC seems to have one purpose: securing more regional funding and sort of cheerleading/promoting use of existing transit in general. While I don’t know if a Mpls Bike Coalition style independent group if the answer, there should absolutely be a City of Minneapolis sponsored TAC (Transit Advisory Committee) to go along with the existing Bike and Ped Committee. I think that would be both doable and hopefully useful.
Whatever the form, we definitely need *something* to voice transit-related concerns to the city, because they really aren’t giving it any thought right now other than wanting a shiny streetcar and not thinking about how real people use transit every day in the present. If I weren’t so antisocial I’d almost want to look into starting something myself, but I’m too abrasive and reclusive to really be a good organizer or spokesperson for anything.
There can be no effective City of Minneapolis Transit Advisory Committee because transit in Minneapolis is controlled by the Met Council who looks at transit planning from a regional/suburban transit lens. One reason why the proposed Southwest LRT is transit planned as a quick run in for suburban residents through the Kenilworth Corridor bypassing the low-income transit dependent communities of North Minneapolis and the dense populations of Uptown.
Yes, the met council controls transit planning, but the city can still have some input like offering up space on their streets and sidewalks for transit amenities. As it stands now the city is entirely passive and sometimes even seemingly hostile to transit uses of their right of way. The met council doesn’t do a good job advocating for urban riders with the city, so maybe the city needs to hear it from actual residents.
OK, I agree we need a Transit Advisory Committee for the City of Minneapolis but I would like it to be an adjunct of the city and not a formal Met Council advisory committee. I will ask around and see if the city is interested in providing the framework for or supporting such a committee.
TLC will help lobby transit issues at the state legislature this summer. See the “Transportation Forward” web site and Facebook page.
It’s my sense that the first question is can we bear to give the street a makeover, and shift some of the space currently dedicated to cars to be returned to people. If there’s a willingness to do that, then we can — hopefully collaboratively — figure out how that space will be shared.
I don’t know what I think should be there — although I am sure that what’s there now is not the right thing.
Simply narrowing lanes creates enough space for protected bikeways, which would be a big improvement. If one of the lanes could shift from “free for all motorized vehicles plus bikes” to “buses only,” that would be phenomenal. The sidewalks are fairly wide currently at 20′ (although as Faith accurately points out, not wide enough for farmers markets).
But whether we can create a lovable street hinges on the question of whether the current allocation of space can be shifted or not.
This is a great point Matt. If a lane is being taken away from cars in a heavy transit corridor, that means buses are also going to be impacted by any additional congestion. Add in the fact that bicycle advocacy groups are overwhelmingly white, middle-upper class people and transit riders are not and you have an equity issue.
Adding protected bike lanes on Hennepin does not require taking any car lanes. On the blocks that are currently 4 lanes there is already plenty of space. On the blocks with 5 lanes, it would require a bit of narrowing of traffic lanes, which would be fine, and maybe the signage/furniture zone, which isn’t ideal. Doing a bigger vision for Hennepin would likely require fewer cars lanes. Adding dedicated bus lanes definitely would.
Honestly surface bus lanes are going to be a failure in this city almost anywhere downtown. They’re going to be subjected to a ton of exceptions for curb cuts/parking/turns/etc and rendered basically useless for actually conveying transit efficiently. We need to get serious and build tunnels or just give up and raze all the new buildings for parking lots again, becuase nothing short of grade-separation is going to work here. The city is apparently deathly afraid of taking away any curb cuts or street parking and wants Nicollet to be a bunch of sidewalk cafes for downtown workers to get tipsy at after work rather than an actual transit mall. We need a transit tunnel under either Nicollet or Hennepin, and we’re missing our chance for Nicollet right now.
But of course there’s also completely inadequate infrastructure funding in this country and no one is going to want to pick up the tab for a tunnel, no matter how necessary.
Ok, now let’s accept that there isn’t going to be a bus tunnel this generation and move on to the actual project at hand: reconstructing the street.
Call me optimistic, but I feel like bus lanes on Hennepin are something that can and should happen with this rebuild. As to your complaints, Hennepin doesn’t really have much on-street parking (none in the busiest parts of the core) and not many curb cuts. It’s a little messy down by MCTC to like 10th, but through the core (10th – Washington) it’s pretty clean. If we could reconstruct with actual bus lanes, restricted to buses and right turns (like actually with red-colored pavement and police enforcement like a real city), I think that would represent a massive improvement over the present condition.
Ok, vent accomplished, Back to the (kind of sad) reality we live in ):
There isn’t much on-street parking, but it exists and I don’t see the city taking it away without a fight (that they might cave on). The city is also still (!) approving *new* curb cuts on Hennepin in the 10th-Washington stretch (the new hotel going up), so having them suddenly pull a 180 and eliminate curb cuts is pretty far fetched to me.
If they don’t curb off bus lanes they’re ineveitably going to fail. People are going to just drive in them like they do now and the police will refuse to even bother enforcing them. In fact, even with curbs or bollards I don’t see enforcement being taken seriously. I honestly question whether or not we even need to mix the two for right lanes or have a separate cycle or put the bus lanes in the middle with island bus stops and narrow street traffic to one lane or anything truly pushing the bounds instead of something boring and safe and completely ineffective like we usually do here.
What if the bus guideway was completely separate from right turns, and had separate signaling? It could also work well with a cycletrack. The signal phasing would prevent conflict between right turning cars and through-running buses.
That’s kind of what I was getting at. There’s enough room to have a set of center bus lanes with decently-sized platforms on both sides if we can get people to accept only one moderately-sized traffic lane in each direction (which is relaly what they *technically* are supposed to have now, but not in practice). I was also thinking maybe you could have both directions on the same side of the street separated by a planter/divider, then you only have to have a new platform area on one side and you can have the sidewalk do double-duty on the other. Probably the north/west side of the street is better for that.
Having one lane of car travel on Hennepin would solve a number of issues but I think car drivers feel they have a right to drive fast on city streets. Having said that, it city planners and elects would ignore the carping during the planning process, I believe the street could be engineering such that there would be few complaints after the transformation is actually done.
Blocks without left turns:
-Alternating stations left/right. I’d actually suggest far-side stations with room for one 40′ bus to wait behind another one at the platform. This would ensure free flow of buses through intersections with dedicated phasing.
Blocks with left turns:
-Here, the bike and bus lanes would be buffered from the street lanes. Signal phases would be different. Buffer could also act as a refuge island if widened slightly.
The outcome here would be to make the street feel – to auto users – that it’s a 2/3 lane street depending on the presence of turn lanes. Much more of the street is handed over to transit/bikes. On alternating blocks without transit stops, bikes and bus lanes are next to each other but clearly demarcated – yet bicyclists could still have plenty of space to pass each other using the bus space.
Matt, while I like the concepts, I’m not psyched about narrowing the current 20′ sidewalks.
I’m not sure they need to be wider, but if we want this to be a sticky, lovable street, narrower is the wrong way to go.
Can you see any ways to make some of the compromises without narrowing the spaces for the many, many people on foot?
You’d basically have to cut the bike lane and be satisfied with biking on 1st Ave, Nicollet, or 3rd Avenues, two of which will have semi-protected lanes and the other has no regular automobile traffic. Considering we can’t get any special treatments for transit on Nicollet it seems like a fair trade in some ways.
And I know someone is going to say “having it bus only isn’t special treatment on Nicollet!?” to which I say it’s awful as a transit mall and the redesign is going to make it worse. Just limiting it to buses and bikes is meaningless if the bus shelters suck and the lights are all timed to make the buses crawl as slowly as possible and there’s no off-board fare payment so you can walk across downtown faster than the bus goes during rush hour.
I tried to bring this up to my City Council member in the context of the streetcar (if it ever happened, since he doesn’t seem too concerned about bus riders but might care if it could help the streetcar) and it seems we still didn’t get anywhere. Recently learned that James Corner Field Ops had an ‘in’ on the project because a former high level City staff member’s daughter works at JCFO (in NYC). So, I set expectations accordingly.
Good to see nepotism and cronyism alive and well here. I’m not surprised by any means, but I am even angrier!
Also (last one for now, I promise) the current sidewalks are mostly pretty underutilized and poorly laid out. I’m always one to advocate for wider sidewalks, but in this case the huge planters along portions of it don’t do much for it and you could probably get the same amount of usable space with a slightly narrower sidewalk and smaller planters. You could always bulb out the sidewalk in the middle of the block and on blocks with no stop where you don’t need the bus stop width for that.
Also, ban left turns on Hennepin except at important local streets like Washington, but not for roads that lead only to highway ramps. Let’s not encourage commuters to use Hennepin to get to their highway ramps if we want it to be nice.
Make this a post please!
NOC has a lot on their plate but they do some transit advocacy.
NOC indeed has a lot on their plate so I believe their transit advocacy improvements will mostly to get improved bus shelters and better transit routes in North Minneapolis.
What about Nicollet? What about Marquette and 2nd? Aren’t those dedicated bus lanes? I think dedicated bus lanes should be looked into for Hennepin as well, but there is some serious dedicated ROW for transit right nearby (not to mention 5th Street in the other direction).
Oh, and the Bicycle Coalition’s position on Hennepin will be determined by our interested volunteers. We welcome more interested folks at any time! 😉 We’ve heard a lot of interest in protected bikeways on Hennepin and also interest in dedicated bus lanes, improved sidewalks, and bigger transformation as Janne points out here. We’re certainly taking all of those into account as well as the possibility that adding a bike lane on Hennepin could mean taking it out on 1st Ave and improving the very narrow sidewalks there. Lots to balance!
Ethan, as a Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition volunteer, the dedicated bus lanes on Nicollet suck, and they don’t do anything for the heavy volumes of riders on Hennepin (and it doesn’t make sense to send Uptown traffic down the just as or even slower at-capacity Nicollet).
Balance, as you say.
If the street is being torn up, it’s a good time to consider putting in a metro. It is almost silly that there’s no high speed transit from Uptown to Downtown.
Same goes for Nicollet. The only way $5 million / block can be justified is if we’re getting ourselves the foundation for a transit tunnel underneath.
Seconded. Or thirded. Nicollet was a huge missed opportunity for even just a bus tunnel with the option to upgrade to rail. Please don’t let it happen again with the only other viable option for local transit lines.
I’m so glad to see this article! I’ve been thinking Hennepin might be our best/easiest bet to create a people-oriented model street in Minneapolis. As you point out, it’s already got a ton of people outside of cars on it, from Nordeast through to its end in Uptown. I’ve been trying to think of other equally-ripe-for-recentering-people streets in Minneapolis and I really can’t. Hennepin pulls in people from all over the city/region because of its infrastructure (buslines and transfer points) and many varied amenities that are adjacent or very near it, from the ones you mentioned downtown to Lake of the Isles and Lake Bde Maka Ska further south. I know we’re looking at reconstructing or resurfacing the Near Nordeast portion soon, we’re already starting on the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck, and even if the portion between Franklin/Lakewood isn’t up for work in the near future, it certainly could be greatly improved without much more than paint/protectors (dedicated bus lanes? parklets at the many great patios that currently spill into/block the sidewalks? protected bike lanes? lights timed to prioritize pedestrians? marked crossings at mid-block T intersections? bumpouts at high-car-crash crossings? more visionary or experimental zoning to decrease curbcuts & increase ped-friendly development?).
Part of what will help us move towards sustainability is being able to really concretely envision what our better, car-lite or car-free future looks like. Hennepin is basically already there by many measures, but, confusingly, we funnel car traffic onto it (and then prioritize private vehicles) like it’s a highway. Recentering people on Hennepin would really improve quality of life for everyone who bikes, busses, and walks to and along Hennepin. But more than that, because of the regionally diverse crowd it draws, it would help more people understand in an experiential way WHY we need to create spaces around people, rather than cars, and provide them a model to start pushing for in their own neighborhoods and towns.
I don’t think you mentioned that, unlike many major commercial/transit/walking corridors in Minneapolis, Hennepin is (ironically?) controlled by Minneapolis, not by Hennepin county. Given how often I hear “Hennepin County road” as a reason that Franklin (or Lyndale or Park or Lake, etc) is dangerous and unpleasant and sometimes impassable on foot/bike, I think it’s important to highlight this as a reason to push NOW and not wait for another street.
Excellent point about Hennepin being a City street. That’s the thing making this conversation possible in the first place. Thanks!
Great thoughts here. Just a minor quibble (my new thing): either “Bde Maka Ska” or “Lake Bde Maka” but not both.
There. Now that’s done, I agree about funneling cars on Hennepin!
Quibble to your quibble: I think you meant “Lake Maka Ska” for the 2nd one, and I agree.
Every lake in the state has “Lake” in the name, the idea that this one wouldn’t (especially being on LAKE Street) is laughable.
Let’s settle on Lake Maka Ska, once and for all.
Now back to your regularly scheduled programming 😉
I got the terminology from here: http://historyapolis.com/names-matter-the-story-of-bde-maka-ska/
“If South Carolina can grapple with how the past lives in the present, so can Minneapolis. If the Palmetto state can discard a bitterly-contested symbol of white supremacy, Lake Calhoun can become Lake Bde Maka.”
I apologize for belaboring this point, but I’m almost certain Bde/Mde is the word for “Lake”. I think that was a slight mix-up by Historyapolis.
Thanks, Matt & Bill! It’s not a minor pt in my book. I wasn’t sure which, if any, of the words meant “lake” and I’ve been sort of alternating between adding lake or dropping it when speaking and generally adding it in writing (I think as a linguistic “clue” for those less familiar with the change). I’d rather use it and make mistakes as I learn than go with the old name. But it seems we’re still standardizing its broader usage and I’m eager to read both your links (and any other contributions).
Here at streets.mn, no detail is too small for a proper belaboring.
If someone embroiders this on a line of dish towels, I think you’ll have a business there Bill.
Let me just place this NACTO USDG link about median bus lanes here:
As I write this I’m sitting at Central Library, looking down on Hennepin …
So Hennepin used to be a 1 way (presumably a couplet with 1st Avenue going the other way)? Why was it changed? Turning these streets back into a couplet of one-way streets would present an opportunity for narrowing them and hopefully making them safer.
In downtown Portland we had an analogous pair of streets, West Burnside and NW Couch. They haven’t been turned into a couplet (yet) but it has been under discussion for many years. Like Hennepin, Burnside is a wide street that carries heavy traffic and ends up being a barrier dividing downtown into two different sections.
Also very much like Hennepin, Burnside crosses a 4-5 lane bridge and forms a couplet with its pair (NE Couch in Portland, 1st NE in Mpls) in the burgeoning hipster neighborhood on the other side of the river. In Portland this is a *recent* change, and seems to have made the streets safer, also making room for bike lanes that weren’t there before, without reducing the traffic flow. The same change may eventually happen on the downtown side of the river.
I think one of the keys to success of the new Portland couplet has been the design of the intersections that channel the traffic around from one street into two streets and back again at the other end. Unlike in NE Mpls, the jog from one-way NE Couch to two-way East Burnside requires two 90 degree turns, but PBOT’s engineers took care to make sure that the light timing an intersections allowed traffic to flow around these legs without always encountering two red lights.
That task is a little more challenging on the downtown side, but should be manageable with intelligent signal timing (which becomes much simpler when you are dealing with one-way streets).
Another key feature of Portland’s downtown that makes it walkable is the timing of signal progression. I haven’t been in downtown Minneapolis enough to observe whether the signals are timed to allow progressive flow, but it does seem ridiculous to me that the speed limit is 30mph in an extremely dense environment, especially when it’s only a mile or two across and traffic often flows much more slowly. In Oregon, business district speed limits are a much more humane 20mph, and the signal timing enforces even slower speeds: at busy times, the progression allows for approximately 15mph, increasing to about 18mph in off hours. This just makes for a much safer, more welcoming environment.
Implementing similar signal timing on *one-way* Hennepin and 1st Avenues might have a very beneficial effect.
It was coupled with First and they were changed to make them less spectacularly terrible for non-cars. It’s mostly worked for first, and Hennepin has had different bike configurations too.
For a good reason why they got rid of it and why Portland should avoid doing it, look no further than either Lake/Lagoon or E Hennepin/NE 1st during rush hour. They are nightmares to walk along, with the exception of E Hennepin which is merely unpleasant to deal with all the curb cuts and people turning without looking. One-way streets are not safe and any time you have a pedestrian walking against the flow of traffic on one they’re vulnerable to being hit by someone turning onto it and looking for cars the other way (source: common sense and being hit in that exact situation).
Actually Add University/4th Sts SE to that list. They’re also awful for the same reasons and where I was hit years ago.
Not sure I’m understanding why one-way streets are so dangerous: the majority of streets downtown are already one-ways.
Downtown Portland is one of the safest places I can think of to walk (mostly because of moderate vehicle speeds, and drivers’ awareness of pedestrians), and it’s mostly one-ways too.
One-way streets have a huge potential safety benefit: you can use signal progression to set vehicle speeds to whatever speed you want. Can’t easily do that on two-way streets.
Unless you ban all turns on red and actually enforce it, one-way streets are always going to be inherently more dangerous for pedestrians because drivers typically only look for other cars approaching, so they won’t see a pedestrian crossing legally and going the opposite way of automobile traffic.
The person that mowed me down when they ran a stop sign to make a right turn onto a one-way said “don’t walk in front of cars” to me and sped off. People have a ridiculous sense of entitlement when they’re driving and we need to force better behavior by design and enforcement instead of just trusting they’ll do the right thing. Police have demonstrated (and even stated if you believe some second-hand information that’s been posted around here) that they are unwilling to engage in proper enforcement to ensure safe use of the streets by all users, so the only real solution left is to use design to make things safer. Or I guess we could all arm ourselves and wear spiky metal armor and just degenerate into a post-apocalyptic brawl on our way to work every day.
There’s research on this question (which has surely been shared here somewhere). Here’s one example: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/17/why-one-way-streets-really-are-the-worst/
Less scientifically, our downtown one-ways seem to lead to higher speeds and less attentive driving. Maybe you’re right that it could be addressed with better signal timing (I don’t know), but observing what happened with First when it went two-way makes me think that signals don’t do as much to help as making it two-way.
OK, that makes sense that higher-speed one-ways and couplets in residential neighborhoods are definitely not a good thing, especially if the goal of them is simply to maximize vehicle throughput. I’m still not convinced that it applies to downtown areas, though. Keeping streets two-way makes it impossible to calm them with signal timing.
Having seen the calming effect of slow signal progression (14mph at busier times in Portland) on one-way streets, I have to say it is really a *huge* deal in making the streets more pleasant for pedestrians, as opposed to the racetracks that downtown Minneapolis streets seem to turn into when they aren’t gridlocked. Usually the first thing people notice when they visit downtown Portland is how walkable and human-friendly it seems (despite being almost entirely a grid of one-way streets). The shorter (200′) blocks are part of that, but the slower traffic speeds are a much bigger reason.
As has been said, we can’t do much to lower speed limits in downtown Minneapolis (although I’ve seen 25mph a lot of places around here, such as Minnehaha and St Anthony parkways – is there a state law that exempts parkways from the 30mph rule? In other parts of Portland where the state-mandated maximums are higher we’ve had similar clashes with state law. But with signal timing you can achieve the same effect. This should definitely be done with Hennepin NE and 1st in Nordeast.
And I’ll reiterate that one-ways give you more space for non-car amenities like protected bikeways, bike corrals, on-street dining pods, etc. Two-way Hennepin is pretty sucktacular to bike on right now. If First and Hennepin were converted back to one-ways, with each street containing dedicated bus lanes and parking-protected (or busway-protected) bike lanes on *both* streets, with only two car lanes on each, I still think that might be superior to the current configuration.
I’m no expert and I’ve only visited Portland once, but I’d speculate that the streets you’re referring to are narrower than those we’re talking about and that it’s their narrowness that’s the driving factor.
I’m also it sure I follow what can be down with signal timing on one ways that can’t on two-way streets.
Unfortunately, state law doesn’t allow lower than 30 MPH even on residential streets (not sure how Nicollet Mall is 10). But, signal timing is a way around this.
Probably because ‘real’ cars aren’t allowed on it, so it doens’t *have* to be 30. Buses and their riders don’t matter to the state and its dumb laws.
Please note the poor transit options for North Minneapolis were mentioned in a long story in today’s New York Times. The link is below but it is paywall protected. If you are not a NYT subscriber, you can sometimes pull the article through Google News.
Actually, I believe there’s an opt-in program that allows municipalities to set certain streets to 25 mph. (Many side streets in Minnetonka are posted at this speed). I recall seeing a reference somewhere in Minn. Stat. chapter 169.
The number of people who drive 35+ might drop, though. Yes, there needs to be some threat of enforcement, but 5mph means a lot in reaction time for a pedestrian.
Exactly. I think we’ve all seen the charts of the fatality rates for pedestrians hit at various speeds. Each 5mph difference makes a geometrically larger difference in the chance of a pedestrian being killed — and that doesn’t even take reaction time into account.
Because a typical driver traveling (for instance) 30mph will travel over 70 feet before their foot even hits the brake pedal, 5mph is often the difference between a pedestrian hit relatively lightly and being hit full speed. Or the difference between being hit and the car coming to a full stop in time.
Effectively, the danger to pedestrians is proportionate to at least the cube of vehicle speed.
St. Paul seems to have set a progression of 20 mph on Wabasha (or at least they had the last time I temped over there). Far less stressful than stop-and-go, 0 to 30+ on Hennepin — and just as quick in the long run.
Excellent post, Janne!
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