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

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.