Time to Kill the Northeast Minneapolis Death Roads

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.

East Hennepin 1

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. 

East Hennepin 2

Here’s a fun spot to get killed.

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.

Death Road Graphic

Northeast Broadway, the OG Four-lane Death Road™.

 

Northeast Speed Sign

A speed sign next to a new apartment building

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.

East Hennepin 3

East Hennepin in April.

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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38 Responses to Time to Kill the Northeast Minneapolis Death Roads

  1. jeffk September 13, 2018 at 1:00 pm #

    The menace of Broadway is something of a shared concern for neighborhood residents that otherwise maybe don’t see eye to eye on urban planning and transit issues. The neighborhood organizations on either side of the street are attempting to organize people and approach the county on the issue. See fixbroadway.org for more information, or contact likely future commissioner Irene Fernando and tell her this is important (and then vote for her in November).

    • Chris L September 14, 2018 at 2:34 am #

      I’m kinda more inclined to vote for Blong Yang since he has more commissioner type experience, and I’m sure he’s all for a safe Broadway Street too.

  2. Jeremy Hop
    Jeremy H. September 13, 2018 at 1:22 pm #

    I have a few encounters on video from commutes via cycle.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lstZUSFPLCI

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNseLHc0Byo

    The push button beacon lights don’t do anything to slow and stop drivers. They ignore it and plow on down the road.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary September 13, 2018 at 4:47 pm #

      That first video — I do not believe a bicycle on the roadway has right-of-way in these circumstances. The placement of that push button adjacent to the curb is misleading in this respect.

      MN 169.222, subd. 4(f) says:

      (f) A person lawfully operating a bicycle on a sidewalk, or across a roadway or shoulder on a crosswalk, shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances.

      To look back at what those rights and duties are, refer to 169.21 for pedestrians:

      Subd. 2.Rights in absence of signal. (a) Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk. The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield. This provision shall not apply under the conditions as otherwise provided in this subdivision.

      A bicyclist on the roadway, at a stop sign, is operating as a vehicle and has the rights/duties of a vehicle. If they wish to gain pedestrian right-of-way, they should go to the crosswalk/sidewalk — and be physically within the crosswalk, not in the adjacent intersection space.

      As a practical matter, I’m not sure if it makes a difference in motor vehicle yield rate. But this setup bugs me, because it reinforces potential bad habits for both motorists and cyclists.

      • Monte Castleman September 13, 2018 at 6:04 pm #

        I concur. That button on the road needs to be removed. Either a bicycle gets on the sidewalk and acts like a pedestrian to make motorists stop, or they stay on the street and get no more privileges than any other vehicle on the street. Putting a bicycle symbol on that sign further confuses the matter. A setup like this is more appropriate at an off-street trail crossing a street than adjacent to an intersection.

        • Jeremy Hop
          Jeremy H. September 13, 2018 at 8:02 pm #

          I’m very familiar with the statute, however I do agree that these situations provide users exceptions to the rule… this same intersection also tells the cyclist to use the north sidewalk along e hennepin. There is no consistency whatsoever in our treatment of cycling and pedestrians facilities.

          • Rosa September 14, 2018 at 9:32 pm #

            There actually is some consistency – they are consistently set up as if pedestrians and cyclists being injured or killed is less bad than cars having to stop or slow down.

      • Jesse Meyer September 14, 2018 at 10:54 am #

        It’s confusing, because the City of Minneapolis likes to use these signals to build bike routes.

        This is the one on East Hennepin, between Central and I35W, IIRC. It’s really the only cycle route north out of Marcy Holmes and it’s designated as a bike route.

        There’s also a similar signal on 10th Ave and 5th St SE – again, a push-button flashing light signal setup for cyclists.

        If the city is serious about making complete streets, it should just rip these out and put in a real four-way light signal. These crosswalk lights are frequently ignored.

        • Rosa September 14, 2018 at 9:31 pm #

          YES

          God I hate those things. You still have to play chicken with the cars, drivers can legitimately not be paying attention and cream you.

          Just give us regular traffic signals. If we succeed with that, give pedestrians protected crossing times like we give turning cars? But even just having stoplights or 4-way stop signs, which everyone knows how they are supposed to work and most people obey them, would solve so many problems. No stupid tiny traffic circles, no “oh cars are just supposed to know that if they notice someone is waiting to cross they should stop” DEFINITELY no “trails have stop signs, streets have yield signs, and people should know that means to treat it like a four way stop if anyone’s on the trail.” Just give us regular old signs and signals that everyone already knows how they work.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary September 14, 2018 at 9:56 pm #

            I think it’s a little rash to look at the worst possible situation for a crossing and conclude that the only viable option is a conventional traffic signal. Remember, adding conventional traffic signals can be difficult. Minneapolis is more lenient with these rules than other jurisdictions, but ordinarily you need to meet significant traffic warrants to justify a signal. Those exist in part because signals create additional types of crashes — like rear ends, and rare but severe crashes of people trying to beat yellows / fresh red lights. They also generally mean a delay for crossing bicyclists and pedestrians.

            (Since this is a Hennepin County roadway in Minneapolis, I assume both agencies would sign off on a signal)

            I think the issue here is the roadway, not the signal. Other crossings with beacons work great, like Midtown Greenway and E 28th St or Hazelton Road and the Edina Promenade.

            Some features that I think are important about both of those: single travel lane in each direction, refuge island, sense of narrowness for approaching motorists, and clear signals. Personally, I find both of those very safe.

            • Bill Lindeke
              Bill Lindeke September 15, 2018 at 10:42 am #

              What Sean said. More traffic signals are not a real solution. They don’t reduce speeds. BTW speed reduction does NOT have to come at the expense of traffic flow.

              That said the ped/bike actuated traffic light on NE Broadway and 5th Street is OK.

            • Rosa September 23, 2018 at 9:45 am #

              I don’t even mean lights, except in the really heavy traffic intersections (like the LRT just east of the Sabo). 4 way stop signs would be my preferred answer at most of the bad intersections.

              28th street is way better now that it has the single traffic lane, but it would have been a LOT cheaper if they’d just put in 4 stop signs. And sooner. It’s taken 10 years to evolve into something I’m pretty comfortable letting the middle schoolers navigate on their own. And every spring we have to wait again while the drivers learn not to run people down.

              Drivers have no idea what those intersections mean, or pretend not to – and there’s way too much signage and things going on for anyone from out of town to be expected to get it (though interestingly, when I did a quick survey of Facebook friends, two people from other states did logic out what that kind of crossing might mean. Minnesotans seem to have an above-average disregard of the idea that you should stop for crosswalks.)

              • Sean Hayford Oleary
                Sean Hayford Oleary September 23, 2018 at 12:07 pm #

                Having grown up in a town with several over-capacity four-way stops (Northfield), I have a much less charitable view of four-way stops.

                They work great when you’ve got two streets with 500 or a thousand cars a day each. But at high volumes, and especially many-laned approaches, it starts to fall apart. I don’t know specific standards, but it seems that when the norm is for multiple cars to be approaching at once, it becomes harder for motorists to also account for pedestrians — they are too busy figuring out whose turn it is, etc.

                Another issue exists when you do a four-way stop where traffic is not adequately balanced — which would certainly be the case at Hennepin and 5th, or most locations along 28th St. Motorists will not take the traffic control seriously, and will treat it more like a speed bump. That might slow down cars *at those specific points*, but will likely not slow them through the corridor. Plus it may put crossing users at risk — who expect the all-way stop to be treated as such, but may have more trouble gaining right-of-way.

                (The two bad intersections in Northfield I am referring to are Division/Jefferson and Division/Woodley. Division/Jefferson has been home to several fatalities. And there are several other four-way stops in town that could probably benefit from some better traffic control, including Division/5th and Jefferson/Jefferson.)

                • Rosa September 23, 2018 at 9:28 pm #

                  I’m talking about the places where cyclists/pedestrians/trail users only get a flashing light and those “STOP FOR PEDESTRIANS IN CROSSWALKS” signs. That setup is “assume not stopping unless you notice something” and ought to be “assume stopping”, on the car side. The ones Jesse mentioned.

                  • Monte Castleman September 23, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

                    Which was addressed in the second part of Sean’s comment about where traffic is not balanced.

                    Stop signs that don’t meet warrants are not allowed because they’re dangerous. After a dozen times stopping with no one in sight motorists will just blow through it on time #13, and the pedestrians crossing at time #13 will have a false sense of security.

                    Meanwhile the motorist will stomp on the gas mid block to make up for lost time, and start running through other stop signs too, even the warranted ones.

          • commissar September 15, 2018 at 7:43 pm #

            i 100% agree. nearly creamed an old dude on a bicycle at lowry and central, cause dude was crossing like a pedestrian on the other side, against traffic flow. were he acting like most cyclists, and biking on the road, i would have been able to see him easier. that, and a 4:3 conversion with a protected turn (yellow flasher) would really help as well. but keep in mind, Hennepin, central, and lowry are commercial vehicle route too, and narrowing the road will create problems for them as well. hell, driving my company tow truck (a dually out of necessity), it gets sketchy on some streets already. so, bump outs shoudl work ok, but physically narrowing roads and streets can cause problems.

    • Cheryl Gustafson September 14, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

      Yes! My kids go to Marcy and we bike on East Hennepin to get to school sometimes. It’s so horrible, no one stops for them when they try to cross near Five Watt. I’m all for changing the flow to protect all the kids, families, and people trying to walk, bike, etc.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke September 14, 2018 at 12:48 pm #

        Stay safe. Let’s work together to change our city for the better.

    • Joseph M. September 15, 2018 at 11:08 am #

      They need a new crosswalk signal, one which actually has a red light that carries, well, the societal understanding of a red light. Push the button (or even better, step into the automated detection zone like they’ve used to change lights for cars for half a century), the light for the throughway turns red, drivers stop, and peds can cross safely.

      • Monte Castleman September 15, 2018 at 1:06 pm #

        That would be a HAWK signal, or else the design Minneapolis is doing an (authorized) experiment with at 31st and Girard.

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary September 13, 2018 at 4:58 pm #

    I have also noticed how crazy common these 4-lane roads are in Northeast. In general: have we reached consensus on how to address parking? I feel like there are some similar situations with some Ramsey County roads in east side St Paul.

    It’s a very common “cheat” for busier roads through commercial districts to do a 4LDR with off-peak parking allowed in the outer travel lanes. This allows the other lane to serve as a de facto bypass lane around left-turners off-peak, and full four lanes of operation on-peak. And it allows both sides parking in the evening, weekends, etc.

    City of Minneapolis also does this on a number of their own streets, like 31st. As far as balancing business needs and mobility for drivers, it works. Safety and decent access for people walking and biking don’t quite make that balance.

    But going to a traditional 3-lane setup — 2 travel lanes, 1 center turn lane, 2 shoulders/bike lanes — means no parking. Even with narrower lanes, I don’t think any of the Northeast ones are wide enough curb-to-curb to do two parking lanes (8’+) plus the three lanes.

    Is it acceptable to go down to one-side, all-day parking in these areas? Should parking be prioritized over a center turn lane? (That one’s especially tricky since the business nodes are often at major intersections.)

    • Monte Castleman September 13, 2018 at 6:26 pm #

      Another option is banning left turns, either peak times only or 24 hours a day.

      • Brian September 13, 2018 at 9:32 pm #

        Will that be enforced for bikes too?

    • Andrew September 14, 2018 at 10:38 am #

      I think all of NE should be switched to one-side parking permanently. Most of the side streets are not wide enough to safely allow parking on both sides.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke September 14, 2018 at 11:03 am #

        Well I don’t know about that. Lots of cities manage with narrow streets and parking. It calms traffic in good ways. I am more focused on the high-speed dangerous streets.

        • Andrew September 18, 2018 at 9:56 am #

          Normally I would agree, but there’s a lot of places where you can’t even safely bike down the street when both sides are lined with parked cars. The travel lane minus door zones ends up being like 2-3 wide.

          Streets in my neighborhood are mostly 25 feet wide. Compare to Seward, where things also feel kinda tight, at 35 feet.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke September 18, 2018 at 10:18 am #

            What are some examples? This would make a great post topic.

            • Andrew September 18, 2018 at 1:46 pm #

              19th St NE between Central and Johnson, at 26 feet, in particular. Gets a lot of extra traffic this summer with 18th closed.

              I posted some examples of wider streets in Seward below.

              • Andrew September 18, 2018 at 1:49 pm #

                19th Ave NE rather.

          • Sean Hayford Oleary
            Sean Hayford Oleary September 18, 2018 at 10:32 am #

            I think those narrow streets function pretty well as “yield streets“. Cars should be traveling at a similar speed to bikes, so there is no need to overtake. They can negotiate with oncoming traffic for space to get through.

            However, that falls apart at higher volumes. Obviously Marshall St is not a great yield street — it’s just a too-narrow major street.

            I am also surprised you state that Seward has 35′ streets. I was under the impression the widest minor streets in Minneapolis were 32′ (which I believe is still their current standard). I live on a 36′ street in Richfield, and it is noticeably too wide — a 32′ street (probably still too wide unless parked to the gills) is noticeably narrower.

            • Andrew September 18, 2018 at 1:41 pm #

              24th Street is the one I was looking at in particular. Some are narrower… 22nd Ave is about 32 feet. 36th Ave is a luxurious 40 feet. I couldn’t find anything in Seward under 30.

              Just using Google to measure… grass to grass. Not sure what the official widths are.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt September 14, 2018 at 12:15 pm #

      You can do 3 lanes + one side street parking (50th St does this) in places). And even do parking mid-block where turn lanes aren’t necessary (Lyndale does this).

  4. Stephanie September 13, 2018 at 9:35 pm #

    There is good news for East Hennepin! The County has funding in their 2019 budget to improve the safety and function of the road, knowing that it is a death trap. As a bicyclist that has to cross it twice a day to get to and from work, I see first hand how cars ignore the flashing yellow light, endangering anyone trying to cross. I’m happy though that the County realizes this and is working to fix the problem.

  5. Andy Singer
    Andy Singer September 14, 2018 at 12:27 am #

    I laughed at “…like they’re fleeing from zombies at the go-Kart track.” …ha ha. Oi. Nice to know that Saint Paul doesn’t have a monopoly in “4-lane death roads” ™ …or the occasionally gripless (hopefully soon to be replaced) county commissioner. County commissioners and elected officials throughout the nation should be forced to walk back and forth across these streets at unsignalized intersections until they get fixed. I liked your passing reference to the occasional merits of on-street parking (when no bike facility is present). That would be worth an entire post in itself (the cars crashing into buildings, pedestrians splattered with mud, water and road debris, the speeding, lack of turn lanes, etc). I have photos of University Ave in St. Paul I could give you. 🙂

  6. Steve Gjerdingen September 15, 2018 at 1:03 am #

    After living Marcy Holmes for a couple of years, I am now very familiar with that crosswalk. I’ve always thought of the East Hennepin corridor as one that is ripe for development. It is so close to downtown and there is so much industrial along it that is probably going to get replaced over time. There is already R5 residential zoning along some parts of East Hennepin west of 35W. I’ve thought that the only way this is going to take off though is if they really make a significant change on Hennepin Ave. There are more issues happening along Hennepin in the vicinity of 5th Ave than just that crosswalk. Here are a couple to think about:

    1) Why doesn’t Hennepin Ave have a median all along the roadway? Hennepin acts as a significant barrier between the Beltrami and Marcy Holmes neighborhoods. There are several minor streets (i.e. Pierce, Buchanan, etc) that come out onto Hennepin but without a good way across. For example if you are headed from Beltrami to Dinkytown, yes, technically you could cross at the service road, Hennepin, and 35W ramp signal, but honestly I feel like that intersection is worse in more ways than if you could just cross Hennepin at Pierce with a wide median.

    2) That make-shift sidewalk “bikeway” going under the railroad tracks is narrow! I’ve seen people cruise down this in the winter time on their bikes and they have to go very slowly because all of the cars driving past in the right lane and the amount of ice/snow remaining on that narrow path.

    I used that crosswalk, but I was extremely careful every time I did. And many times, yes, cars wouldn’t stop.

    Regarding University and 4th, I’m asking myself the same question of why they wouldn’t make it easier to cross. As a pedestrian and cyclist who formerly lived north of 4th street, I used to cross University/4th at 8th Ave numerous times when I was headed towards the Stone Arch bridge. Without the traffic, it’s actually a quite pleasant walking route to the river as there are old buildings with interesting architecture along the way. Also, 2nd St is much nicer to walk along than University/4th to get to the bridge. The sidewalks on University/4th feel narrow. I’m not sure if they actually are or if it’s just because of the high speed traffic on the 3 lane arterials immediately adjacent. Why couldn’t they just make University/4th 2-way streets so that you could put nice wide grassy lane width median in the middle of both roadways? It would make the neighborhoods north of 4th street much more desirable if they were actually connected to the river.

  7. Andrew Evans September 17, 2018 at 8:01 am #

    Weird that they single out those roads.

    Across most bridges the most common speed is 40mph+.

    Drive Broadway, and Lowry in North and not only are the speeds 40+ but drivers are careless about traffic and signals.

    Traffic is more of a city wide issue, that’s being ignored at a city wide level. 15 years ago this wasn’t the case, when MPD had a useful amount of traffic officers. Then for one reason or another they decided to defund traffic, and here we are. Only lately have I seen traffic stops in North, and now more of those speeding signs popping up.

    That said, Hennepin seems like one of those legacy industrial streets that may need to be changed. Broadway in NE carries a lot of traffic and I’m sure signals could be timed to make things flow better, although the city seems to not be concerned about left hand turns on Lowry in North, so no one should hold their breath.

    But again, this isn’t a NE problem, it’s a city problem.

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele September 17, 2018 at 9:47 am #

      It seems like it’s more of a Northeast problem. We’ve nearly eliminated FLDRs on the Southside… A little bit of Franklin, Cedar during rush hour, and of course Lake Street. Any others? Most of the remaining FLDRs in Minneapolis seem to be in Northeast.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller September 17, 2018 at 10:28 am #

        With the recent changes to Plymouth (actually, with the prior changes that added buffered bike lanes), the only FLDR that springs to mind in North is parts of W. Broadway. Although I have to admit I don’t get up there as often as I used to when we lived downtown.

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