Hennepin Avenue: A Parable of Road Design in America

It’s possible you’ve heard this joke before:

A motorist, a pedestrian, and a bicyclist are sitting at a table that has a dozen cookies on it. The motorist grabs 11 of the cookies and when the other two are reaching for what they each assumed was their cookie, the motorist exclaims: “Watch out! The bicyclist is trying to steal your cookie!”

This sentiment is common in American transportation discourse, and is still apparent in the upcoming reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. On March 4, I attended the digital open house and was flabbergasted to learn in the Q&A portion that planting trees in the median was only practical in Option 2 (the option with pavement for storing private vehicles, but no space for safe bicycle movement). I’m appalled that green transportation is pitted in a tradeoff against literal plants and greening instead of simply removing space for cars.

Screenshot from the Q&A portion of the March 4 digital open house. Source: City of Minneapolis

The more I look at the proposal, the more I believe the above proverb to be ever more applicable. Option 1 has a raised cycle track, but for some reason also has left turn lanes for cars at 24th Street and 26th Street – an addition that would make the cycle track much more dangerous to use. Option 2 has no bike facilities whatsoever, but also doesn’t have left turns at the same intersections. The dissonance is baffling.

Slide to compare Option 1 (left) and Option 2 (right) at 24th Street. Source: City of Minneapolis

Let me be clear – we need to support Option 1 as it is the only inclusive choice – but I view this as a “Yes, and” situation. Option 1 is the preferred layout, and it can still be better.

  • We must support Option 1 because it is the only choice that includes bike facilities, and would set an inexcusable precedent if the City of Minneapolis decides to ignore the goals of their own Transportation Action Plan, on one of the few City-controlled commercial corridors in the City.
  • We must support Option 1 to show Hennepin County and MnDOT our values regarding Vision Zero and Complete Streets and expect them to follow suit when it’s time for right-of-way under their control to be reconstructed.
  • We must support Option 1 to support the wellbeing of future generations in a post-fossil fuel future where street trees are abundant and people talking and laughing and eating outside is the urban standard instead of noisy streets with the screeching of tires, the polluting roar of engines, and toxic brake dust blowing in the wind.

It is possible to have good things without compromise – imagine if your favorite restaurant still had a smoking section! Car dependency is a massive, 100-year-old ship that makes it extremely difficult to steer away from, but take a look at what Paris is doing about their similarly long, very well known 1.2 mile corridor. This is an opportunity for Minneapolis to follow its own policies, have a vision and stick to it, and create a space truly special and functional for everyone.

You can leave comments on an interactive map and an online survey hosted by Minneapolis until April 16, and also be sure to head over to Hennepin For People for more engagement opportunities.

Fred Kreider

About Fred Kreider

Fred is a car-free, smartphone-free Millennial who lives in a 120-year-old NOAH duplex in Downtown Longfellow. A connoisseur of the built environment, they find it unacceptable for transportation to be deadly and believe housing is a right, not an investment. A member of the Streets.MN Climate Committee.

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