Mosaic mural of people walking on a trail

Minneapolis: A City for Walkers

Co-written by Janelle Nivens and Sarah Tschida
Cross-posted on Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition

On a recent Friday morning, 30 people attended “Minneapolis, a City for Walkers? A Conversation About Prioritizing Pedestrians” at The Turtle Bread Company in south Minneapolis. Hosted by Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8), this program featured guest speakers Robin Hutcheson, Minneapolis Public Works Director; Mary McGovern, Chair of the resident High Rise Council of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority; and Kenya McKnight, a transportation activist and thought leader who serves on the Transportation Advisory Board to the Metropolitan Council.

Robin Hutcheson, Director of Public Works for the City of Minneapolis

In her introduction, Robin wanted to share her philosophical approach to public works which is that it serves its citizens. She believes that everything that is built is for a greater good and to supports all of the other things we are trying to do in this city. She shared that the department will continue to be a silent partner on essential functions such as solid waste removal and water treatment but plans on being a more active partner on transportation issues to push ahead a progressive agenda.

To illustrate the importance of turning more attention to pedestrian issues, Hutcheson reminded us that walking is the second most frequently used mode of transportation in the city. She anticipated that would lead us to wonder how walking got lost in our city’s planning and recounted the damage done for three decades (1950s-70s) in which outdated policies and mindset that didn’t serve people were in place. Robin believes it is essential that Minneapolis has a walking network that is safe, inviting, and supports health wellness year-round.

Robin addressed a few things that Minneapolis is doing to be a “City for Walkers:”

  • Policies: Minneapolis Complete Streets Policy in which walking gets priority in decision-making throughout all phases of transportation projects and initiatives.
  • Community engagement: respond to issues raised by citizens
  • Data gathering: Pedestrian Crash Study to determine where the biggest issues are located in our city

Robin touched on pedestrian fatalities and stated that they are 100% preventable with:

    • Design: what proactive measures can we take on our streets?
    • Education: launch a safety campaign based on data from the Pedestrian Crash Study
    • Enforcement
    • Personal accountability

Kenya McKnight, a transportation activist and thought leader who serves on the Transportation Advisory Board to the Metropolitan Council

Kenya opened her talk by remembering her friend, Aisha Freels who was killed in a New Year’s Eve hit-and-run in 2015 in north Minneapolis. Some of the basic infrastructure for people to safely cross the street like lighting, marked crosswalks, and signage are missing in North Minneapolis. Kenya shared that recent improvements are the first she’s seen in more than 30 years. While Kenya focused on her experience in North Minneapolis, she framed pedestrian issues as equity issues, more specifically racial equity, because communities of color suffer high fatality rate as pedestrians due to lack of proper infrastructure.

Kenya brought up the issue of bike lanes in north Minneapolis and that the response was less than favorable by the community because they weren’t seen as a priority investment by the neighborhood. Instead, she would like the city to invest in improvements like the pedestrian infrastructure mentioned above as well as ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) compliance.

Questions, issues, and raised by Kenya:

Mary McGovern, Chair of the resident High Rise Council of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority

One the best quotes of the morning was from Mary who said this with conviction: “We have a freedom to walk.” Mary said that while many of us may be afraid to walk in the dark, senior citizens are afraid to leave their homes at all hours because of many issues including:

  • snow and ice on the sidewalk
  • lack of heat at bus stops
  • feeling vulnerable to crime

The next part of the program gave attendees the opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns.

Will the crash study look at judicial outcomes? How do crashes funnel through our legal system? Are we looking at this correctly?

Robin Hutcheson: the scope of the current pedestrian crash study is to gather data necessary to prioritize areas that will be addressed. Robin shared that Susan Segal, city attorney, wants to address the judicial outcomes of crashes. Questions need to be asked about what happens when someone is injured or killed in a crash. How do law enforcement and first responders respond?

How can we infuse public art into our infrastructure projects? Bring back the Blaisdell dragon!

Robin Hutcheson resopnded that public art has a role in the walkability of our city. We tend to see people more inclined to walk in those areas where there are interesting things to look at. When we have a walkable community for everyone, it attracts and keeps people in our city. In the case of the Blaisdell dragon, it may have been helpful to communicate with the artist about alterations that could have been made that would have satisfied the safety concerns of some neighbors.

Gentrification and lack of access

Kenya made the point that when Minneapolis makes funding decisions around improvements, we must be careful about the criteria used. The example she used is that often usage drives improvements so in north Minneapolis there aren’t as many people driving and not as many people using entrance/exit freeway ramps. So, they are not getting improvements because usage is lower. Kenya asserts that is something in Public Works needs to address.

Participatory budgeting

Engage residents to have a direct input on choosing priorities through a piece of the budget project. Glidden is personally interested in this. In Brazil it is used. In the United States it is starting to be used. Mayor Hodges included a small amount of money to study this idea sometime this year. What would be the mechanism to use this process? Can we use this process in our capital budget?

Engage neighborhoods authentically

We have to do more than go to our neighborhood associations and advisory boards as the active members do not always reflect the voices struggling to be heard. We have to make sure we have authentic connections with groups like the High Rise Council.

Be proactive in parts of the city experiencing growth and be mindful of intersections that elude data in telling the true story

A participant brought up the recent fatal hit-and-run at 43rd & Nicollet and that neighbors expressed concerns for a long time because of the increased foot traffic brought to the intersection by successful businesses. Council Member Glidden asked Robin Hutcheson how Public Works can analyze the data of an intersection like 43rd & Nicollet when there is a light a block away. The data wouldn’t tell the story of what was happening at this intersection. Robin countered that data needs to be used because otherwise only the loudest voices would get the attention. Robin also said that when neighborhoods seek changes but are told no, the Public Works department may need to do a better job of saying no.

Safety issues: drug deals and solicitation of girls on Lake Street near charter school and alternative schools.

A participant raised the concern of the experience of walking on Lake Street for many young girls on their way to school.

Next Steps

The questions, ideas, and concerns raised at this program warrant further discussion and exploration. Five ways you can contribute to this conversation:

  1. Join the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition’s Pedestrian Task Force
  2. Join the Minneapolis Pedestrian Alliance Facebook group
  3. Attend Pedestrian Advisory Committee meetings
  4. Talk with current City Council Membersand candidates running in the 2017 election about your dedication pedestrian issues. Ask them to share their vision and experience in supporting pedestrian-focused policies.
  5. Write for
Janelle Nivens

About Janelle Nivens

Janelle is an urban explorer who likes to challenge herself to walk long distances (40 miles is her record). She lives in southwest Minneapolis with Scott and their adorable dog Stewie and works at the University of Minnesota. Janelle documents what catches her eye on long walks in hopes of inspiring others to discover hidden gems in their own communities. Walk with her on Instagram, Twitter (@Janellie23), and FitBit.