This is my first post for Streets.mn, so first a few things about me:
I have a degree in engineering (electrical). That means that math is my first language; English is my second. It also means I think in lists. So, I like bulleted lists—I just tend to find those easier follow. I also have a degree from the Humphrey School that I joke was in shameless agitation. I have served on a large number of nonprofit organization boards and was on the Minneapolis Library Board (before it disappeared), the Minneapolis Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission (that was a LONG time ago), and the Minneapolis Planning Commission. A couple of my friends call me a serial shameless agitator.
For at least the last 16 years, a goal of the Seward Neighborhood Group (SNG) and Seward Redesign have been working to make the Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha intersection safer for people in cars, people who walk, and people who bike. In that time, there have been at least two proposals that died because of insufficient funds or lack of agreement by all the parties. This is a complex intersection that was designed in the 1940s just to improve it for car and truck traffic. It now is one of the busiest intersections in Minneapolis for motorized traffic and people-powered traffic (walking and biking).
Most recently, three years ago the SNG Community Development Committee and Redesign started working with the Hennepin County and Minneapolis Public Works Departments on plans for improvements to the intersection. Along the way, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, the Native American Community Development Institute, and the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club got actively involved. On February 9th, 2016, the community overwhelmingly voted to support a plan at an SNG Community Development Committee meeting that was attended by over fifty people. There have been a lot of pie-in-the-sky solutions proposed over the last few years, but this one fits within the existing budget and could get broad support. It isn’t perfect, but it makes things better for everyone.
Why? For years everyone has agreed that it was a problem intersection:
- The number of crashes at that intersection is roughly double the rate of similar intersections in the city.
- The whole intersection complex (Cedar, Franklin, Minnehaha, and 20th Avenue) has an average of 40 crashes a year.
- This includes a relatively high percentage of pedestrian and bicycle crashes (10-15%).
- In a 10 year study, the intersection tied for the worst bike/car crash intersection in Minneapolis.
Problems: The problems go back to the 1950s project that created this intersection, but there are a lot of fixable things causing these crashes. Some of the major ones include the following:
- The intersection is really confusing and drivers are concentrating on figuring out which way to go and watching other cars.
- The layout of the left-turn lanes makes it hard to see on-coming cars.
- Pedestrians and bicyclists have to cross multiple streets and deal with drivers who are distracted by the intersection design.
- Drivers tend to speed on Franklin between 16th and Cedar where it feel
s like a highway.
What is planned? This plan is not the perfect solution, but it will be within the budget available and it addresses the major problems. It is a major improvement to what is there. It will probably save lives. Here are some of the major changes included in the plan (a larger plan map with more information is available on the Hennepin County website–search for “Franklin Cedar”):
- Simplifying the intersection by closing Minnehaha in front of Taco Bell and eliminating left turns at Minnehaha Avenue and Franklin. This allows eliminating the traffic signal at Minnehaha and Franklin. This also allows fixing the alignment of the left turn lanes on Franklin and improved signal operation.
- Closing Minnehaha also simplifies the north end of the intersection.
- This also eliminates the need for pedestrians to cross a four-lane Minnehaha Avenue.
- Reducing pedestrian crossing distances for Cedar and Franklin and providing real “refuge islands” for pedestrians half way across the intersections.
- Allowing a left turn from south-bound Cedar to the “new” 22nd Street (especially for trucks but also to eliminate some of the left turns in the main intersection).
- A protected bike route on Cedar Avenue from 20th to the LRT trail (only part of it in this project) and bike lanes on Franklin that continue from Bloomington to 21st Avenue, connecting to bike lanes that go across the Mississippi River.
- Reducing Franklin Avenue to one lane in each direction from Bloomington Avenue to just west of Cedar Avenue and adding parking along the median to make it feel like a city street, not a divided highway.
What are the concerns? Some of the concerns include:
- Potential increased traffic on the residential 21st and 22nd Avenues south of Franklin.
- Too much traffic on 22nd Street between Cedar and Minnehaha
- Access to businesses on Minnehaha.
- Safety for pedestrians and people on bikes crossing Minnehaha at 22nd Street and at Franklin Avenue.
- Safety for pedestrians and people on bikes crossing 22nd Street at Cedar Avenue.
The county and city staff promised to monitor the potential problems and come back to the project with fixes if they are needed in future years. Also, the resolution that was passed Tuesday included a strong recommendation for some additions to address these concerns.
Why not a roundabout? One question came up at just about every public meeting: “Why not a roundabout? They are cheap and safe.” Two roundabout designs were even proposed in the early 2000s. One design even had two roundabouts. There are a variety of reasons for not building a roundabout:
- The traffic volume at this intersection would require a multi-lane roundabout; something Minnesota drivers are not familiar with.
- The budget for the current project is around $500,000 plus the cost of a “mill-and-overlay” of the pavement. The minimum cost for a roundabout was $6 million to $10 million, including the cost of buying additional right of way.
- Roundabouts are not as safe as people think. At Portland and 66th Street in Richfield, a roundabout replaced a traffic signal. Crash rates went up. (The good news is that now they tend to be side-swipes, not 90 degree or head-on collisions.)
- Roundabouts don’t work well for pedestrians and bicycles. Remember, the reason for this redesign was to make it safer for people in cars AND people walking and people on bikes. Large roundabouts are unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians for a couple of reasons: Minnesota drivers do not yield to pedestrians in crosswalks; also, drivers in Minnesota are not use to multi-lane roundabouts–they concentrate on the cars and how to get where they want to go and don’t pay attention to pedestrians or bicycles.
- In Washington DC, a city with many large roundabouts, they tunnel under the roundabout for the busiest street for busy intersections. That design may have been required here—even more expensive.
Why not return to the old (pre-1950) alignment? Why don’t we “restore the grid”? That is an interesting idea but there is no political support for doing that and there is no budget for doing it either. If you thought the price of a roundabout was high, consider the cost of filling the “ditch,” moving the LRT line, and re-building Cedar on its old right of way. Then consider getting the political support to do that. Finally, it was never a pure grid. Minnehaha and Hiawatha always went through that area at an angle, and the old Milwaukee Road main-line and yards disrupted what grid there was. (There was one proposal to eliminate the northern road of the 4 lane divided part of Franklin between Cedar and Bloomington for development back around 2000. No one could find the money to do only that.)
When will it happen? The county needs to prepare complete engineering design drawings and get bids from contractors. Construction is planned for around August of this year. The plan is to keep the intersection open during construction, although there will probably be some lane closures.
Why did it finally happen? [That sounds like a whole new blog post (Sequel Time!).] The short answer is:
- A lot of organizations and people in the community kept the pressure on;
- Hennepin County Public Works and Minneapolis Public Works decided something needed to be done; and
- Hennepin County Public Works was willing to listen to and consider ideas from the neighborhood and to spend a lot of time meeting with the public.