Franklin Avenue Can’t Be Everything for Everybody

This post was written by Will Delaney, Associate Director at Hope Community, Inc. It is cross-posted from the Our Streets Minneapolis blog. Our Streets and Hope Community  have been working together to make Franklin Avenue a safer street since 2008.

This June, the rebuilt Franklin Avenue bridge over I-35W re-opened after being closed for more than nine months. Neighbors from Ventura Village/Phillips can finally head back to the Electric Fetus and Mia, and folks in Whittier and Stevens Square can more easily get back to the American Indian Cultural Corridor and Peavey franklin bridge

Franklin Avenue is a Hennepin County highway (Co Road 5) running through Minneapolis, parallel to and a couple blocks south of I-94. It’s the front yard to single family homes and many apartments. It’s also a major commercial corridor that runs across South and Southwest Minneapolis, connecting Lake of the Isles with the Mississippi River, and a host of destinations in between. When I-35W was built, it opened a chasm between Phillips and Whittier, with Franklin being one of a handful of connection points between.

adult and child playing a game on franklin

Franklin Avenue is a nightmare for travelers, no matter how they move along Franklin. It hosts several of the most dangerous intersections in the City. People biking have no dedicated lanes west of the Seward neighborhood; they end abruptly just west of Hiawatha. Drivers often face heavy congestion, particularly near I-35W. Bus riders get stuck in that same traffic. And pedestrians – well, pedestrians on Franklin face some of the narrowest, most obstacle-filled, least navigable stretches of sidewalk in the city.

Besides being unpleasant, those dangerous Franklin Avenue intersections can be deadly, especially for people walking, rolling and biking (image source: pedestrian crash study appendix d and bicyclist-motorist crash report). It has the second most pedestrians and bicyclists hit by cars of any streets in Minneapolis. In fact, the crash rate for travelers on Franklin Avenue was 2.5 times greater than a “critical” crash rate, per a 2011 MNDOT analysis of crash data (source: section 2.5 in this 2013 TLC study).

heat map of pedestrian crashes in minneapolislist of highest bike/auto crash intersections

Franklin Avenue is a challenge. The people who use it have myriad destinations and sometimes conflicting needs. It doesn’t work well for anybody right now because it tries be a highway, a neighborhood commercial street, a major bus corridor, a connection for people walking and biking, and a residential street. For Franklin to work, we have to decide what we want it to do. Should it be first and foremost a great place to live? Should it be the place thousands of neighbors go for organic and halal groceries, primary care doctors, a cup of coffee, the library, to hang out at the park, or to connect with the resources of the American Indian Cultural Corridor? Should it be a relief valve for drivers tired of congestion on I-94? Today, Franklin Avenue shows us that failing to make a choice because choosing is a political “hot potato” only succeeds in failure for everyone – the people who live and work there, and every traveler.

As someone who works and travels on the corridor daily (primarily walking, but also biking, busing, and yes even driving), I think we can no longer afford to live with the status quo. I think we must decide who we want Franklin Avenue to serve.

Too often Franklin, and similar roads in low-wealth communities like Phillips, are seen by City and County staff and commuters as just places to drive through, ignoring that this is a residential street and a destination in and of itself. For all the individuals and families who live, work, worship, shop, go to school/daycare, recreate, and live their lives along Franklin, the primary benefit is not getting commuters through the neighborhood quickly. Our streets policy over the last 50 years has prioritized the desires of drivers and commuting over the people whose front yards are treated like a highway. It’s time to put people first.

images of pedestrian conditions on franklin

Transit for Livable Communities led a transportation study for Franklin in 2013. The study included fairly robust community participation and recommended ways to improve safety between Hennepin and Bloomington. It is the most thoughtful, intentional, and community-connected attempt to figure out just how to make Franklin Avenue safe and work better for all the people who use it. It’s the only effort to address the dangers and dysfunction of Franklin, and the solutions it proposed never made it out of the report to consideration by decision-makers.

Both the City and County have Complete Streets policies. They are good aspirational documents, but on a street like Franklin, it is obvious how far we are from the reality of “Complete Streets.” We have to make some tough choices about who we prioritize. For Franklin Avenue, with so many people walking and rolling to numerous community destinations, I believe the first priority should be for pedestrians and those who live on the street. We must make the street safer for the most vulnerable people in our community.

Today’s status quo fails everyone, and the newly widened bridge over I-35W is a big invitation to craft a meaningful plan for the future of Franklin. Last summer, several neighborhood organizations, businesses and community groups signed on to a letter requesting a public planning process from the City and County. That request has not yet resulted in action, though we continue to work with elected officials and staff at both levels.

The next time you have an opportunity to walk, bike, bus, ride or drive across the Franklin Avenue bridge over I-35W, take in the great view of downtown, but also take note of all the people alongside you. What do we want this street to do? How can we make this a truly Complete Street? Will we prioritize people and a neighborhood we have historically forgotten? I don’t know the answer, but we need to start the conversation today.

open streets on franklin   

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

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27 thoughts on “Franklin Avenue Can’t Be Everything for Everybody

  1. Bob Roscoe

    The writer presented an excellent urban stew with many ways to taste this particular part of Minneapolis that joins into Saint Paul at its eastern end. East-West Franklin Avenue has its geographic parallel to Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis, which is a more sane passage, that I think has had city improvements over the years.

    I live a quarter block south of Franklin, so I drive the street several times a day, always to be very careful at the Cedar Avenue intersection. I bike along it less often and was hit by a car at the quiet corner of Franklin and 27th Avenue with very minor injuries to me and my bike. The car driver offered to pray for me.

    The writer is very correct that the city needs to devise improvements. Rather than relying solely on traffic engineers, Franklin is as much a sociological place as a transit back and forth route, and a study to preserve its unique character would make the street a much embraceable urban asset – and more of a fun place to be. Heck – why not find that driver from Franklin and 27th to offer his prayers for the street’s revitalization?

  2. BTSP

    A feature of Franklin (and many other transit corridors) that I find quite baffling is the presence of bus stops at certain intersections (e.g., Franklin and Pleasant) but with no safe crossing, be it signals or even just marked crosswalks. Given how a scant few drivers ever yield to pedestrians on unmarked crosswalks, anyone commuting via that bus route would have to routinely cross through what is effectively an uncontrolled intersection.

  3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    As it happens, I biked over the new bridge this morning. My initial reaction was that it’s much too wide, especially if it’s just going to be two car lanes in each direction like the old bridge. The extra width is going to encourage cars to go too fast and otherwise drive dangerously.

  4. Andrew Evans

    I’m not sure a pedestrian first approach is best, to be honest. In fact, taking that approach on 26th and 28th could have added more traffic to this mess, and created more problems. What’s really needed is a way for cars, mostly local traffic (those who live in the neighborhood vs who are using the street for commuting), to get across town over to Lyndale or Nicollet. West of the freeway we have that with 26th, 28th, 24th, and Franklin. However, crossing the freeway either direction we would only have 26/28th or Franklin, which is a third less, and more so with the lane constraints on the one ways (if I recall the way the bike paths were implemented, I could be wrong). We don’t have that 24th st option, or the 31st option if we’re talking about Lake Street. There isn’t a residential, local, way to go. Adding that bridge would give another option and split the stress a little more.

    Then it would be really nice to move the freeway entrance and all of that left and right hand turn traffic somewhere else. Thankfully I forgot how long the jams were when I lived by there, but I would guess around 15 to 20 min would be common to move 5 blocks sometimes. Granted that’s not much different than downtown, but at least there the lights, sidewalks, and signals are mostly designed for it – plus a person expects downtown to be slow and knows what they are getting into. I’m not sure there if they do take the road down to one lane with turn only lanes going in the middle, but then I’m not sure how much that would solve with bus traffic and stops.

    Finally, other streets have some engineered traffic control that seems to be lacking on Franklin. Go south down Hennepin or Lyndale from Franklin and you’re not allowed to take a left for a while. Drive across Broadway in NE and you’re going to see sidewalks blocking some of the cross streets. If anything this would help with pedestrians and biking, but would also be a pain if there wasn’t another way across.

    Not even going to touch the confusing mess that’s Franklin and around Cedar.

    Another thing to add are the major employers with Wells and the hospital being in more or less residential areas with poor freeway access. That’s a lot of traffic that otherwise wouldn’t be there.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I don’t understand your first paragraph. There are freeway crossings for cars at Franklin, 26th (WB), 28th (EB), Lake, 31st, 35th, and 38th. All but the last connect to Lyndale and Hennepin directly.

      Are you saying that it would be nice to have more crossings that don’t coincide with a freeway entrance (ala 26th, 28th and 38th) for local traffic? Seems like local traffic works fine and the issues are limited to rushour. Also seems like prioritizing pedestrians, people on bikes and people riding transit is a vastly more efficient use of space, as you can move a lot more people per unit of space using those modes.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Maybe it would help if I-35W didn’t exist, and we had a complete grid across South Minneapolis rather than severing over 75% of streets.

  5. Adam Wysopal

    There’s no good justification I can think of to focus on making Franklin better for cars. It’s narrow street with a lot of signaled intersections, running along a high populated area with a lot of local, neighborhood amenities. Franklin should be reworked to focus on pedestrians and transit users. Widen sidewalks. Install bump outs. Improve transit stations. Improve the streetscape.

  6. Bill Dooley

    Franklin is a county road so it is a Hennepin County Board decision to make Franklin a road that prioritizes fast car traffic over safe pedestrian and bicycle usage. Hennepin County Board members are elected officials. You need to make this a political issue.

  7. Allen

    You may be able to use tools like Mapillary to better map the need for pedestrian-oriented infrastructure along with where the crashes are happening. They have good object recognition and integration with other tools like open street maps.

    For example, I’ve long been befuddled as to how their are not explicit, well marked crosswalks at the library.

      1. T

        Its not a matter of going slower. Its like it says here roads shouldnt try and do everything. 26th 28th and 24th and 29th are dedicated bikeways. Why should franklin which has busier traffic and is a county road have to give up lanes when theres already been lanes taken out on 26th and 28th plus with the freeway entrance we want cars to go that way instead of cutting through smaller residential streets

            1. Rosa

              I would guess he means stores, a library, buildings where humans live, stuff like that. Things that require people being able to cross the street and people not in a car to go to. At least one park with a lot of soccer games when it’s not all under construction.

        1. Rosa

          how is the 24th St pedestrian bridge going to be? Previously it was really difficult to get a bike across. If it had a long, straight ramp and no stairs I think lots of people would bike on 24th instead.

          Also notice that if you want to be north of Franklin, there’s no way to cross 35W and it’s safer for people coming from the east to ride west on Franklin and make a right somewhere, than to detour south and then have to cross Franklin on most of the north-south streets. Headed east, people are getting routed to the Franklin bridge over the river – when it was down the detour down to Marshall added 3 miles to one of my regular commutes.

          Bikes on Franklin are there basically for the same reason as cars: because it goes through, or because they are going somewhere on or just off Franklin. 26th and 28th are arguably easier for car drivers too – faster, with fewer pedestrians and fewer places where the only car lane is blocked by a left turning driver.

    1. Allen

      Why cant bikers jus go out of their way 2 blocks to use 24th street?
      ” ~T

      Not a crazy question. But there are some issues. That would only work well west of Hiawatha. And it would not work well for all the cyclists who are already traveling south to Franklin to find a good east-west route.

      1. T

        There is already the hiawatha LRT bike path that connects to 24th as a bridge. But i agree that might be a little bit out of the way. Ive done some thinking on this and i think it would probably be a good idea to run the bike lanes to 11th avenue as that is a connection to both south to 24th or north to 15th Street.

        I dont hate bikers. I just think that instead of trying to cram them onto our busiest streets why not actually make good bicycle blvds. And steer bikes to them. The current ones are useless as they do nothing to discourage car traffic.

        In order for there to actually be incentive to bike on them we should block off the ability to cross the street every 2 to 3 blocks if you are a car. That way local traffic can still go there if they live there but not people looking to take shortcuts.

        1. Rosa

          the 24th street pedestrian bridge is not great for biking. I have a soft spot for it, but

          1) getting to it by going west on 24th Street requires making a weird left turn at Cedar

          2) the spirals are really tight at each end

          3) on the west end it crosses the light rail tracks

          4) actual pedestrians use it and it’s not really wide enough for 2 way bike traffic and pedestrians. I’ve never measured but it’s much narrower than the Sabo.

          I actually really like 11th for heading north from 24th St but there is the problem of going south from 24th (it’s not continuous) to get anywhere else.

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Again, one reason to “cram” bike lanes onto busy streets is there are lots of destinations on busy streets, and people on bikes need to be able to get to them too.

          Another reason is that many of our “busy” streets are overbuilt and encourage dangerously fast driving, whether because they have a dangerous four lane layout – as does stretches of Franklin – or because they’re just too wide. “Cramming” bike lanes onto those types of street can help slow traffic and improve safety.

          Finally, people using bikes for transportation are not second class citizens who should be shunted to only some streets. We don’t do that for cars. We shouldn’t do that for bikes.

          As for breaking the grid more frequently than we already do, that’s probably a bad idea too (although I’m mindful of much more successful Dutch practices that do more of it). Gridded streets have way more capacity than hierarchical streets that seek to concentrate traffic at the expense of people who have the misfortune of living on the street to which we’re directing traffic.

          1. T

            Its not that they are second class citizens it just goes down to the point that their will never be a bicycle population that rivals a car population. Im an avid biker. I live on franklin. And i bike on it all the time. Its not that bad of a road as it is. All im saying is that there is a definite shortage of capacity for cars in south minneapolis. And there is not that for bikes.

            To be honest i would have preferred bike lanes on franklin instead of the ones on 26th and 28th considering that 24th is 2 blocks away and the greenway is also close for longer distance riding. But now that they are there we dont need more.

            Thats not including park portland and 11th plus the 17th “bicycle blvd”

            Or another idea is why not have 18th street be bicycle focused put a separated lane there like they did on 26th at the expense of a lane of parking. that way there is yet another E-W artery for bikes. Amd as far as getting to the destinations. Thats a simple 1 to 2 block bike ride on side streets or the lanes of park portland and 11th. Or even walk that short distance.

            I would be interested in seeing a test study on the impact of doing a bicycle blvd because as they currently are those bike blvds are absolutely useless. Either make them better or get rid of them.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              I just don’t see any shortage of capacity for cars. There’s some rush hour congestion, but that’s not going away no matter how much capacity there is. Honestly, after the initial adjustment, it’s not even been that bad for cars with 35W effectively closed.

              And adding bike lanes isn’t just about space for bikes, it’s also about safety, especially on 26th and 28th, which were horribly dangerous one-way racetracks that have now been tamed somewhat.

              Franklin between Bloomington and Hennepin is right up there in terms of terrible for safety. I’m not a particularly timid rider, but it’s somewhere I avoid, at least until it can be improved.

            2. Rosa

              YES on fix the bike boulevards or get rid of them. And by “fix” I mean “give them priority over other streets where they cross other streets” though I suspect that would just route more cars onto them – the part of 17th Ave that has the most cars is close to Lake Street, because that’s basically the only busy street it crosses where it has a light.

      1. T

        The same reason im not telling every biker to ride the greenway. Limited access for full access roads

        1. Christa MChris Moseng

          I see, so it’s not an adequate substitute, in the eyes of a car driver.

          Bike lanes on some other road are only an adequate substitute if they are seen as an adequate substitute by someone using a bike.

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