Hennepin Ave facing Lake St, crowded with bus and cars. Not bike friendly.

Safe Streets are Good for Business

It’s a day ending in -y, so business owners are concerned about parking again. This time we’re on Hennepin Avenue, between Douglas and Lake. Is it Uptown? Only a certain former city council member could tell you

Screenshot of the Star Tribune article about business owners on Hennepin

Business owners on Hennepin got loud enough about the prospect of less street parking in the upcoming reconstruction that the Strib wrote it up with the provocative headline “Hennepin Avenue business owners to city: Don’t take our parking”. Putting aside the… questionable idea that street parking on Hennepin–built, owned, maintained, plowed, and paid for in full by the city–is somehow “their parking,” I think they have this completely backwards.

If people want to spend time on Hennepin Avenue, they will spend more money at businesses on Hennepin. Contrary to popular belief, and close to a century of American urban built environment, a sea of asphalt parking spaces does not make for a place where people want to voluntarily spend time. What it does is make it easy for someone to drive right to where they want to go, dart in and out, and be on their way.

Right now Hennepin is designed around cars. It’s noisy, polluted, there aren’t enough trees, the road is extremely wide, and cars go very fast. It’s a corridor that’s built for cars, not people, and it means that people don’t really want to hang out there for long. The irony is that Hennepin is also frustrating to drive on, and is a high-injury street, according to Minneapolis crash data. As it stands, Hennepin works for nobody. When I need or want to go to a business on Hennepin, I bike up through the interior of the Wedge, only venturing out onto Hennepin at the last possible moment. As a result, I only ever go to the one place I intended to go. (I’ve been trying to find photos of Hennepin for this post, and I couldn’t. I just never want to spend time there, so I don’t take photos of it.)

Patios at Nico’s Tacos and Namaste on Hennepin Ave. Photo credit: John Edwards

A street that is good for business is a street where you walk to get ice cream, but stop in to the record store on the way. A street where you go out to dinner, then stop at a pub on your walk home. Where you go to pick up a book at the bookstore, and wander in and buy a bike at the shop next door. 

People get so stuck in a windshield mindset that they can’t imagine a world where people don’t drive. But every time we reclaim a little space for people, it’s wildly popular. Wildly popular streets are good for business. 

The good news is you can still make your voice heard! Let the city know you want a better Hennepin Avenue, one that works for people. Let them know safe places to walk and bike are more important than short term parking. The best part is it’s not even the tradeoff that business owners keep saying it is. If Hennepin is a safer street, everyone benefits.

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