The City of Minneapolis has proposed two options for the redesign of Hennepin Avenue. The primary difference between these choices is the presence of a two-way off-street bike path in one, but not the other. The attention on the redesign poses two simultaneous questions: Which of the two options is better, and should the entire redesign be redesigned or delayed to preserve on-street parking?
However, transit riders and pedestrians are equally important parts of the Hennepin Avenue streetscape. According to figures published by the City of Minneapolis, bus riders make up 49% of the people moving through Hennepin Avenue during an average rush hour. To use a term that feels like nails on a chalkboard, pedestrians and transit riders are stakeholders in Hennepin Avenue, and should be engaged accordingly.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Hennepin for People was gathering signatures along the Midtown Greenway. I joined them, and decided to talk to people at and around the Uptown Transit Center. I haven’t been a transit rider since the pandemic started, and this shouldn’t be seen as a definitive survey. That being said, some themes emerged.
Many of the questions came down to the tradeoff between on-street parking and a two-way bike path. The idea of an off-street bike path was popular amongst the people I spoke with, as people were concerned with safety, and found the concept of increased accessibility to businesses along Hennepin exciting. Even amongst those who were skeptical of removing car lanes, the idea of having cyclists both off of the street and the sidewalk was appealing. Support for bike facilities was helped by the fact that this redesign will see Hennepin Avenue through the next several decades; when people considered what the city will look like some 50 years from now, changes to the balance of priorities on a street seemed less radical.
Much of the disagreement centered around the fact that bikes already have Bryant Avenue and the Midtown Greenway near Hennepin, and there is no need to further prioritize them. Taking for granted the idea of Bryant being a bike facility (a whole other article), the extent to which adding any cycling infrastructure feels like giving something up is striking.
Restricting left turns was a concept that also proved popular. Being a pedestrian is necessarily a part of being a transit rider, and several people discussed their experiences with drivers making left turns into driveways. An actual median, combined with left turn lanes at lights, would be a welcome improvement. Lastly, there is no better advertisement for the necessity of aggressive change than the setting of Hennepin itself. Seeing multiple lanes of backed-up cars was a helpful reminder that even at current spec, Hennepin does not succeed at safely and efficiently moving people.
Where does this leave us? It would be hard to discuss this without mentioning how both Option 1 and Option 2 abandon any pretense of safe street design between the Transit Center and Lake Street, choosing instead to prioritize multiple car lanes. Also, more outreach is needed to people who live and take transit on Hennepin Avenue. These are people who spend significant amounts of time on Hennepin, yet are easily dismissed as just passing through.
This is a rare opportunity to push for positive change in a city project. Submit comments on the City’s project page by April 16th.