Insight Brewery. Familia skatepark. Five Watt Coffee. Headflyer Brewing.
What do all of these places have in common, besides being almost unbearably hip?
They’re all sitting on a death trap street named East Hennepin Avenue.
Here’s a fun experiment: Next time you drive down East Hennepin, actually drive at the 30 miles per hour speed limit and watch what happens.
SPOILER ALERT*: the cars going your direction will fly around you like you’re standing still.
People constantly speed down East Hennepin at 50 miles per hour, or even higher. And the street has the added benefit of being a four-lane undivided street — a.k.a. a four-lane death road™ — where weaving traffic and the deadly-to-pedestrians “whip-around” behavior is baked right into the design. People weave and dart and speed down East Hennepin like they’re fleeing from zombies at the go-kart track.
Meanwhile, amazing new business that attract people on foot and bicycle have moved onto East Hennepin. Have you ever tried to cross the street to get to Five Watt Coffee or Insight Brewing? I have. Both times, I barely escaped with my life.
The other night my girlfriend was driving down East Hennepin, when two people decided they were going to try and cross the street near Five Watt. It was dark, they were in the middle of the road, and she slowed down to let them cross.
The car behind her, though, was not slowing down. It whipped into the outside lane as the two women hesitatingly stepped out. Emily honked the horn twice in alarm, not at the pedestrians, but at the driver, praying that they might see the people and stop, praying we wouldn’t have to see two bodies fly over our hood, maimed for the sin of trying to cross the street in Northeast.
(The other car stopped, and the two people weren’t put in the hospital.)
This kind of thing happens every day on Northeast Minneapolis’ many deadly streets.
East Hennepin isn’t even the worst one, in my opinion. That honor belongs to Northeast Broadway, a four-lane death road with the added feature of narrow lanes, cramming high-speed cars through a walkable, dense area full of people.
Then there are 1st and Hennepin Avenues, Lowry Avenue, 4th and University, and a bunch of shorter routes. Northeast is overflowing with deadly high-speed streets in desperate need of a safety makeover, and they’ve been this way for generations. I am sure that speeding thorugh the dense, walkable neighborhoods of Northeast Minneaposis has come to seem like a birthright of anyone with a car heading to Fridley, but it’s a terrible situation.
And now there is a development boom increasing density in Northeast, and raising the stakes of the adjacent street designs. Visiting Hennepin and Central these days, you see dozens of cranes. Skyscrapers climb to the skies. All these new people are going to want to cross the street. Instead they’ll will be greeted with three or four lanes of wide high-speed concrete, as 1st, 4th, and University Avenues encourage people to speed around corners to the nearest freeway. These streets are not safe and should not be any part of a city that sees itself as livable and just.
A culture change in Northeast is long overdue. The solutions are pretty simple. Four-lane death roads like East Hennepin and Northeast Broadway should be immediately converted to 3-lane designs. “Road diet” conversions would keep traffic moving at safe speeds, eliminate unsafe passing, reduce complexity, and allow for the building of pedestrian crossing islands at key spots.
More “hybrid” streets like University Avenue (north of 1st) or Lowry Avenues should keep all-day on-street parking and/or have crossing medians installed at key intersections. And the three-lane one-ways like 1st, 4th, and University should be reduced and calmed into two-lane one-way roads with protected bike lanes or wider sidewalks.
These solutions are pretty simple. People in Northeast Minneapolis need to demand safe streets from their leaders. The City Council needs to demand that Hennepin County prioritize safety over commute times. County Commissioners need to demand that the Hennepin County Public Works department act before more people get hurt or killed. It’s that simple.
* (PS It’ s a spoiler alert because you will see the spoilers of the other cars disappearing into the distance in front of you.)
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