At the beginning of last month, with the help of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, The Downtown Neighborhoods Association (DMNA), the Minneapolis Pedestrian Alliance and streets.mn, I conducted a survey to collect thoughts on the reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue in 2020 to help inform the design process. More than 400 people responded. The DMNA collected 37% of the responses, streets.mn collected 30%, the Bicycle Coalition collected 28%, and the Pedestrian Alliance collected 5%. Here’s a summary of what people said.
The majority of the respondents (close to 60%) use Hennepin as a route of some kind, whether they are walking, driving, biking or taking the bus. They benefit from its direct access through downtown and to their destinations within downtown. 35% of the respondents use Hennepin for the destinations along the street. Lastly, about 20% of the respondents use Hennepin because they use the buses that travel along it. Fewer respondents use Hennepin because they live or work there or because they need to (have no other option).
Here are the top words people used when asked to describe their experience along the corridor today.
Here are the top words people used when asked to describe the Hennepin they would like in the future:.
We asked people to rank design elements as they would like to see them prioritized in the redesign of Hennepin Avenue. The chart below shows the percent of respondents that ranked a particular design element as first or second most important. Only eight elements were presented to reflect the main considerations the city design staff were considering at the time. The top three elements are protected bike lanes, safer pedestrian crossings, and wide sidewalks.
We created four street layouts (using streetmix.net) that would generally work within the width of the average right-of-way.
The pie chart shows that the majority of the respondents preferred Option 3. This option is most similar to the current plan for Hennepin.
Many chose Option 1 because of the dedicated bus lane. They liked that it provides efficient travel for all modes and they are willing to sacrifice a wider sidewalk. Some respondents said they liked Option 1 because of the protected bike lane, but the same design is present in Option 3 as well. Many liked Option 3 because it allows efficient use for personal vehicles while still providing adequate travel for transit and bikes. Option 4 was selected for its wider sidewalk and little accommodation given to bikes. Respondents thought bikes have places in the city already and should not be given their own space on Hennepin, they would rather see a larger pedestrian corridor.
Option 3 was the most preferred because of the protected bike lane. Respondents believe that bikes and busses don’t mix well in a shared lane. In addition, the busses would help slow down other vehicle traffic, improving safety along the street. Many saw it as the option that prioritized non-motorized traffic yet was a good compromise for all users. While is was not possible to say you liked none of them, many expressed this in their reasoning for which option they picked. They thought the designs did not do enough, they wanted a 3 car lane option to really slow down traffic while creating the best possible pedestrian environment.
30% of the responses collected through the DMNA preferred option 3, the top majority, 34%, preferred option 2. Option 3 was preferred by 63% of the responses collected through the Bicycle Coalition, 41% of those collected through streets.mn, and 68% of those collected through the MPA.
We also wanted to collect stories from respondents about streets that they enjoyed spending time on. The most prominent theme mentioned about a street that someone thought to be enjoyable to be on is the presence of other people — not the ones in cars but the ones out strolling, more visible in the space.
“The best are when the sidewalks are full of people dining, relaxing, playing, and enjoying life.”
It is often the presence of other people that gives energy to an environment and through that shared vibrancy, creates a connection to the place for many people.
“Watching lots of different groups of people interact, seeing street musicians, seeing lots of people and families using transit and walking. It made the street and city feel vibrant and active.”
Most of us enjoy the energy other people are able to bring to environments, often cited as people-watching. Many shared stories of sitting in sidewalk cafes and being able to relax and watch the activity created by the passers-by. Often in these stories, the high volume of people was related to the absence or low volume and slow pace of cars.
“[I liked] Lyndale Avenue during Open Streets. I enjoyed the communal feel of bikers, walkers, strollers, trikers meandering past the homes and businesses along the street without the irritation of sputtering, spewing, aggressive auto traffic.”
When people are able to meander along a street, as they may during an Open Streets event, and not interact with the space, as they would a game of frogger, they feel a better sense of safety and comfort which then translates into a positive feeling about the space. They are able to relax and enjoy the time they spend there.
Other important themes were accessibility, being able to bounce around from side to side between various stores and vendors; vibrancy, versatile store-fronts or restaurants and other attractions along a street; and a great walking environment where travelers feel safe. This isn’t any new revelation, Jane Jacobs noted long ago that our spaces need versatile utility in order maintain dense populations. Safety and attraction are basic principles we seek in most categories of our lives, though we often do not find these along our local streets.
Respondents that prioritized accommodations for personal cars advocated for wider lanes, more turn lanes, and did not want any bikes lanes. These designs would help them avoid congested traffic and get through the corridor more quickly. Most did not see the purpose in telling a story about a time they enjoyed being on a street and instead used the question to advocate against bike lanes. The prominent theme is to have the street be more like a highway and provide more space to park their cars. Both of these considerations would damage the safety and limit the space of the heavily traffic sidewalk.
These findings signal that the walking environment needs to be prioritized in order to create a safe and enjoyable street. There is a slim chance that cars will be removed from Hennepin but this trend will be important to consider as we continue to build a Minneapolis that is safe and relaxing for all its citizens.
A look at travel demographics:
Daily and weekly (a few times a week) visitors or users generated roughly 70% of the total 519 collected responses. The charts illustrate how the respondents frequently travel along Hennepin (selecting a 3 or 4 on a 0-4 frequency scale; 0 = Never, 2 = sometimes, 4 = most often). High frequency choices were not mutually exclusive in that respondents could select to travel on different modes at the same frequency.
Age, income, and city ward break down (demographic questions were opt-in only).