Hennepin Avenue South: a Road Designed for Cars, Not People

Hennepin Avenue South, between roughly Franklin Avenue and Lake Street, is within the Pedestrian Oriented Overlay district (“PO District”). However, walking along it, you would never know. Hennepin Avenue is a road that prioritizes cars over all other users. With the recent announcement of the Hennepin South (Douglas to Lake) Reconstruction project providing the greatest opportunity to reorient Hennepin to all users, I thought I would share my experiences as someone who either walks or rides the bus along this stretch on a daily basis.

As a pedestrian walking along Hennepin, the one feature that makes me feel the least safe is the vast number of curb cuts. For pedestrians, curb cuts are often more dangerous than intersections. Drivers are used to looking for pedestrians at intersections but not entering and exiting parking lots. As Hennepin is a very busy street, drivers making left turns into and out of parking lots have to wait for an opening in both directions of traffic and are even less likely to watch for pedestrians on the sidewalk between the street and the parking lot. Multiple times a week I have close calls with drivers exiting parking lots who are completely oblivious to the fact that I was there walking along the sidewalk. Fortunately, experience has taught me to be vigilant. However, it should be a driver’s responsibility to make sure they see a pedestrian, not the other way around. And with street parking making for very poor sightlines, drivers have to pull as far out as they can, usually blocking the sidewalk, to best see when they have an opening to turn.  

Go out during the day on a nice weekend, walk up and down this stretch of Hennepin, and see the vast number of curb cuts for yourself. Here are  some of the worst examples:

  • The west 2600 block has four curb cuts for Walgreens, Orange Theory Fitness and Red Cow, the La Casa apartment building, and Chipotle. The parking lots for the businesses are quite busy and have high turnover.
  • The west 2200 block has five curb cuts for Starbucks, Mattress Firm, Papa John’s, Caribou, and Five Guys. Actually, look closely and you will see that these curb cuts are actually for two parking lots!

What looks like a single parking is actually two. The first curb cut is both an entrance and exit, the second exit only, and the third enter only.

Two pedestrians navigating between two cars and two curb cuts. This is a frequent occurrence with this parking lot.

  • The west 2500 block is the worst of them all — it has five curb cuts, three for the Holiday gas station at the corner of 25th and Hennepin! Being a gas station, there is a very high turnover rate of cars. And with it being on a corner, not only are there cars entering and exiting at a high frequency through the two curb cuts on Hennepin, but a lot of cars will also exit turning onto 25th and then attempt to make a quick left or right turn onto Hennepin.

This driver is preparing to make a left turn onto 25th followed by a quick right turn onto Hennepin.

There are cars entering and exiting from both curb cuts at all times, sometimes both at the same time.

Riding the bus along this stretch of Hennepin is another experience altogether. As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, my bus riding experience is more pleasant than most. I usually take the 114 to and from school everyday, where 99% of fare payment is cashless and 99% of the time everybody has their own seat. However, ride the 6, 12, or 17 during rush hour and you will probably experience packed buses that are stuck in traffic. Bus ridership is close to half of all users of Hennepin Avenue. However, they are not currently prioritized. And Saturdays are often worse with regards to both overcrowding and congestion. With the E Line coming within the next several years, there will be additional transit capacity along Hennepin, but without any changes buses will still be stuck in traffic.

With the upcoming full street reconstruction, here are some of the changes that we could and should see:

  • A reduction in the number of curb cuts (this one I am not too hopeful for as I am not sure of the City’s ability to eliminate already existing curb cuts)
  • Bus-only lanes
  • Bus stop upgrades and enhancements
  • Reduction in on-street parking
  • Improved pedestrian crossings
  • Wider sidewalks to support more greenery and other activities
  • A median that will prevent cars from making left turns in and out of parking lots
  • Bike lanes

With the public engagement process happening this Spring, now is the time for all of us to make our voices heard to ensure we get the best project possible. Attend the first open house, this upcoming Wednesday, April 11, from 6-8pm at Jefferson Elementary. Also, take this survey, which is available through April 25. This is a once in decades opportunity to make Hennepin safe and useful for all users, not just cars. Let us not waste this opportunity!

Andrew Degerstrom

About Andrew Degerstrom

Andrew is graduate student at the University of Minnesota in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning Program. He lives in the East Isles neighborhood and is active in the East Isles Residents Association where he served as President for two years. Follow him on Twitter @Volantene