For generations, city streets like Hennepin Avenue were built solely with car travel in mind, neglecting the needs of people and neighborhoods. In the city’s recommended layout for Hennepin Avenue South, from Lake Street to Douglas Avenue, I see a street that values people who walk, roll, bus, bike, and drive.
It’s not an accident that the city’s professional, non-partisan Public Works staff is recommending a design with 24/7 bus lanes, a sidewalk-level bike path, numerous pedestrian improvements, and safer driving features like dedicated left turns lanes. It’s a response to transportation and climate policies adopted by the City Council and signed by a series of mayors over the last decade. It’s a response to crash data that puts Hennepin Avenue among our city’s highest injury streets. The truth is, the street as currently designed doesn’t serve anyone well, least of all the Black, brown, and Indigenous neighbors who experience the most traffic-related fatalities across our city.
The city’s recommended layout is an inclusive design that redistributes space in a way that considers the needs of everyone who uses the street. It’s a recognition that over decades we have surrendered a wildly disproportionate amount of public space to high-speed private car travel. The current design of Hennepin Avenue is a pass-through street. The new design will encourage people to spend time in the area. It can become a place to gather, linger, shop, and dine at our great local businesses – both for visitors and for the 15,000 people who live in neighborhoods to either side of this stretch of Hennepin. The most important change brought by this design is that no matter how people get around, they can do so safely.
The biggest concern we hear is about parking. What gets lost is that on-street parking on Hennepin Avenue itself constitutes less than 10% (342 spots) of the total available parking (3630 spots) along the corridor. Here’s the data from the city’s parking study: cross streets provide 453 spots, parking ramps provide 1,405, and parking lots add another 1,430. Even during the busiest times of day, 25-50% of on-street parking on the Hennepin corridor – most of which is on cross streets, not Hennepin itself – goes unused. Continuing to misallocate public street space to car parking, at the expense of other compelling public interests, isn’t consistent with data that says the street currently provides too much.
Anecdotally, what I hear when I talk to my friends and neighbors is that very few of them are willing to park on Hennepin Avenue as it is. They prefer to park on a side street or interior street and walk a short distance. Hennepin as currently designed is not a street you want to step out from your car and immediately confront fast moving traffic.
There is also the misconception that this reconstruction is optional. The reality is, this stretch of Hennepin Avenue was last reconstructed in 1957. With federal funding lined up to help pay for it, now is the time to set the stage for the next 60 years. The street will be reconstructed. Aging infrastructure under the street needs to be replaced. We owe it to ourselves to be ambitious and forward thinking with its design – and realistic about the current street’s very real problems.
We can’t compete with suburbs on parking overabundance. We should embrace what makes this area special: the density of people and destinations, and the choices we have for how to travel. More than 15,000 people live in the project area. Half of the people who use Hennepin during rush hour are on Metro Transit buses. If we can’t implement the city’s policies here, then where? I understand the tendency to be resistant to change, but this change will be a good one. This recommended layout will deliver on the promise of a place where people and local businesses can thrive.