Hennepin Avenue Hopes: Visions for a People-Centered Corridor

I’ve been daydreaming of Hennepin Avenue’s redo since its reconstruction was first announced a few years ago. Using streetmix (a free browser-based app), I created a cross-section of what I think Hennepin should look like, as a people-oriented community corridor and transit route designed as if science matters. The terrifying scientific consensus on the timeline of intensifying climate collapse was front of mind in my streetmix design choices for Hennepin Ave. 

Author’s vision of what they think Hennepin Avenue should look like, midblock cross-section

Of course, that daydream street would be possible in a different world, maybe, one where we hadn’t destroyed our hydro-powered trolley system in order to pave over every possible inch of the public right of way for driving and parking. So here’s a more realistic plan for right now, in this transportation timeline. 

Author’s compromised vision of Hennepin Avenue, midblock cross-section

At its second-to-last public engagement meeting on Tuesday, the city revealed two options. Option 1 is the only one with bike lanes at all (though they truncate at Franklin and do not connect people to the Walker/Sculpture Garden, forcing people biking to share the narrow 5’ sidewalk as they currently must). The bike-lane-less Option 2, which prioritizes private vehicle storage over the safe movement of people using and living on Hennepin, is beyond the pale and I won’t discuss it. (The cross-section of Option 1 is found in the first presentation video at 14:54.)

The rest of the cross-sections shown are all pulled directly from the measurements on Option 1. Whatever is built here will become the gold standard for the best possible outcomes for county-controlled transit routes/community corridors throughout the city. (Due to limitations of streetmix, where the City shows a right turn lane + dedicated bus lane, I had to pick only one and chose to show the dedicated bus lane, though that downplays the potential conflict between turning drivers and people crossing.)

Option 1 presented by the city at the public engagement meeting, midblock cross-section

The thing about the cross-sections that are often shown in the designs presented to the public is that they’re described as “typical” but are often mid-block. Rarely are they used to represent the major intersections, the most dangerous places for people walking, using wheelchairs, and biking. (And Hennepin Avenue is one of the deadliest city-controlled streets in all of Minneapolis for people walking, using wheelchairs, and biking.)

It’s relatively common for traffic engineers to return a foot or two of mid-block right of way to pedestrians by narrowing motorized vehicle lane widths. It’s rarer to see them do this by removing parking or driving lanes for private motor vehicles. But the real test for whether a design moves us towards a people-friendly street is—if private vehicles remain on it—what happens at those signalized intersection cross-sections. 

There’s a lot happening on Hennepin, and a lot of planning priorities revealed in the city’s Hennepin South project. It’s one of Minneapolis’ busiest transitways, and one of its most bustling community corridors, lined with apartment buildings housing hundreds of households, as well as mixed use and commercial buildings. 

As it stands, last reconstructed in 1957 (the year before Keeling et al started taking CO2 ppm readings in Hawaii, six years before the opening of anchor bar Lyle’s), Hennepin Avenue is nearly indistinguishable from Hennepin County’s infamous and far too often fatal car-oriented roads. These roads read as a litany of our most vibrant public places severed by often dangerous car-chasms: Lyndale, Broadway, Central, Lowry, Lake, Franklin, University. 

City of Minneapolis Public Works is often quick to highlight that the deadliest roads in Minneapolis are controlled by the county, the unspoken implication is that they’d do better if they were in charge. Minneapolis’ 2017 Pedestrian Crash Study is a spotlight on county decisions; the people whose lives are ended or forever altered by serious injuries along them reduced to dots on a map. 

But here, on Hennepin Avenue, it’s Minneapolis Public Works fully in charge. On Hennepin Avenue, the City of Minneapolis has its rare (not again for another generation!) chance to showcase what its talented and caring planners and engineers and elected officials want for every county-controlled community corridor in this city. 

This cross-section is pulled directly from the measurements of the City of Minneapolis’ Option 1 Design Layout
This cross-section is pulled directly from the measurements of the City of Minneapolis’ Option 1 Design Layout

Hennepin has roughly 88’ of right of way between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street, and maybe half of that where the neighborhood has been swallowed by the toxic maw of a tangled highway junction north of Franklin to Douglas Avenue. 88’ of right of way that includes intersection after intersection marked by injuries and deaths, knocked over trees and lampposts, buildings scarred by and rebuilt after errant drivers plowed into them. 88’ of Hennepin Avenue is—really—88’ of whatever your closest community corridor might be, the place where you live, work, go to school. The place where you catch your bus, where you bike, but warily. The route you warn your children to avoid because safety is their responsibility, not that of the drivers’ funneled past their school or playground at speeds fast enough to kill. The street that determines how you live.

Atmospheric CO2 is already at 415 ppm, and on pace to hit 555 ppm before Hennepin is next reconstructed, if we respond to this crisis with car-centered incrementalism instead of transformative vision. We can’t measure our dreams against the status quo of what exists now: car-centric designs that have driven climate breakdown and perpetuate a toxic legacy of environmental racism. We must face our reality fully and clearly, and make transformative plans based on physical reality, not political “reality.”

This cross-section is pulled directly from the measurements of the City of Minneapolis’ Option 1 Design Layout
This cross-section is pulled directly from the measurements of the City of Minneapolis’ Option 1 Design Layout

What do you envision on Hennepin? What does a street look like that is in line with how drastically we must reduce emissions to protect those more vulnerable than us globally? What kind of street would you make you feel protected too, crossing it, or biking along it? Where do you want to catch your bus, or sit outside with a friend?

Please, hop on Twitter with your screen shots of your #HennepinHopes, and share what kind of street you’d design. (And email them to hennepin.south@minneapolismn.gov, if you want them seen by city planners and recorded as official public commentary.)

You are also invited to attend the City of Minneapolis’ virtual meeting tonight, Thursday March 4th, from 6:30-7:30. After the meeting tonight, the public comment period will continue through April 16th with both an interactive map you can add comments to, and a survey to take. 

This cross-section is pulled directly from the measurements of the City of Minneapolis’ Option 1 Design Layout
This cross-section is pulled directly from the measurements of the City of Minneapolis’ Option 1 Design Layout

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5 thoughts on “Hennepin Avenue Hopes: Visions for a People-Centered Corridor

  1. Trademark

    Option 1 is a great design. I was worried that they wouldn’t be able to fit bike infrastructure in but they managed to do it. I think that they should also include Humboldt avenue as a bike Blvd for people who are not comfortable with biking on Hennepin or just want a bypass.

    You will never be able to sell to businesses or houses that their only access point to customers is either someone parking on a side street or walking 4 blocks to get to their business from the nearest block.

    Some car access is always going to have to be on the table. And a 3 lane road that allows cars turning left to not hold up the rest of traffic and pollute the area while their waiting is a great solution as it converts it away from the current hellscape crossing.

    I have no problem with people dreaming of things but we need to engage with the political realities of the project at the table recognizing that their are many different interests in the area that this study had to balance and they were able to satisfy them all to create a true complete street serving transit, cars, bikes, and pedestrians.

    The median that they are putting in is also very underrated for crossing midblock as it will allow people to be able to be able to cross one lane at a time.

    I get that we want to reduce private vehicles but are only focus is that without the larger focus of making transit more competitive than we do the city a disservice. If we demand unrealistic solutions we lose being taken seriously by planners.

    Option 1 is a huge improvement over the current situation and is a win for urbanists and the climate.

  2. Andy

    Both your aspirational and realistic suggestions look great to me. They remind me of an old image of how Hennepin was a long time ago – with a dedicated streetcar boulevard in the center: http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/largerimage?irn=10363457&catirn=10719920&return=q%3Dhennepin%2520%2526%2520streetcar%2520%2526%2520colfax It doesn’t seem like an option was ever considered in this planning process that didn’t include lanes for private cars, but a people-centered design would be much more achievable if we could at least consider a street design that strongly prioritized people that use wheelchairs, people that walk, people on bicycles, and people that use transit.

  3. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Good article Julia. Two quick thoughts on Option 1:

    1 – Two-Way bikeways are much more dangerous than one-way bikeways on each side as drivers look only to their left for cars (which are a threat to them) approaching from that direction. Most drivers do not look to the right for bicycle riders. Many European countries will no longer allow two-way bikeways except in rural areas where there are extremely few junctions or driveways entering.

    2 – 10′ motor vehicle lanes are quite wide and in other safer countries are for 55-60 MPH traffic. In CROW countries these lanes would, I believe, be 9′ and the transit lanes 10′. This results in lower speeds but far more importantly in drivers paying much better attention. It also provides for more space for safe bicycling and walking and reduces crossing distances.

    Realistically… Getting a 8-10′ one-way bikeway on each side is probably doable and would result in a much safer design. Narrowing the lanes to the safer designs used by other developed countries might be impossible but is something that I think should be vocalized so that traffic engineers keep hearing it instead of living in the insular world they currently do.

  4. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    “The thing about the cross-sections that are often shown in the designs presented to the public is that they’re described as “typical” but are often mid-block. Rarely are they used to represent the major intersections, the most dangerous places for people walking, using wheelchairs, and biking. (And Hennepin Avenue is one of the deadliest city-controlled streets in all of Minneapolis for people walking, using wheelchairs, and biking.)”

    This is a critical point.

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