Mainstreet Hopkins is Almost Perfect

Last week I met a colleague at Munkabeans Cafe & Coffeehouse on the beautiful Mainstreet in Hopkins, Minnesota. Of all the Main Streets in America, the Hopkins version is unique because they smash the two words together. Mainstreet. And a fine street it is, better than before, having been recently rebuilt and with some new businesses drawing me there. But there is just one problem. You have to apply to cross the street.

Mainstreet Hopkins - Timeless

Mainstreet Hopkins – Timeless

After my meeting I was keen to visit Mill City Sound, so I set off on the four block walk. As it was bright but brisk, I kept to the sunny side of the street. My little journey to Mill City Sound and back to my car involved 11 street crossings, and between my refusal to press the beg button and a couple instances of jaywalking, all of them were illegal. How can this be? Simple, really.

Mainstreet was rebuilt recently, and the result appears to have done no harm to the street, quite possibly improving things. But every cross street has a traffic signal, and as is the case in too many instances with new pedestrian facilities, there are push button actuators at every corner for pedestrians to apply to cross the street. This would get old really fast if I had bothered to use them, and taken significantly longer to get where I was going. Moreover, I’m willing to bet this situation causes more than its share of confusion. I guarantee if you venture out on Mainstreet at a busy pedestrian time, you will see many people wait at the corner, see the light turn green but the Don’t Walk signal remain illuminated, uncertain what to do. If it’s a husband and wife couple, the husband will dash across just as his wife turns to press the actuator. This doesn’t have to be.

I like Mainstreet in Hopkins. It has nice slow traffic, the street isn’t very wide, and it’s lined with attractive buildings, both old and new. It has a really good and improving set of destinations, including stores, restaurants and theaters. There is a grocery store a block away that means lots of people go downtown but there isn’t a huge surface lot right on Mainstreet. Brilliant! But there really are precious few good pedestrian streets in the Twin Cities, far too few if you ask me. To rebuild Mainstreet but expect pedestrians to apply to cross is insulting.

Visit Excelsior, for example, and you can walk Water Street without a care in the world. Why? The intersections have four-way stop signs, giving the pedestrian the legal right to cross while cars wait, as it should be! Maybe Hopkins should consider four-way stops for its Mainstreet intersections instead.

As Jan Gehl writes in his book Cities for People, “Crossing the street should be a human right rather than something one must apply for.” The solution is easy. Program the signals so the Walk signals all automatically appear, both to cross Mainstreet and every cross street. Add a leading pedestrian interval while you are at it. Or remove all signals in lieu of four-way stop signs. Only then will the city truly justify the rebuilding of the street for people. In the meantime I will return, because I like Mainstreet and will continue to decline to fill out my application to cross the street.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is

12 thoughts on “Mainstreet Hopkins is Almost Perfect

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Agreed about the signals. Not only do they not automatically provide a walk signal on a new green, they even seem reluctant to provide one when plenty of time remains in the green cycle. Last spring, I waited at Mainstreet and 7th for over three minutes, staring at a green light and an upraised hand, before I decided to just ignore it.

    Even on suburban highways, some jurisdictions (Dakota County) manage to provide walk signals on every cycle. It is absolutely ridiculous for this traditional, small downtown not to do this.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      The crazy upsetting thing about bike lanes, Hopkins had created a pedestrian and bike plan for the city before the Mainstreet reconstruction. Bike lanes were planned for Mainstreet.

      Can you guess what happened to bike lanes on Mainstreet? Right, not put in. So much for plans.

  2. Karen Sandness

    The other problem with otherwise walkable Hopkins is poor transit to the city, so that residents who aren’t up to biking the distance need a car.

    I have suggested to Metro Transit that they make the #12 bus as frequent as the more typically suburban route of the #17, but they aren’t listening.

    To me it’s a no-brainer. The #12 goes through Excelsior-Grand and past Methodist Hospital on its way to Hopkins, so the potential for greater ridership is there, and it is, after all, parallel to part of the route of the SWLRT.

  3. GlowBoy

    I’ve noticed the problem with pedestrian signals too. Easily fixed, if the city has the will to do it. At least during daytime programs there should always be a WALK.

    Also disappointed with the lack of bike lanes. Two major multiuse trails *almost* intersect at downtown Hopkins, though there isn’t really a safe connection for those few blocks that separate them. I personally have found the streets in between to be quiet/safe enough for me to ride, but a lot of people would not.

    I very much look forward to the Green Line Extension running through Hopkins. A great little city will get even better.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      They do have a plan (called the ARTery) to add a two-way cycletrack on 8th Ave to connect Mainstreet to the Cedar Lake Trail and future LRT site.

      I don’t feel strongly about bike lanes on Mainstreet itself. It has a higher volume than I expected (about 5000), but still seems like a generally low-speed, high-awareness environment where bicyclists and motorists can safely share lane space. It’s not quite 8-to-80, but I’d consider it more bike-friendly to ride on Mainstreet with no bike lanes than, say, the Blaisdell Ave bike lane north of the Greenway.

      1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

        That’s right, ARTery begins I believe soon as well. It’ll turn 8th into a single lane one way street with a cycle track linking the two regional trails.

        I’m a bit bitter that not even an couple nods to make cycling right on Mainstreet an acknowledged thing, with abundant bike parking up and down added with the reconstruction another missed opportunity, but you are right, it’s a very safe feeling environment to bike. There were more missed chances for certain bump outs IMO, though a few were done. There just was a pedestrian death on Mainstreet after reconstruction at an intersection that deserved bump outs that were left out to make fire trucks turns easy.

        Mainstreet in good weather is also letting restaurants take over parking spaces for outdoor seating, it’s been hugely popular. If it is any more popular maybe we’ll see most of the parking go away on Mainstreet to be replaced by seating over the course of 10–15 years? Incrementally and few people will notice the change until it is the obvious simple step.

        1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

          I’m glad to hear the city allows Parklets for restaurant seating. If I’m not mistaken, there are more restaurants on Mainstreet than ever before. This is a good thing!

        2. Sam NewbergSam Newberg Post author

          Having not road-tested Mainstreet by bicycle, it does appear that cycling is relatively safe. Hopkins should consider sharrows or other bike-friendly options.

          As is the case with many streets, I bristle at the false choice between bike lanes and on-street parking, particularly given the driving lanes have a 30MPH limit, which is particularly ridiculous on Mainstreet. But it appears the choice has been made, and the only way to change the speed limit is to add a bike lane.

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