Hennepin Avenue gets me to the places I want to be and the people I like to be around. So many good things require a treacherous crossing: rhubarb ice cream, the Sculpture Garden, access to the lakes.
I mainly experience Hennepin on foot, by transit, or the occasional bike crossing. On days where I have to dodge an endless series of gas station curb cuts at 25th and Hennepin, I worry I’m not tall enough to be seen by inattentive drivers. Sometimes I have to decide if I feel brave enough just to take a short trip in my supposedly walkable neighborhood. We don’t properly weigh the cost, the lost opportunity, of streets so hostile to people. How many trips do we not take on foot or by bike because it feels like too much of a risk?
Often when I’m waiting to cross the wide expanse of Hennepin, I think about the space given over to cars that encourage dangerously high speeds, the reckless maneuvers and red light running that puts everyone at risk, including other drivers. I think about the pollution they bring to my community.
Riding a bike, walking, or taking transit shouldn’t be a political statement, a form of protest or defiance–they’re merely modes we use for transportation. I’m a woman of color that wants to be safe on my commute. I want a reconstructed Hennepin that ensures safe and comfortable passage for the Black, Indigenous and brown people biking, walking, or busing themselves here every day. And if you depend on your car, I care about your safety too. Nobody is served well by the reckless behavior encouraged by the existing design.
Late last summer, I suffered an injury and it became more clear what a challenge it was getting around. It took longer to walk places, I had to go out of my way, exerting even more energy. I could no longer hop over the little obstacles which had suddenly become impossible barriers. It opened my eyes to how we fail our neighbors with mobility issues. I’m even more certain now, especially in winter months.
The outcome I want for the Hennepin reconstruction is a people-centered street with both dedicated bus and bike lanes, more pedestrian space, trees and green space, shorter crossing distances, public benches, not having to press a button to cross the street, raised crosswalks, raised curb cuts, and anything that prevents drivers from turning into me as I’m crossing the street.
If we make our streets places people feel safe, places they enjoy, they will choose to travel and experience those places outside of a car. Our city has an opportunity to make a serious effort tackling emissions by reducing car trips and encouraging the use of other modes. I want our adopted policies of Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and the Transportation Action Plan properly implemented in the final design with an eye to the future. I want to be presented with only designs that meet all the criteria from these adopted policies.
Even with our city’s existing policies that prioritize vulnerable users and acknowledge climate change, we aren’t guaranteed an outcome that lives up to those policies. You still need to get involved. There are loud voices ready to double down on decades of mistakes that have given our streets over almost entirely to car travel and car storage. People like you and me are dismissed as activists, when all we want is a safer, more livable city.
Hennepin can be a model for future street reconstructions, even for County owned streets like Lyndale and Lowry Avenues. It’s time to break with the mistakes of the past and start getting it right–right now. Because we’ll be living with this next version of Hennepin Avenue for the next 50 years.
What does Hennepin mean to you? What’s your vision for Hennepin? Share it with the city at Thursday’s virtual open house
Hennepin South Virtual Open House
Thursday, March 4th 6:30-7:30 pm
Meeting link: tinyurl.com/hennepinproject
Leave a comment with your preferred design concept; comments close on April 16th.
What to expect at the meeting.
Want to read more about Hennepin.