Prioritize People on East Hennepin, Not Cars

When people are asked how a busy street could be made safer, two suggestions always come up. For better or worse these are: put in a stoplight, or put in stop signs. For example, local business representatives recently called for a stoplight on every block of Lyndale Ave S after Ted Ferrara was killed by a driver while crossing Lyndale. In my neighborhood, the situation is no different. The Marcy-Holmes and Beltrami neighborhood associations both demand a stoplight at East Hennepin Ave and 5th Ave SE, in contrast to the modern pedestrian and bike crossing accommodations that Minneapolis and Hennepin County have proposed alongside a road diet of E Hennepin.

However, installing a stoplight on E Hennepin would be a move towards a car-oriented future and limits our right to cross the street. To make meaningful progress on complete streets and climate emergency goals, Hennepin County and Minneapolis must choose a design that prioritizes biking, walking, and rolling ahead of drivers.

Hennepin Crossing Mpls

East Hennepin is currently four lanes wide with an overhead, yellow, flashing beacon at the 5th St SE crossing. Photo from City Of Minneapolis project website.

East Hennepin to Get a Road Diet

Anyone who has crossed East Hennepin Avenue at 5th Ave SE knows that it’s terrifying. Currently, East Hennepin is four lanes wide with a median traffic speed of 45 MPH, making it extremely dangerous for people crossing at 5th Ave SE to go to businesses like the coffee shop or brewery on Hennepin, or folks crossing to continue on the Presidents Bike Boulevard in Northeast. In December, a neighbor’s dog was killed by a motorist when they were hit in a horrific hit-and-run while crossing here. You can also see some anxiety-inducing moments from streets.mn contributor Jesse Thornsen’s commute at this intersection as well as their ideas to fix it here.

Thankfully, East Hennepin is planned for a resurfacing and road-diet in summer of 2020. The plan is to convert E Hennepin from four lanes to three lanes (two travel lanes plus a center turn lane) between 8th St SE and 10th Ave SE/Johnson St NE, with the addition of buffered, on-street bike lanes.

Project Limits

East Hennepin Avenue will be resurfaced from 8th St SE to 10th Ave SE by Hennepin County in Summer 2020.

5th Ave SE is the only marked crossing of East Hennepin for the half mile stretch between 8th St and 10th Ave, and this is also the route along the Presidents Bike Boulevard. Accordingly, the City of Minneapolis is simultaneously improving E Hennepin between 5th Ave SE and Pierce St NE. Where people currently must bike on the Hennepin sidewalk, the City is adding a sidewalk-level bike path. To help people cross E Hennepin, the current flashing yellow beacon will be replaced with more modern rapid rectangular flashing beacons, and the center lane will have a pedestrian refuge median.

Compared to a stop light, this setup is very good thing as it gives people the right-of-way to cross instantly. If you’ve every traveled along streets like 6th Ave SE at University or Washington Ave downtown, you know that poorly timed lights can be a big deterrent to using that route. We often cannot trust Public Works to give people outside of cars priority.

Therefore, this plan sounds like it’ll make traveling by all modes a lot safer, right? As always, neighbors are concerned about traffic.

proposed crossing design

Proposed crossing of East Hennepin at 5th Avenue, with rapid rectangular flashing beacons, a pedestrian refuge median, and a sidewalk-height bike path on the north side of Hennepin.

Neighbors Concerned About Traffic

Sometimes, trips in single-occupancy SUVs become slightly less convenient when we make our streets inclusive for all modes of travel. In this case, left turns would be restricted from E Hennepin onto 5th Ave SE from 4 to 6 pm to prevent traffic congestion behind a driver waiting to turn left. Instead of turning here, drivers would either turn earlier onto 10th Ave SE, or later at 8th St SE. This is really a small price to pay, since people on bike and foot constitute over half of the turning traffic.

Turns

During peak hours, over half of turns at this intersection are on bike and foot, according to this graphic from the City.

Neighbors are concerned that if left turns are restricted onto 5th Ave, big trucks will come rumbling by their houses on 8th St SE during a two hour window. Yet, only four (4) trucks were observed to turn onto 5th Ave during a 4 to 6 pm traffic study. That’s only one truck per 30 minutes, during six percent of the week. This concern is pretty ridiculous, as eight times more people turn here on bike than by truck.

After this was proposed, the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association sent out multiple calls to action for residents to demand a stoplight at this intersection so drivers can turn here 24/7. From the other side of Hennepin, the Beltrami Neighborhood Council put out a vague survey intended to gather support for an additional traffic study. In this survey, concerns about the crossing, like “access to businesses”, could be used to support any position.

Hennepin Info

Survey about the intersection from Beltrami Neighborhood Council, which seeks “to have the city conduct additional traffic studies before finalizing their plan for this intersection.”

Survey List

Survey question from the Beltrami Neighborhood Council on concerns about the East Hennepin/5th Ave SE crossing.

In response to these objections by neighborhood association members, the Dec 3rd City Council vote to approve this design was postponed by Council Member Fletcher.

How to Make Our Streets Safe

No sensible person denies that large trucks endanger vulnerable street users. In November, Alex Wolf was killed in downtown Minneapolis by a turning box truck driver hauling a trailer. In May, a US Foods truck driver also ran over a bicyclist in downtown Minneapolis. Clearly, there are safety issues associated with trucks in cities.

The danger posed by large trucks gets exacerbated by unprotected bike lanes. On 8th Street SE, where turning vehicles would be redirected from the turning restriction on E Hennepin, the painted bike lanes are constantly blocked by vehicles and covered in snow in the winter. Assuming that concerns by neighbors are about safety of vulnerable street users, not disruption of their quaint street, then what really needs to be addressed is the street design that leaves no safe space to bike. By removing free, curbside car storage spaces, there is plenty of room for protected bike lanes that would keep vehicles away from people on bikes. To make the neighborhood safer, the neighborhood associations should instead lobby for safe bike lanes.

Blocked 8th St

Neighbors consider the 8th St SE bike lanes an accomplishment, but they’re always blocked by vehicles like this USPS truck.

This is not all we can do to protect vulnerable street users from trucks. The city has an existing ban on trucks over 55 feet long that goes unenforced. In addition, the city should repurpose existing curbside car storage spaces for loading zones and perhaps restrict deliveries in busy areas to off-peak times.

By installing more traffic signals like stoplights, we facilitate a future with so much car traffic that we need expensive, complicated signals to control it. Now is the time for the city and county to stick to their own guidelines and prioritize people over cars.

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18 Responses to Prioritize People on East Hennepin, Not Cars

  1. Risa Hustad January 23, 2020 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks for writing on this topic, Sam.

    Interesting to note that the city’s website encourages residents to call 9-1-1 if they observe a 10+ ton truck off of a truck route:
    http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/ward7/council_ward7_ward_7_faqs

    Here are the “truck routes” around the city: http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@publicworks/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-140430.pdf

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller January 23, 2020 at 11:11 am #

    How about we just ban trucks on 8th St. SE from 4-6pm and call it a day?

    We certainly shouldn’t be sacrificing safety to facilitate 4 trucks.

  3. SHELDON GITIS January 23, 2020 at 11:50 am #

    A word to the wise. As someone who has driven through this absolutely horrendous bicycle-pedestrian crossing a couple times, when you push the button to activate the sky-high flashing signal, don’t expect someone approaching from behind another nearby vehicle to see either you or the crossing signal. The only thing the driver behind another driver sees is what appears to be some nut in front of him/her who seems lost or having some other difficulty and is driving 10 mph on a 30 mph street. I’m not criticizing the slow driver, what I’m saying, is the idiotic overhead signal is worse than worthless for warning nearby vehicles that there’s someone trying to cross the road. The driver is looking at the car in front of them, not staring up into sky at the flashing light or looking off to the right to see if there’s someone trying to cross. The natural instinct for the driver following the 10 mph vehicle, is to get past it as quickly and safely as possible, and if you’re the poor schmuck who pushed the button thinking you’ve activated a viewable crossing signal, be aware that may not be the case.

    Hopefully, they’ll reconfigure the street and get rid of a lane in each direction and put the crossing signal where drivers will see it before someone gets killed or another serious collision occurs.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller January 23, 2020 at 1:00 pm #

      Not saying you’re wrong, but the “natural” instinct is a thing we have to find a way to change. When you (we) see another car slowing/stopping, we should be trying to figure out why and whether we need to do the same, not trying to get around it as quickly as possible.

      But yes, as you say, that can be fixed by getting rid of an unneeded lane.

      • Sheldon Gitis January 23, 2020 at 6:24 pm #

        What you’re trying to figure out, when you’re on a 4-lane road with traffic often moving at 40-50 mph, and the vehicle that has just turned in front of you from one of the side streets is going 10 mph, is how to get past the vehicle as fast as you can before you get rear ended. And if, as you’re passing the slow moving vehicle, some poor smuck pushes the button and tries to cross as the light flashes overhead, some poor schmuck is going to get killed or seriously injured. As I think others may have suggested, whoever engineered that horrible crossing should be forced to use it.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller January 24, 2020 at 10:34 am #

          Respectfully, “you” should be more worried about whom you may kill with your car than your rear bumper.

          • Sheldon Gitis January 24, 2020 at 10:57 am #

            Adam, I am much more worried about who I hit with my car, that’s why I’m bothering to try to warn any poor soul who may be foolish enough to think that the idiotic crossing signal is going to make crossing safer, when in fact, the opposite is the case. The driver behind the slow moving vehicle does not see the person trying to cross the street, and if the person trying to cross the street, pushes the button as the driver behind the slow moving vehicle is making his/her move to pass the slow moving vehicle, you’ve got an accident waiting to happen. Also, if the driver in the passing vehicle is very near the idiotic overhead signal when it is activated, the driver does not and cannot see the idiotic overhead signal unless s/he is looking up into the sky rather than down road where s/he should be looking. The simple and what should be immediate improvement to that crossing is to eliminate a lane of traffic in each direction and move the signal down to street level where it will be seen.

  4. N M January 23, 2020 at 12:26 pm #

    I agree that a stop light is not right but a RRFB is just as car friendly given that there is zero adherence to the requirement to yield to pedestrians. I’d like to see an on-demand flashing red to communicate to drivers that a stop is required rather than just giving them a flashing yellow. With a fire station coming to this intersection sometime in the near future the fire vehicles could also trigger the flashing red without giving normal neighborhood traffic a dedicated phase.

    • Monte Castleman January 23, 2020 at 12:45 pm #

      A regular signal is probably not warranted and a R-Y-G pedestrian signal would not be allowed, but they could easily put up a HAWK here, although having it triggered also by a fire truck would not be allowed. But we’re talking about a city that won’t even install flashing yellow arrows on rebuilt traffic signals despite how much safer they are to all users.

    • Sam Penders
      Sam Penders January 23, 2020 at 1:31 pm #

      I disagree that there is zero adherence to RRFB. With four beacons, which is the proposal for here, the yield compliance rate is about 90 percent.

      https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/pedbike/10046/index.cfm

      • Alex January 23, 2020 at 3:07 pm #

        Personally I have observed significantly below-average compliance with marked crosswalks from motorists in Minnesota. In my experience, fewer motorists yield to pedestrians in crosswalks in Minnesota than in Washington, DC, the suburbs of Chicago, or even coastal Florida (where the study you reference took place). My understanding is that Minnesota DOTs resisted striping crosswalks at unsignalized intersections until very recently (I think the first in Minneapolis was the Greenway crossing of Minnehaha Ave, roughly 2010). From what I’ve seen, the more marked crossings there are, the better the compliance. The logical conclusion is to support more marked crossings, but during the early phases of adoption (now) maybe limit installations to elaborate types like HAWKs.

        • N M January 23, 2020 at 4:17 pm #

          I don’t think marked crosswalks will help. There are marked high-visibility crosswalks at traffic signals and turning motorists still don’t yield. In my somewhat professional opinion, when people can’t be trusted to use the privilege correctly, you might need to take the privilege away. In this case that means telling drivers that they need to stop by giving a red rather than giving them any agency to decide whether they can proceed.

          I experienced this when I lived in Madison, WI and it definitely had better compliance than an RRFB while also giving cyclists and pedestrians clearer direction about when they had “protected” right of way vs. unprotected: https://www.cityofmadison.com/trafficengineering/Announ/BlairMif/HybridSigBro.pdf

          So clearly this can be done in the US and maybe it should be the starting point for the discussion and if it ends up being an RRFB, at least we tried.

          • Alex January 24, 2020 at 4:39 pm #

            I agree that for Minneapolis & other places with a culture of very poor compliance, big expensive solutions like the one you link to are necessary for the initial phases of crosswalk expansion.

            However, I’ve noticed nationally that the level of crosswalk compliance tends to correlate with the number of crosswalks overall. Where I live, on the west coast, the level of compliance is very high even on crosswalks with no HAWKs, RRFBs, or other helper beacons. I believe it’s not a coincidence that crosswalks are everywhere. So I think the end goal for cities with basically no crosswalk compliance, like Minneapolis, or kinda OK crosswalk compliance, like Madison, is to have crosswalks everywhere. Eventually they will not need the costly helper beacons to go with every marked crosswalk.

            I haven’t been able to find any studies addressing the reasons behind differing crosswalk compliance rates. If you know of any, I’d welcome them.

  5. Steve Gjerdingen January 23, 2020 at 12:59 pm #

    Why isn’t Minneapolis considering building the median through the entirety of E Hennepin between 10th Ave and 8th St SE? If we ever want to see the Hennepin Corridor get redeveloped in such a way that pedestrians can cross mid-block along here (as they should be able to) we need to build Hennepin in such a way that it is possible to do so. There is prime real estate east of Pierce and west of 5th Ave that would benefit from having easier access across Hennepin.

    • Sam Penders
      Sam Penders January 23, 2020 at 1:17 pm #

      Just a clarification: it’s a County street, so it would be up to Hennepin County to do that. This overall project is just a street resurfacing–not a reconstruction–so that would be beyond the scope of this project.

      I agree that Hennepin has a ton of potential, and opportunities to cross it are terrible. Hopefully when this is reconstructed (not sure when that would be), we can get real protected bike lanes, more medians, and tabled crosswalks.

  6. Brian January 23, 2020 at 3:45 pm #

    The city just activated a new RRFB in the north loop about six weeks ago. As a pedestrian I have little faith that cars will stop once I hit that button.

    I’m not sure any law requires cars to stop at a flashing yellow light other than the fact they are supposed to stop for a pedestrian. Drivers are conditioned that a flashing yellow is simply a yield and not a stop. I wish the city could have put in something with a solid red light to stop cars.

    Many of us assumed the city was putting in a full traffic signal and not simply a RRFB.

  7. Robbie January 27, 2020 at 9:46 pm #

    This article is so prevalent as a pedestrian was hit tonight, 1/27 Crossing East Hennepin at 5th Ave. It was about 6:50 p.m. I haven’t heard if the person lived or not but considering the speed people go down East Hennepin. I would say not.

    • Jeni February 1, 2020 at 6:45 pm #

      The person did live…she is my daughter. She suffered multiple injuries, but is doing well considering everything that she just went through.

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