Hennepin Avenue Reconstruction Must Move Beyond Cars

Photo of an electric aBRT articulated bus parked near Uptown Transit Station on Hennepin. Photo by Avianenroute
Photo of an electric aBRT articulated bus parked near Uptown Transit Station on Hennepin. Photo by Avianenroute

Minneapolis is in the midst of the design phase of two major north-south corridors in South Minneapolis: Hennepin Ave from Douglas to Lake St and Bryant Ave from Lake to 50th. These are full reconstruction projects, not merely resurfacing, so the core of the design is something that we should expect to last for a half century or more. Both existing street designs date back to 1957-58, so they have been around for over 60 years now. 

When we’re planning infrastructure that will last half a century, we need to make sure we are realistic about what that half-century will bring. Any discussion of our transportation system must have as its main focus the impact on our climate. Transportation is the number one contributor to carbon emissions in this country, and getting real about climate change means drastic changes to how we get around.

We need to stop designing around cars because getting real about our transportation emissions does not just mean a switch to Electric Vehicles (EVs). It means we need to drive less, period. Our electric grid is far from zero-emission, so EVs are not so much eliminating emissions as relocating them from the tailpipe to the smokestack rising above a natural gas plant down the road. EVs are also incredibly power-hungry. In the quest to move our grid to renewables, adding a massive amount of new electricity consumption to our energy diets makes the task much harder. 

Cities, and especially corridors like Hennepin and Bryant that, are exactly where we should go furthest in designing for a future without cars. These corridors already have a high density of residents who walk, roll, bike, and bus to get around, so they’re a perfect place to really push the envelope on design.

If Minneapolis is serious about hitting its carbon reduction targets, then in 50 years we will need a lot less room for cars, and a lot more for people. That means our designs for Bryant and Hennepin must live up to the complete streets policy and truly put pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders before drivers. The concepts for both streets so far still dedicate the vast majority of the right of way to the storage and passage of private vehicles. 

Sections of Bryant’s proposed redesign maintain car storage lanes while forcing bicycles and pedestrians to share a narrow multi-use trail. Even parts that separate modes have such a narrow bike trail that it would be impossible to ride side-by-side with your friend or partner, something drivers take for granted. 

City graphic showing weekday morning rush hour mode share, with buses making up 3% of vehicles and 49% of users

Hennepin is a corridor where already at peak times buses make up around 3% of the vehicles, and around half of the actual people (PDF) moving on the corridor. But none of the proposed designs are willing to take cars off the corridor entirely. Instead, a minimum of 20’ of the right of way is dedicated to private vehicle traffic. We should be planning for a future where our commercial and residential corridors like Hennepin are designed for people, not cars.

Image of Option 3 proposed for Hennepin, showing 34′ of roadway dedicated to cars, with narrow bike lanes and a single bus lane

When looking at areas where we can make meaningful mode-shift strides away from driving, we should be very aggressively targeting corridors like Hennepin. It’s already lined with shops and has multiple grocery stores within a few blocks. Just this short stretch of Hennepin is on nearly a dozen different bus lines, including the recently updated 2, and the soon to open B and E line arterial Bus Rapid Transit routes. Over 15,000 residents already live In the area within a few blocks of Hennepin, and that number is growing. Hundreds of residents already live directly on the corridor in the more than twenty-five apartment buildings along it, including two senior high-rise buildings (with a building that will house teens aging out of foster care currently under construction), and the 2040 Comp Plan means that whatever Hennepin becomes will be the front yard for the vast majority of people who move to this area in the decades to come, particularly west of Hennepin. This is a perfect opportunity to really put into practice the ideals the city has set forth in the Transportation Action Plan, Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan, and Minneapolis Climate Action Plan. But to do that, we have to move beyond cars.

Minneapolis is holding virtual open houses on the Hennepin Ave South Reconstruction on March 2 from 4-5pm and March 4 from 6:30-7:30pm. Please join us in asking the city to live up to its promises for Hennepin Avenue and give us a design that’s equal to the challenge of climate change!

About Matt Lewis

Matt Lewis has lived in Minneapolis since 2009, after growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and spending time in Luxembourg and rural Ohio during college. He lives in South Uptown with his partner and their two cats, where they take full advantage of a Greenway entrance two blocks from their front door, and a bus stop directly in front of their fourplex. He also spends too much time on Twitter as @avocadoplex