Last night, I attended a listening session for Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis, focused on the serious safety issues between Lake Street and Franklin Avenue. The event was organized by the county commissioner for the area, Marion Greene. Dozens of neighbors spoke about their experiences walking, driving, and biking on Lyndale.
The neighbors covered a lot of issues: cars don’t stop, particularly at uncontrolled intersections (25th, 27th, 29th). Even at signals, driver behavior puts people walking at risk — one man was seriously injured after a crash at a light this past summer. Two others talked about the wearing emotional aspects of dealing with drivers harassing and threatening them for simply crossing the street.
After about an hour of testimony from residents, county engineer Carla Stueve gave some initial responses. Although she offered some welcome suggestions (bumpouts using plastic flex post delineators, turn restrictions), she immediately discounted the most significant tool that could improve Lyndale in the near term: a 4-to-3 conversion. This, she said, could only be done under a reconstruction but the county would “consider” this feedback at that time.
This is unacceptable.
Turning A Ship
People who attended the meeting were clearly hoping for something better than “considering” feedback at a distant, undefined date. Although Commissioner Marion Greene was clearly sympathetic to the need for action, she defended a slow process as necessary given the structure and practices of the county. This, she said, was like turning a ship — and must happen slowly.
Earlier in the same meeting, engineer Stueve noted that the street was constructed in 1954. From what I can tell, there have been no striping changes since that time. To me this demonstrated that the ship metaphor misses a key point: the nimbleness of the county isn’t the problem. The fact that the ship has been heading in the wrong direction on this street for 65 years is the problem. While the slow-turning ship may reflect past inaction on the street, it is not inevitable and should not confine a future vision for what this street can be.
Precedent for immediate action
Hennepin County is no stranger to 4-to-3 conversions. In fact, they created a handy map of 4-to-3s done on county roads:
The vast majority of these conversions were done with mill-and-overlay projects, where the top layer of road surface is replaced (much more quickly and cheaply than reconstructing). If the pavement were in good shape, they could simply grind out the old striping or seal coat over it and restripe without an overlay.
Restriping now is the right answer for Lyndale
Restriping Lyndale prior to a reconstruction would provide an immediate safety benefit, but it would also answer help key questions. We have seen this work in Richfield. In 2010, Hennepin County did an overlay and restripe of Portland Avenue — just five years before it would be fully reconstructed.
In addition to providing improvements sooner, it also helped guide the final redesign. For example: speeds were more consistent after the conversion, but still too fast, so they narrowed the lanes on the final restripe. Pedestrians still had difficulty crossing, so a marked crosswalk with a refuge island was included on every block. Shoulders provided a welcome option for bicycling on Portland, but families still didn’t feel safe biking with 35 mph traffic, so a mixed-use path was included in the reconstruct.
Had we not done a “temporary” restripe, we would never have learned those things, and our reconstructed street would be less effective.
Lyndale would be the highest-volume 4-to-3 conversion Hennepin County has ever done. It’s no surprise that makes engineers more wary. But the precedent-setting nature of it is exactly why the County should act now, doing a 2020 test restripe and seeing actual results for people driving and walking alike.
Among those key questions that I think need to be answered are:
- How does traffic respond to reduced capacity? Does some traffic shift to other streets?
- How do signals perform in real-life conditions?
- How are bus speeds impacted?
- Are there any new specific safety issues created (e.g., passing on shoulder, aggressive turns off side streets)
I am not certain that a 3-lane layout will work for Lyndale. However, there a lot of variables to human behavior and I think these questions can best be answered in a real-life test of a 3-lane roadway. This would mirror Ramsey County’s highly successful effort on Maryland Avenue.
Restripe Lyndale as soon as the pavement is above freezing. Collect data throughout the summer, and decide whether to put it back (and prioritize reconstruction) or leave it in fall 2020. The time is now.