Minneapolis 2040: Zero Vision

An Open Letter to Minneapolis 2040 Planners and Politicians:

Donald Trump crossed the ocean to London, England this past summer only to land in a sea of local outrage and demonstrations, including signs and a comically small Baby Trump protest blimp. I’m glad to see people exercising their free speech rights but Trump’s visit clouded the fact that something truly incredible was happening in London and getting no coverage.

Around that same time we had the deadline for comments on the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan which had its own orange-haired feature attraction in the form of city-wide upzoning. Upzoning also drew most of the coverage, obscuring many interesting developments and one policy in particular that if done right would put us on par with London.

I’m talking about the 20 mile per hour speed limit.

London certainly has its own housing crisis but it took steps to downzone its speed limit in accord with Sweden’s internationally recognized Vision Zero street safety project. The new law is set to take effect in London in 2020. Many cities across Europe, including Paris, have adopted, or are on the verge of adopting, the same standard.

We too have a policy called Vision Zero in the most recent draft of our 2040 plan, but ours makes no mention of a 20 mph limit. While the 2040 plan’s Vision Zero policy does have a goal of zero traffic fatalities, unlike the upzoning portion of the 2040 plan it lacks teeth, specifics, and adherence to the one policy that undergirds the international standard of Vision Zero.

I don’t know why that specific enumerated speed is missing from our Vision Zero but I have an idea of who to blame: Baby Trump.

Baby Trump

Some might look at Baby Trump as a metaphor for the rich single-family homeowners of SW Minneapolis and the dark forces behind Minneapolis for Everyone attempting to freeze those with less money out of their enclaves, while retaining the right to tear down a house of any size and build a McBarn to maximum zoning limits for their single families.

Some might see that gassy baby as white Uptown millennials with curated credit scores monitored in real time looking to become first time plexlords further down in SW Minneapolis, while being cheered on in this internecine SW turf war by the dark forces behind Neighbors for More Neighbors and upvoted online via the dark forces behind WedgeLive.

I see Baby Trump as representing upzoning itself and that annoying baby boy is distracting us from all the other peoples, problems, and areas of Minneapolis. Of course upzoning, rezoning, ending the apartment ban, ending exclusionary zoning, whatever you want to call it, is worth fulsome debate on its own merits but I think it’s served as a distraction nonetheless, moving the discussion away from many many other notable inclusions in the 2040 plan. Just one example is the policy advocating healthy pre-k development in underserved communities. Like that pre-k policy and others in 2040, our Vision Zero is short on specifics and long on laudable goals.

Now, even though neither our Vision Zero nor Sweden’s Vision Zero has a specific method for achieving its stated goal of zero fatalities, it does build the body of its vision on the frame of a 20 mile per hour speed limit. Why? Essentially, that is the fastest speed at which death or serious injury from a car hitting a pedestrian is much less probable than not. It’s that simple. And the empirical evidence shows that that speed limit works in practice and is already saving lives while not causing undue burden on drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. Quite the contrary, it’s saving their lives.

For Vision Zero, almost more than any other policy in 2040, it verges on political negligence not to include specific language mandating a 20 mph speed limit. While the city cannot arbitrarily change city speed limits without state approval, I suspect that the specter of two major fights, one on upzoning and one on downzoning, was too much for our planners and politicians to cope with.

But if it is to live up to its titular standard, our policy version of Vision Zero must state in writing the goal of a 20 mph speed limit across the city of Minneapolis to be implemented as soon as possible or the policy title should be changed. Frankly, Vision Zero should be wholly abandoned in the final version of Minneapolis 2040 in favor of the other varied policies already in the plan because without a full-throated Vision Zero it doesn’t mean anything more than a bogarted trade name for goals that our other transportation safety policies have already covered in past plans and rehash in 2040.

Finally, please remember that:

You, our Minneapolis politicians and long range planners, were detailed and broad of scope in your language when you upzoned every square foot of land in this city with a pen stroke. You can use that same authority and specificity to downzone every square foot of our city streets to 20 miles per hour!

Chip Jenne

About Chip Jenne

I recently moved here from Washington, DC with my family, which includes in no particular order of importance: man, woman, child, dog and bike. I am currently on this site either trying to understand how Minnesota nice is playing out on the streets of this fine city, or looking at the cool local photo essays.

49 thoughts on “Minneapolis 2040: Zero Vision

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Both policies are good ideas.Worth noting that Minneapolis does NOT have the authority to reduce speed limits to 20 mph.

    See this (https://www.minnpost.com/cityscape/2015/04/limits-and-promise-speed-limits/) and this (https://www.minnpost.com/cityscape/2016/04/how-caucus-resolution-becomes-party-platform-plank-or-doesn-t/)

    That’s part of the problem with transportation policy. Whereas Minneapolis can decide its own zoning (as long as it comports with the Met Council, which is pretty easy), Minneapolis the city cannot design its own streets. It has to go through Hennepin County and MnDOT to do so, which is a HUGE reason why our arterial roads are still such dangerous and deadly disasters.

    1. Chip JenneChip Jenne Post author

      Hi Bill, thank you for your comments. I acknowledged in my post the control issue but my point is that we first have to start with the will to change and then all flows from that. If Walz wins the governorship he will be appointing safety heads and so just as upzoning was an act of political will so too can changing traffic speeds. If we believe that 20 mph is the ideal standard, and I do based on what I’ve read on the Vision Zero movement, then we should move to lead the nation just as we are on upzoning. I was sort of hoping to get some more interest from the people who are down with upzoning since it’s such a bold move. But if the city doesn’t intend to move on a 20 mph limit I think the responsible thing is for the planners and politicians to remove any discussion of Vision Zero from the 2040 visioning document. It’s false advertising.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    State law issues notwithstanding — what is your ask, exactly? 20 mph as the standard for unmarked local streets?

    For all surface streets in the City? For CSAHs and TH 55?

    I would be very supportive of 20 or 25 mph as a broad standard for local streets. (In fact, that is already allowed in rural residential areas — why not urban ones?)

    But trying to change only the signs on streets like Park Ave, Cedar Ave, Hiawatha Ave, etc miss the point. The existing speed limits are already unrealistically low for the roadway design. Lowering them to 20 — without corresponding changes to the roadway design — would penalize drivers who are using the roadway as designed. And I don’t think it would make for a marked safety improvement with only spotty compliance.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        I believe it! My request for “your” ask was for OP, though — Chip.

        But, Bill — are there any instances of large cities getting speed compliance through heavy enforcement? Anecdotally, that seems to work for Dundas, a small town that borders Northfield. They are known for rigorous traffic enforcement — and despite the main streets being 40′-wide roads you could easily drive 45 on, I am always sure to stay at the limit.

        But I wonder if that small town approach scales well, even if cameras were legal in MN. Do motorists learn the camera locations and just comply there?

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          My example would be most towns in Wisconsin, which seem to have far better speed compliance for 25 mph limits than Minnesota towns. Just anecdotally anyway…

          Just put up a lot of cameras, move them around a bit from time to time. People will change. It’s worked in other places. Do it on the most dangerous streets, rinse and repeat.

          1. Evan RobertsEvan

            The international evidence is really clear that enforcement is a big part of achieving declines in speed, crashes, and casualties. How much it matters varies from place to place, but people are paying with their lives because we don’t have speed cameras, we don’t have red light cameras, we don’t have demerit points, and we don’t have widespread breath testing.

            With respect to speed cameras: “Compared with controls, the relative reduction in average speed ranged from 1% to 15% and the reduction in proportion of vehicles speeding ranged from 14% to 65%. In the vicinity of camera sites, the pre/post reductions ranged from 8% to 49% for all crashes and 11% to 44% for fatal and serious injury crashes. Compared with controls, the relative improvement in pre/post injury crash proportions ranged from 8% to 50%.”

        2. eric

          There are already apps that will alert you to known speed traps/ cameras/red light cameras. Most of which are banned by state law because you cant fine the car you need to fine the person which disallows the use of speed cameras (Roseville tried it and got sued) so the big question is why not just design the roads for safer foot traffic and when in doubt build a bridge over it?

        3. Chip JenneChip Jenne Post author

          Hey Sean, thanks for the comments. I believe all streets within city limits that aren’t highways or access ramps should have the 20 mph designation. I have a follow up post I’ll submit with some further thoughts on how I would envision my own Vision Zero but I thought I would open the discussion with what the Vision Zero experts think and that’s 20 mph is the standard. I don’t know what to tell you about all of the different road widths around the city except to say that if we start by lowering the speed limit we will immediately do some good and then if streets need narrowing in the future so be it. And as for enforcement I have addtional thoughts there but I find cameras to be the worst of all worlds and I think the data backs me up.

      2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        I used to be very much not in favor of speed and red light cameras (got a speeding ticket from one in DC a long time ago). Just seemed kind of unfair.

        But I’ve since come around. Might have something to do with driving a lot less.

      3. T

        Great idea. Make it harder to get ahead in life by ticketing everything.

        While we’re at it we should have more speed traps so our amazing police that dont have any racial issues can stop people discriminatly and shoot more people

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          One advantage of cameras over police enforcement is that they do not operate in a discriminatory manner (although placement can be an issue) and they can’t make up pretexts.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            I agree that automated enforcement prevents traffic stops from being pretextual — but it also seems plausible that people disadvantaged economically or socially may be more likely to have violations that could automatically enforced.

            Especially issues related to car maintenance or having current tabs.

            Even if we enforced only moving violations, there’s still the basic issue that people with time and money can easily pay a ticket — or if they care to spend the time, can probably dispute it. While for people in debt, that can contribute to a pretty negative spiral.

            That social cost may be worth it for the benefit of greater traffic safety — but it does seem like one of those “rich get richer” / “poor get poorer” type things if implemented widely.

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              Yes, obviously, fines are a bigger burden for those who can least afford them.

              I wonder to what degree that can be mitigated with signage. UK motorways, for example, provide ample warning of aerial or radar speed enforcement zones and, anecdotally, traffic does seem to slow. We want slower/safer speeds, not fines (leaving aside incentive issues with how some jurisdictions set them up with private operators), so we should want people to know they are there.

              And as I think about it, isn’t the disparate burden really the result of “random,” inconsistent enforcement? As is, you can almost always speed with no consequences, so everyone does it relying on the expectations you won’t be fined, so when you do get fined it’s a surprise and a potential spiral. If there are cameras everywhere and you know you can’t exceed the speed limit without getting one so you don’t speed, maybe that problem goes away.

            2. Janne

              I don’t think this is an easy yes/no answer on camera traffic enforcement, when considering racial equity. I don’t know whether I’m pro or anti. I do know it’s messy.

              BIPOC are less likely to own cars than white people. Street designs tend to have higher design speeds in low-income communities. BIPOC are also more likely to be the victims in crashes. That suggests we need real analysis of the burden vs. the benefits.

              Research shows that drivers of more expensive cars are more likely break minor traffic violations. That indicates cameras may rebalance what discretion and racial privilege does not.

              There’s also the question of where cameras are placed. Are they disproportionately in low-income communities with high BIPOC populations? Or are they in high-wealth communities?

              I’d love to see a streets.mn article that looked at data on this question, to inform a discussion of the real impacts it would have on people of color and low-income people. I’d also think that it would vary by community, so knowing how to assess that by community would be useful, too.

            3. mplsjarmomir

              The Finnish model should be used. Your traffic tickets are based upon your income. So each violation is in proportion to the person’s income. A Nokia executive received an 80,000 Euro fine for speeding on his Harley Davidson in Helsinki.

  3. Scott

    The Vision Zero policy restates the same actions from related policies. They should have just made an Action in the Complete Streets policy stating ‘Create a Vision Zero Action Plan’.

    The other Transportation “Policies” in Minneapolis 2040 are pretty underwhelming because they are generally a list of things the City is already doing with few specifics. The actions detailed in the Downtown Transportation, Transit, Pedestrian, and other policies are weak steps that are going on in 2018- not a bold vision for 2040.

  4. Brian

    Why doesn’t the city of Minneapolis just put up gates at the city limits and be done with cars?

    20 MPH would make the gridlock even worse. Of course, in downtown you can’t go even 20 MPH during rush hour anyhow. (No, not crazy enough to drive into the downtown core during rush hour. I take the bus.)

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I dunno. Seems to me like gridlock is typically moving at less than 20MPH and a lower speed limit would mean a lot more when traffic is free-flowing.

  5. John Holton

    McBarn… that is often an apt describer of what is going up! The worst is the three-story continuously flat side wall. The worst, worst is when it is clad in vinyl top to bottom.

    But, back to your thesis. I agree a 20MPH limit is a necessary condition for vision zero. Do you think a state referendum might succeed in allowing cities the opportunity, but not the requirement, to set their own residential (non-arterial) speed limits? I don’t have a good sense of the suburban/exurban voter – if this might be perceived as an existential threat.

  6. John Holton

    Another idea is raised sidewalk crossings that are doable by car at 20MPH, but regrettable at 30MPH. There’s a nicely designed one on Bryant above the greenway. It’s less aggressive than the speed bumps further North on Bryant. We ought to do more of these. No legislation required.

    I would really love to see this done at the major parkway crossings (Cedar, 50th, etc.) as speed limits have zero effect. Perhaps the first place to look is anywhere hawk signals already exist (sufficient numbers of pedestrians and unsafe)

  7. eric

    How about people that are walking watch where they are going? It curtails the problem at the beginning, people need to be more aware that crosswalk laws are still held to the fact that a car needs to be able to stop before you start walking. Too many times I’ve seen people looking down at their phones, not paying attention, and almost get hit because they think they can just keep going because they feel that any car has to stop immediately which is untrue. A little common sense and people wouldn’t get hit by cars. Also, changing the limit to 20 is not going to do ANYTHING the studies have been done. People go the perceived safe speed for the road. put a cop there and it’ll stop until the cop leaves. In conclusion its an idiotic idea that will not work and prove to congest roads even further.

      1. Eric Larson

        Good lord you must not understand that a car travel a set speed stop in a certain amount of time based on said speed and conditions. If you step out and are hit when you are inside that distance. It’s your own damn fault. Yes I understand about the blind people aspect but they have tried to mitigate that with crosswalks that talk. I guess maybe we should fly planes slower so we dont run into birds. Or maybe slow trains down so people that cross illegally dont get hit. Your argument makes no sense l kthksbye.

        1. Andrew Evans

          Eric… Try going through the U of M west bank sometime. The sheer amount of “students” not paying attention to ANY cross walks or traffic, and bikes without lights, is just amazing. I put students in quotes, because it’s hard to believe they would be able to make it through any college entrance standards but be that oblivious to traffic, unless they didn’t get through “how to not be hit by a car 101” yet.

          Speaking of “good lord”, I like the saying “in sha allah” and adopt it from time to time. Seems like the pedestrians you’re complaining about do as well. They leave their lives in gods hands, and cross the street. Which, isn’t really how god wants us to leave our lives up to him, and at least in western religions, we have a vengeful and mysterious god, so they may allow a pedestrian to die anyway if for nothing else than to prove a point.

          1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

            Let’s save the debate about God / taking God’s name in vain / if pedestrians “deserve” to get hit for another venue. (Or just skip it.) It’s taking this comment thread off the rails.

              1. Eric

                Understandably you see the conversation going off the rails. But to me this entire article is off the rails. We are not the UK we are not a monarchy we have laws a freedoms they do not have the CCTV system in London it’s nuts you cannot do anything without being watched is that what we are pursuing towards? How about less big brother more do your own thing and while your doing it be smart and don’t walk in front of moving traffic till it’s stopped

                1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                  You should write a counter article from this perspective. As someone who cares a lot about privacy and bike/pedestrian safety, I feel this conflict.

                  My short, somewhat cynical take is: we’re getting monitored in pervasive ways as it is, we might as well get some more benefit from being surveilled.

  8. Andrew Evans

    My goodness!

    Yes, going car free can work in cities that are dense and more or less hard to get around in anyway. The old city in Paris is a great example, I believe London is as well. Around here in the States, Lower Manhattan is similar, as well as Philly. This wouldn’t work as well in newer cities like ours that are more or less able to accommodate the amount of traffic.

    Minneapolis Police and our elected officials don’t’ seem to care about crime, let alone speeding and traffic laws, let alone lowering down the limit to 20 and trying to enforce it. There would be cries and screams in North about racial profiling, as well as other more ethnic parts of town. Then, after a few high speed chases, the public would be calling on stricter rules and more or less allowing people to get away if they decide to. We need to hold our city responsible for enforcing the laws that we have, before we can talk about anything lower.

    The police also need to start pulling over and ticketing bikes who don’t have lights, especially around the U. It’s dangerous to drive around there already with all the “student” pedestrians, and lightless bikes at night on the street makes it worse.

  9. Anon

    As a liberal-city-dweller who walked to work today (and every day), I feel that I should really be supportive of the 20mph speed limit but I just can’t get on board. On the rare occasions that I do drive a car, 20mph is miserable speed when there is nothing forcing me to go that slow. I’d support re-designing streets to make 20mph feel fast, but I’m skeptical that a 20mph speed limit on current roads would be obeyed. Red-light cameras are possible, but only if you are comfortable discarding due process. The accused loses his right to confront his accuser, which is invariably a closed-source-code traffic system. To avoid this constitutional conundrum, some areas change tickets from criminal to civil penalties; where the violator faces monetary penalties like a traffic ticket but without the due process. Furthermore, feeding at the trough of funds created by automated-traffic-enforcement creates all sorts of perverse incentives for law enforcement, private corporations, and city government. The system is not profitable if it actually changes everyone’s behavior; it profits from crime and therefore becomes a partner in it. Also, people hate traffic cameras even more than they hate 20mph speed limits. Voters have (and continue) to mobilize to have them removed by referendum, petition and other tools of democracy.

    “Zero” may not be the optimal number of traffic deaths. The value of a human life is very high but not infinite; so the loss of a human life can be traded rationally for a significant benefit to the rest of the population. Many people accept an increased chance of death in exchange for greater convenience or achieving some other benefit. Some people (who probably aren’t on this blog) choose to risk cardiovascular health, and death in an auto crash for the perceived benefit of a larger house. Other’s risk death by a car going over 20mph in exchange for the decreased risk of heart attack and a higher savings rate.

    Focusing only on human carnage from collisions with moving cars; I’m unconvinced that a 20mph speed will maximize utility. Clearly, the average collision will be less severe; but will the number of collisions change? Certainly, slower speeds allow both pedestrians and cars more time to avoid collisions, so that’s good. But we know that driver’s moderate their driving behavior according to perceived risk. In fact, this concept of risk-homeostasis applies to most human decisions about risk, so is there some reason to think that it won’t apply to pedestrians? What if making pedestrians feel safe, causes them to engage in riskier behaviors?

    If we want to get to zero pedestrian deaths, we’ll also need to ban alcohol, which history shows is a political impossibility. Approximately 1/3 of pedestrians who are killed were intoxicated. We’ll have to ban smartphones too.

    Reducing pedestrian deaths is a laudable goal. Good policy requires a fully-informed balancing of competing interests by optimizing for the benefits that most people care about. Asymptotically approaching zero traffic deaths requires absolute bans on activities and substances that most people appreciate. It is politically impossible and probably ‘plain’ impossible too.

    Anyway, thanks for the article and reading my comment; my mind is changeable by data or logic😉

    1. Monte Castleman

      That’s how Chicago does that. The due process and presumption of innocence constitutional protections don’t apply to infractions like they do to crimes, so if you consider photo red light tickets as infractions (similar to a parking ticket) like Chicago does, there’s nothing stopping you from attaching a citation against a vehicle, like tagging an illegally parked car. Presumably Minnesota could have modified the laws to ensure constitutional protections, but chose not to.

      1. Eric Larson

        Having lived in chicago. They are only trying to make money off of people and not create saftey in anyway. Speeding tickets are 75 dollars for 1 to 19 mph over and 95 for 20 and up seems like they aren’t trying to stop it just making a quick buck. I’d personally like to stay far away from anything chicago does

    2. Matt Brillhart

      “Also, people hate traffic cameras even more than they hate 20mph speed limits. Voters have (and continue) to mobilize to have them removed by referendum, petition and other tools of democracy.”


      I’d agree that people would not support cameras doing speed enforcement (as everyone invariably drives 5 mph over the limit somewhere…I likely do it every day!), but I don’t believe that to be true of red-light enforcement. I’d think a plurality of Minnesotans would lend their support to having red-light enforcement cameras.

        1. Anon

          The efficacy and desirably of traffic cameras are related, yet separate issues. I don’t question their efficacy, but I do question their desirability for a free society. In most of the US, traffic cameras are installed by politicians (because they probably work: saving lives and earning money) and then removed by people because we (collectively) hate them.

          The situation in NYC is nuanced; the cameras were only in a few school areas and they were turned off, then back on due to a tussle between state and city legislators. The specter of children-in-danger can be counted on by politicians to short-circuit normal decision-making processes in favor of an otherwise-unpopular action. So, this example does suggest a possibility for the politically-palatable, widespread use of cameras in school zones.

          Once upon a time, my car flipped thrice after being hit by a truck that ran a light, it hasn’t changed my views on traffic cameras. Most of us would rather live in a slightly more dangerous world than be continuously surveilled and policed by unaccountable technological overlords.

          1. T

            Most of us would rather live in a slightly more dangerous world than be continuously surveilled and policed by unaccountable technological overlords.

            Love this right here!

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              Most of us don’t even pause to think about the danger we pose to ourselves and others with our cars and how we drive them. If more did, I’d wager more would be willing to trade whatever tiny shred of privacy we have when speeding and running red lights on public streets for some more safety.

                1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                  Nice rhetorical trick, but I don’t think anyone views traffic enforcement as “conservative.”

                  I also think “surveillance” is a deeply misleading way to describe cameras that only issue red light or speeding tickets. Sure, slippery slope, but that’s never a strong argument.

  10. Matt SteeleMatt

    Yes, we should design our city streets for 20 MPH, and we should lower our speed limits to 20 MPH, and we should use any (equitable) enforcement method to ensure compliance with 20 MPH speed limits. This doesn’t seem complicated.

    I’m open to the previous suggestion about building a wall at the city border and banning cars, too. I like that out-of-the-box thinking.

  11. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I think a 20mph *design speed* and speed limit is a reasonable and good idea for cities like Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Jeff Speck talks about this in his new book — here’s an excerpt:

    This threshold zone of 20 to 40 miles per hour is basically where it all happens—the difference between bruises, broken bones, and death. And 20 to 40 is roughly the range of speeds that we find cars traveling on the best downtown streets. Keeping cars on the lower end of that range, therefore, must be the central objective of urban street design.

    The speed of the impact itself is not the only factor. As cars move faster, the likelihood of a crash also rises. Drivers and pedestrians alike have less time to respond to conflicts; stopping distances lengthen; and the driver’s cone of vision narrows. These factors multiply the impact of speed beyond those indicated in the above graph. It is safe to say that a car traveling 30 miles per hour is probably at least three times as dangerous as one going 25. Many cities have a downtown speed limit of 25. All should—or lower.

    These limits simplify the conversation, because it is no longer necessary to talk about “slowing drivers down.” Who wants to be slowed down? That sounds like congestion. Instead, we can simply talk about “reducing illegal speeding.”

    Streets need to be redesigned so that fewer people will speed on them. This cannot be accomplished with speed limits alone, because people do not drive the posted speed; they drive the speed that is implied by the street design. Streets must be designed to encourage the speeds that we have set for them, or the result will be illegal, deadly speeding. That is the central message, and the street designer’s mandate.

    (from https://www.citylab.com/design/2018/10/5-rules-designing-better-more-walkable-cities/569914/)

    On residential streets this is basically the situation already, and these streets could be redesigned in a few subtle ways to ensure safe speeds. The focus should be on dangerous arterials, where people drive at 40+ mph on the regular. If we fix and redesign these streets, having a city-wide speed limit of 20 would be an easy ask.

    I’ll try to write more about this in the future, but I really appreciate this article for raising the topic.

  12. Brian

    If speed cameras aren’t allowed why not have traffic agents like Minneapolis has parking agents? A traffic agent should be cheaper than a full police officer. In an ideal world traffic enforcement would be fully paid by the fines, but if enforcement goes up fines often go down.

Comments are closed.