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.
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.