Tripping all the way to Target

My phone dinged insistently. It was the Target CVS pharmacy, texting me yet again to come pick up my prescription. I had been avoiding this trip all week because it required going to the big box store capital of Northeast Minneapolis, the Quarry.  Rather than face the prospect of traversing the enormous parking lot by car, I decided to get a workout in and run there, instead.

Not two minutes into my run, I suddenly found myself face down on the sidewalk. Tripping over some uneven concrete at considerable speed, I had hurtled forward and rolled in a fall worthy of a Hollywood stuntwoman, managing somehow to bang up my hands and knees as well as the back of my shoulder.

Picture of a cracked sidewalk panel

The offending sidewalk panel.

Perhaps unwisely, after slapping on some bandaids and taking some ibuprofen, I headed back out. As I went, I decided to take pictures of all the dangerous spots along my way, thinking that there had to be at least a couple more poorly maintained, hazardous spots like the one that sent me flying. (What, like you don’t regularly take photos of public infrastructure? Don’t look at me like that.)

Quickly, I realized that if I were to take a picture of all those spots, I would be there all day. Instead, I decided to count. There were indeed a couple more tripping hazards along the 1.5 mile route to Target. There were 115 sidewalk panels that presented a tripping hazard. ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN! And that’s being conservative–I didn’t count the hazards in the roadways at intersections.

Picture of an uneven sidewalk panel with pill bottle showing that the gap in height between the two sidewalk panels is about 2 inches

One of 115 tripping hazards on the 1.5 mile run to Target. (The prescription bottle is there to show scale…we don’t just leave our meds lying around outside, scrappy as we may be in Northeast. The lotto ticket was there already, though.)

I ran 1.5 miles out of the 1,800 miles of sidewalks in the City of Minneapolis— only 0.08% of the sidewalks in the city. Obviously, I can’t generalize from such a small sample. But if 115 tripping hazards per 1.5 miles were typical, that would mean that we would have something like 138,000 tripping hazards in our sidewalk networks. On a DRY day. 138,000 cracked, uneven, disintegrating, or otherwise hazardous sidewalk panels that are mostly currently the responsibility of individual property owners to maintain and that must be individually reported.

A slowly widening chasm between two sidewalk panels with pill bottle to show scale

A slowly widening chasm between two sidewalk panels.

Today was the third time in a year that I broke my skin and bruised my body running on the second rate sidewalks of Northeast Minneapolis. Fortunately, I am a healthy woman in my late-20s. I’m at my peak bone density, as my mom constantly reminds me as she presses another glass of milk into my hands. I’ve escaped these falls with just soreness, bruises, scabs and torn clothing, but others are likely not as lucky.

Picture of a person using an electric wheelchair in a traffic lane with cars

What does it say about our city when someone using a wheelchair chooses to share a traffic lane with cars rather than use a sidewalk?

Our sidewalks need to be safe and comfortable for everyone. On my run, I waited at a light with a woman using an electric wheelchair. I mentioned the terrible quality of the sidewalk, and she nodded emphatically in agreement. I watched as she went down the uneven sidewalk, her wheelchair jerking up and down, up and down, up and down, until she turned left onto a side street and rolled in the traffic lane, rather than the sidewalk.

It’s beyond time for the City to take our pedestrian transportation network seriously. Not only because people should have a safe way to get around on foot, but also because walking and running should be joyful experiences. At human speed, you can take in your surroundings on an intimate level, admiring the sunset and the trees and the architecture and the gardens and, if you’re in Northeast, the weird sculptures in your neighbors’ yards. Until our City makes a serious commitment to maintaining our sidewalks, we’ll be forced to look only at the decaying ground beneath our feet.

About Maria Wardoku

Maria is a transportation planner and a lover of all things walking, biking and transit. She serves on the board of Our Streets Minneapolis and has a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

34 thoughts on “Tripping all the way to Target

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    How many of these are caused by tree roots?

    Is there a good solution to maintaining smooth level sidewalks and keeping boulevard trees?

    I wonder if in the example above with the mobility scooter if the solution might be to make the street something more woonerf like? Narrow with lots of bumpouts and chicanes to limit speeds to 10-20 mph and neighborhood-wide elements to eliminate through traffic (so local access only). EG, pedestrians walk in the street. Might work very well most of the year but not sure how it’d work during really heavy snow days.

    1. Maria Wardoku Post author

      While some of the pictures above are by trees, actually the vast majority of hazardous sidewalk panels were not near trees. For 1.25 miles of my route, there was no boulevard–the sidewalk was right up against the road. Certainly we need solutions that accommodate boulevard trees, but there are also tons of places where tree roots are not the issue (at least as far as I could see).

      I think the woonerf like streets could be one solution on local streets. On heavy snow days, the sidewalks don’t really work either.

      1. Jackie Williams

        even though a tree might not be close, roots from a single tree can span out a full block. Pretty amazing, beautiful. Im not a fan of sidewalks. I live in NE also. I try to fill the tripping hazards with tar or cement to make it as smooth as possible.

    2. Julia

      I agree with you overall–I’m leaning towards the shared street option as the most feasible/reasonable given our constraints and goals. My only quibble is that really heavy snow days are when many people are most likely to be forced from the sidewalk into the street, because the roads are maintained much more thoroughly and quickly and it’s almost impossible to hike through snow for those who aren’t able-bodied. Therefore, I see snow days as the clearest indication that the shared streets are what works best.

      1. Rosa

        the streets generally drain better too, as long as we keep the storm drains clear (which means chopping through the ice after the plows come through)

        I know with my own sidewalks, which we struggle constantly to maintain, the tipped segments (the ones that are tripping hazards) are the easiest to keep clear of ice, because they drain better. Especially in a winter like this one where the main problem has been the freeze/melt cycle more than the sleet or snow actually falling from the sky.

  2. Art

    Main reason for the uneven sidewalks is the seasonal freeze-thaw cycle in a climate such as hours. Tree roots, too, but that type of damage can take years to impact the sidewalks. I think a much more hazardous issue is ice. Try running in the winter on icy sidewalks, especially after they are dusted with a light covering of new snow! Did you know that by statue, homeowners are required to keep public sidewalks on their boulevard clean and clear of snow and ice?

    I have seen where city workers grind down the abrupt edges of sidewalks, to try to smooth out the uneven surface. This is perhaps the most economical approach. Replacing sidewalks is very, very expensive; the cost burden falls mostly on property owners via increased taxes for special bond financing. This is a tough sell to the taxpayers. In Richfield, where I reside, the city is undertaking major road infrastructure upgrades and replacements of Portland Ave (complete), 66th Street, Lyndale Ave. At the same time, completely new sidewalks and bike trails and energy-saving LED lighting are being incorporated. There are even plans to include public art and dog-friendly water fountains. If you want to see a really good example of integrated pedestrian / bicycle / vehicle roadway check out the new Portland Ave.

  3. Rachelle

    Isn’t this a city problem? The city needs to do these repairs…I would sue until these can be repaired…I’m from TC born and raised…

    1. Julia

      While the sidewalk is the city’s responsibility, the city only does inspections of sidewalks once every thirteen years (roads for cars are inspected by a very complex machine once every 3 years). Any problems in the intervening decade+ will only be dealt with if someone reports it to the city.

      Clearly there are equity problems with this. Clearly the city does NOT communicate this personal responsibility for the most basic public infrastructure to its residents. And there are sidewalk problems the city ignores for decades, like sidewalks that are far from ADA standards in their width, slopes, etc., or in lack of drainage and chronic puddles/ice issues.

      On the plus side, the city’s pretty decent about repairs when a sidewalk is reported for a certain type of problem (like the ones Maria shows) and I’ve seen them fixed within a few weeks of making a report, usually with asphalt patches.

      You can report sidewalks either by calling 311 or by downloading and using the seeclickfix app on your phone. You can also push problematic sidewalks up to higher priority on the seeclickfix app by voting up other people’s reports.

    2. Jackie Williams

      100 % of sidewalk repair/replacment falls on the homeowner. I think the last time I checked, one square is about $4000.00

    3. Rosa

      they belong to individual homeowners and, instead of paying for them out of a general spread out tax, you get billed directly for each square. I think last time we had to do some it was $400/square.

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Used to joke about being able to spot Minnesotans by the way they always looked down while walking: the point being winter habits due to ice and snow. But sidewalks in bad repair problems do need to be reported.

    A related issue, at least in Minneapolis, is the City’s placement of trees on boulevards, so closely to the sidewalk that the growing trees will certainly heave up the walks. I love the trees, but if the City Forrester planted them in that fashion the property owners shouldn’t be held responsible for paying the costs of the consequent damage to the walks.

    1. GlowBoy

      I don’t know Minneapolis’ approach to this yet, but in Portland we had a standard list of permissible street trees based on the width of the planting strip. The approved species are ones that shouldn’t be expected to appreciably damage nearby pavement as they mature — and also meet other city criteria for avoiding problems of the past like monoculture, invasiveness, pest attraction, etc.

      We lived on a corner lot in our last house and had a fairly wide planting strip on the side, with dozens of allowable species. In front of the house, though, we had a pretty narrow strip (4′ if I recall) and IIRC only about half a dozen varieties were permissible.

  5. David MarkleDavid Markle

    In my view, “woonurfs” could be a big problem if they place pedestrians in even greater danger from speeding bicycles than is already the case on sidewalks.

    And after all, sidewalks should be sideWALKS, nez pas?

    1. GlowBoy

      Well, doesn’t a woonerf allow bicycles to pass pedestrians with a lot more space between them than a 6′ sidewalk does?

    2. GlowBoy

      “should be sideWALKS”

      Nifty but overly simplistic idea. Should joggers, rollerbladers and skateboarders be banned from sidewalks as you appear to wish to happen to cyclists?

      As I’ve pointed out in other threads, we cyclists will continue to use sidewalks wherever it is dangerous to ride in the street. Which is way too many places. Most roads, streets and stroads, unfortunately. If you ban us from all sidewalks, you effectively ban us from most of the transportation grid. I’m srry if you are upset about some incident in your past and think the best solution (or revenge?) is a blanket rule not allowing cyclists to share pavement with you. But you don’t get to make life difficult for a whole other class of users because of it. Maybe we can figure out better solutions.

    3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Dutch engineers no longer design true Woonerfs as they were originally intended for a number of reasons. However, they still design and build many streets that are shared by motor, bicycle, and pedestrians. These Woonerf-like streets work quite well for all users and are the standard for residential streets.

      As pointed out above, passing is much safer and more comfortable on a wider street than a narrow sidewalk. Keep in mind as well that the majority of the people you see riding bicycles today are the tiny minority of vehicular cyclists / bicycle drivers / cycling savvy types with a chamois in their shorts and paying more attention to their Strava than to where they’re riding. When you build safer and more comfortable streets and protected bikeways you attract the other 99% of the population who will generally ride much slower and with much greater consideration for others — this is the case in The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Finland, and elsewhere.

      Two very critical keys to making these work are low volume of motor traffic and low speeds for all users. Narrower streets with well places bumpouts and chicanes do a very good job of controlling speeds. Volume is controlled by eliminating through-routes or rat-runs, by making streets local access only. One thought on that here:

  6. Paul

    The city is not responsible for replacing or repairing sidewalks, per their website. They handle inspections (on a 10 year rotating basis) and will use asphalt to patch or level a bad sidewalk, but repairing and replacing is up to the property owner, but replacement is ordered very infrequently.

    The cost can be pretty high due to the standards the city has and because contractors must be bonded.

    There’s an entire section on sidewalks on the city’s website:

  7. GlowBoy

    Thanks to Paul and Jackie for clarifying what I already thought (forgive me, I’m new to Minneapolis) was the case: sidewalk maintenance is 100% the property owner’s responsibility.

    As a longtime homeowner in Portland I’ve received notices twice (at two different homes) from the city informing me that my sidewalks had trip hazards I needed to fix. In the first case one of the panels had subsided, creating about a 1/3″ high hazard and requiring the replacement of two panels. I had a private contractor do the work for about $300.

    In the second instance, about 3 years ago, the roots of a fast-growing deodar cedar in our planting strip had created a 1/2″ hazard, requring about 6 panels to be replaced. I contacted a number of private contractors on the city’s list but had difficulty finding anyone who would be willing to do such a “small” (ha!) job. At least in Portland, the city says they will do the work and bill you for it if you don’t take the initiative to get it done yourself – their notice ominously warns that they may charge a higher rate than a private contractor. Well, I just let them do the work, and sure enough they did a perfectly fine job and for $700. No complaints from me. Sure, that’s not chump change, but I also recognize my responsibilities as a homeowner.

  8. Rich

    Interesting. When I lived in St Paul, Merriam Park neighborhood, the city was fairly proactive about replacing sections, at least in our neighborhood. They wouldn’t do them all at once but rather seemed to prioritize and replace the worst each year. We also have the sidewalk poetry thing going on (if you haven’t seen that, check it out). I don’t recall that we got a special assessment for sidewalk repair, I just assumed it was in our annual assessment based on lineal feet.

    Given the choice of broken, uneven sidewalks or walking in the street, I’ll take the broken sidewalks.

  9. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Am not saying cyclists should never use sidewalks. Am saying that pedestrians should have a higher status of right-of-way. And would urge lawmakers to impose appropriate speed limits on sidewalks and crosswalks.

    I do a lot of walking, and I shudder whenever a cyclist speeds past me on a sidewalk, within inches. As a motorist I also shudder when I see cyclists zooming across streets on crosswalks.

    Frankly, it does make me made if anyone suggests that cyclists should speed past pedestrians on walkways.

    1. GlowBoy

      No one is suggesting that cyclists should speed past pedestrians on walkways. Don’t know where you got that idea.

      I walk as much as I bike, and don’t often find cyclists blasting by me within inches, but if this is a widespread problem I can think of two possible legal solutions OTHER than blanket speed limits:

      – Cars are required to give cyclists 3 feet in Minnesota when passing. Maybe we should mandate a minimum passing distance when a cyclist overtakes a pedestrian?
      – I would vehemently oppose a blanket speed limit for bikes on sidewalks, since 95% of the time when I’m biking on a sidewalk (especially in winter) there are no pedestrians anywhere nearby. But I’d be OK with a conditional “when pedestrians are present” speed limit of, say, 10mph. I generally slow down anyway when there are pedestrians around. This would not be unlike the “when children are present” laws for School Zones in many states.

      1. GlowBoy

        And FWIW, pedestrians already do have a higher status of right-of-way. Not only must cyclists yield to pedestrians, but must also give an audible signal (vocal or mechanical) prior to passing pedestrians. Perhaps enhanced awareness/enforcement of the existing laws would help here too.

      1. GlowBoy

        Yes, my point exactly. It would be nice if we actually had safe access to our transportation system. Especially in the suburbs. That does need to be a goal.

        More bike lanes would be great. Too few roads have them. On the other hand, I’m also learning that in Minnesota a lot of standard, unprotected bike lanes are unusable for most of the winter. This has been a pretty low-snow winter, and yet until the big thaw earlier this month most of the standard 5-7 foot wide unprotected lanes around town were unusable. Even this year streets weren’t generally plowed fully curb-to-curb, with snow/icebanks either covering much of the bike lane or forcing parked cars into it.

        Realistically, for the remaining duration of my lifetime I’m going to find myself on unsafe-to-ride roads a lot of the time, and resorting to the sidewalk. And I’m going to have to advocate vocally for our right to use sidewalks in those circumstances.

  10. Sam

    I’ve never been in another major city that had as bad of pedestrian infrastructure as Minneapolis. It’s rediculous. Major streets like Franklin and Lake have sidewalks so narrow that you can’t fit a wheelchair or two people walking side by side on them, there are next to no marked crosswalks outside of signalized intersections, benches (besides the undignified bus ad benches pushed up against traffic) and landscaping are rare, and most of the time you’re forced to walk pressed up against multiple lanes of fast moving traffic.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I’ve been in many many cities with worse pedestrian infrastructure than Minneapolis, including New Orleans, Dallas, anywhere in Florida, probably LA. Many parts of the Boston metro lack even the pretense of basic sidewalks.

      1. Julia

        I’m not sure you can call streets like Franklin the “pretense of basic sidewalks” when, as Sam points out, they’re too narrow for someone in a wheelchair to use at all. That seems more like some sort of sick eugenist’s road design plans. Filter the able-bodied onto the “sidewalk” and force those in wheelchairs, who are already at a higher risk of being killed by drivers, to “share the road” with four lanes of drivers going 30+MPH. Should those really count as “sidewalks”?

  11. GlowBoy

    I wouldn’t disagree that Minneapolis’ pedestrian infrastructure is substandard in places, but I’ve certainly visited a lot of places that are worse. At least all the streets HAVE sidewalks on both sides. Not saying we should be satisfied with the status quo, of course.

      1. GlowBoy

        Wow, had never noticed that one (even though I often change buses at 46th and Chicago). Here’s mine: a good third of a mile of missing Portland Avenue sidewalk next to Pearl Park:,-93.2671057,3a,75y,208.59h,73.64t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s5GYQU_lb0fi5J8smoiKsFg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

        Never understood why parks so often lack sidewalks along the adjacent streets. This problem is not unique to Minneapolis. Some of Portland’s larger parks have the same thing going on.

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