Hennepin Ave Reconstruction Should Prioritize People, Not Cars

Car dominance is set to continue in Minneapolis. In late September the city revealed six design ideas for the Hennepin Ave S reconstruction project set to begin in 2022, spanning from Douglas Ave to Lake Street just southwest of downtown. This project is the first major test of the city’s progressive agenda to prioritize pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit over cars. However, the proposed redesigns for Hennepin Ave S fail to reflect the city’s own priorities as they accommodate cars throughout.

Hennepin Ave S is dangerous in its current design. To accommodate vehicles, the street features four moving-lanes plus two hybrid-lanes for buses during rush hours and parked cars at all other times. To accommodate people, Hennepin Ave S offers very little. Despite abutting the most bikeable and walkable neighborhoods in the city, Hennepin Ave S has no bicycle lanes and narrow sidewalks for pedestrians. Along with the notoriously dangerous Lyndale Ave S several blocks to its east, Hennepin Ave S is considered one of the most hostile streets towards pedestrians and bicyclists in Minneapolis and is recognized by the city as a high-injury street that is in need of improved safety measures. This reconstruction project is long overdue.

Guiding the upcoming reconstruction project is the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Transportation Action Plan, and Vision Zero Action Plan— all of which prioritize walking, biking, and transit over motorized vehicles. These guiding documents have brought national praise to Minneapolis for the city’s progressive agenda of putting people before cars.

But progressive agendas do not guarantee progressive outcomes. The six design proposals for the Hennepin Ave S reconstruction project fail to reflect the city’s own priorities. Despite being the city’s top focus, pedestrians are set to lose sidewalk space on Hennepin Ave S in four of the six design proposals. And though the city claims bicycle infrastructure must be considered in this project, two of the six designs lack bicycle lanes entirely. If people are the city’s top priority, the six design proposals for Hennepin Ave S fail to show it.

If not people, what is the city prioritizing? It’s cars. Despite being at the bottom of the city’s stated priorities, cars are accommodated in all six designs for Hennepin Ave S. Yes, the city’s bottom priority is actually guaranteed street space. So much for a progressive agenda. As always, the automobile is accommodated without question, and all other infrastructure is merely an afterthought. If cars are truly the city’s last priority, the planners in charge of this project would have considered eliminating vehicle lanes altogether.

In fact, if the city wanted to live up to its own progressive policies, it would ban cars from Hennepin Ave S and create a transitway. Without any vehicle lanes, Hennepin Ave S could offer two lanes for buses, protected bicycle lanes to promote active transportation between Uptown and Downtown, and widened sidewalks for pedestrians. It could look a lot like Nicollet Mall in downtown or Washington Ave along the University of Minnesota’s east bank campus. The city has built transitways before, and should consider building another along Hennepin Ave S.

A transitway would also align perfectly with the city’s goals. First, a transitway would enhance bicycle and pedestrian safety, a central goal of the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan. It turns out that without cars around, pedestrians and bicyclists aren’t hit and killed quite as often. Second, a transitway would help meet the city’s goal of having 3 of every 5 trips taken by walking, biking, or public transit by 2030. Absent any vehicle lanes, people will have no choice but to use more sustainable methods of transportation. And finally, a transitway would help the city reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% over the next 30 years by removing emission-spewing cars from the street entirely. A progressive agenda is nothing without progressive plans. Accommodating cars is not progressive. A transitway is.

Cars have long been a top priority in Minneapolis, and will continue to dominate streets until the city follows its own agenda. As one of the first major tests of the city’s progressive policy to put people ahead of cars, the six design proposals for Hennepin Ave S fall short. The city should rethink its initial designs and consider a transitway along Hennepin Ave S, which would make Minneapolis more livable for people. The city’s progressive policy calls for progressive plans. Let’s hold them to that.

Grant Brokl

About Grant Brokl

Grant studies Urban and Regional Planning at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.