graphic showing hennepin design with dedicated bus lane, protected bikeway

Reclaiming Hennepin’s Promise

Today, I’m asking for your help. It’s a little for me, but it’s really for us all, for our children’s future, for our lakes, and for our planet. I need you to do two things: send an email, and submit a comment. 

Hennepin Avenue is my front yard. I’ve lived at Hennepin and 22nd for a quarter of a century. 

I chose my place using a proto-WalkScore. I loved walking for errands and bumping into friends on the street in college and growing up. I wanted that in my Minneapolis home, too. I marked up maps with bus stops, grocery stores, pharmacies, and video rental stores. If a place wasn’t within two blocks of two dots, I wouldn’t consider living there.

Hennepin had everything. I was excited to live on a super-walkable street. 

Too many people to count on a sidewalk and patio, guitar-playing busker on the sidewalk
What I envisioned before I moved in. (image: Hennepin for People)

After I moved in, I realized the unpleasantness of Hennepin between Franklin and Lake. Within a couple years, I could recite whether the east or west side of each block was nicer to walk on. (Pro tip: avoid parking lots and blank walls.) 

I upped “unpleasant” to “scary” when I started catching the bus with small kids. Getting to the stop required clutching tiny hands in crosswalks. Waiting was unending hypervigilance as kids snuck up to the curb to spy arriving buses. I tried to figure out how to bike to the hardware store and my doctor without having to ride on Hennepin. It turns out one-way neighborhood streets designed to discourage cut-through traffic discourage me on my bike, too. Planning a happy hour with friends who live on the other side of Hennepin requires negotiating who has to cross the street. 

Bicyclist riding slowly on the sidewalk at the corner of 28th and Hennepin
The obvious choice for people on bike when there are few alternatives and a frightening street. (image: Hennepin for People)

Eventually, I realized that Hennepin traumatizes the people on it every day. It only takes your car being t-boned once by a turning driver, it only takes a couple aggressive drivers to buzz or bully someone walking or biking to trigger a permanent “danger” instinct. For me, it doesn’t help that I’ve listened to sirens up the block after Dana Schwan was killed in a crash. Dana was riding a bike in a spot where I ride several times a week.

Same.

Just like people imagine planting a tree or installing a swingset for a nicer front yard, I imagine a lovable Hennepin Avenue. It has quiet, shady sidewalks with patios, lots of bike parking, fast transit and slow cars. The barriers to make it real are big – but shrinking. In 2002, I learned how parking requirements blocked Chipotle from building apartments over their restaurant. (Instead of neighbors at 26th and Hennepin, we got Lake Chipotle. We fixed the parking policy, and that wouldn’t happen today.) 

I worked with many business owners to install bike parking near their doors, and when I eat or shop I often use those racks.

Bike racks in front of The Lowry restaurant, bikes locked to racks
(Image: Hennepin for People)

I organized people in support of the painted bus lanes. I’ve worked to transform the street closer to my dream, welcoming neighbors, requesting small pedestrian improvements, and turning out comments to support an improved Bottleneck. I helped organize Open Streets so people could experience what our streets can be. Along the way, I’ve met hundreds of other people who want Hennepin to be a great place for people, and now we have a chance to get it right.

Proposed Design-accurate rendering of Hennepin with people walking in the sidewalk, adults and families biking in the protected bikeway, a bus in the 24-hour dedicated bike lane, flowers in the median
What could be on Hennepin (image: Hennepin for People)

I’m thrilled that the City’s recommendation for rebuilding Hennepin is a big step towards that dream. It’s recognition of what Minneapolis aspires to be. It reminds us that we have to build for the future when we rebuild our streets only once every 67 years. 

All Minneapolis official City plans put people and climate before free-flowing traffic. This is the first time we get to see what that looks like on a major street. The wider sidewalks, protected bikeways, 24-hour bus lanes, and parking and curb management are all there. They are a big improvement in safety for the most vulnerable people using Hennepin. They’re a step towards achieving our ambitious racial equity and climate goals. They will improve life for the many people who live and work right on this stretch of Hennepin. Contact your council member and the mayor, let them know: It’s good!

Take Action! 

Here’s where I need your help with two simple things

  1. Submit a comment before the January 28th deadline. 
  2. Email the mayor and your council member (emails here).

In both, say the recommendation is good and you want them to support it. Also, remind them that it could be even better! Let’s not compromise on “good” when we need “lovable.” 

Ways to Make it Better

Show transit is a priority the whole way.

Continue the 24-hour bus lane all the way through Franklin and Lake, in both directions. It disappears where congestion is greatest – and that makes it feel like drivers take priority over transit. Staff have modeled the traffic flow. They have said the transit lane will have little effect on traffic flow, and that’s why they didn’t include it. But that sends the wrong message! It’s important to show transit riders and drivers that buses are important – especially where streets feel busy. Extend the red pavement northbound to the very end of the project, past the I94 on-ramp. Extend it south to Lake in both directions.

Looking south at Hennepin from the Uptown Transit station, bicyclist in the foreground
Where the red bus lane disappears. The City says transit is a priority here, too. (image: Hennepin for People)

Convey that people walking, biking, and bussing are important at small intersections.

Streets exiting the Wedge at Girard, Emerson, Dupont, and Colfax need to be clear for people in traffic lanes. Sidewalks and bikeways are traffic lanes. Drivers waiting to enter Hennepin sneak forward to block sidewalks today. Including tabled intersections for the sidewalk and bikeway remind drivers to stay back. Ideally, make the sidewalk, bikeway, and bus lanes continuous across these intersections. (Continuous sidewalk and bikeway lanes are also critical for every parking lot curb-cut.)

Keep the sidewalks and bus lanes clear at corners like this.

Shift Hennepin’s street-to-highway transition north of Franklin.

This intersection is the primary gateway into the neighborhood. The street design should signal that on the north side of Franklin, not the south side. Continuing the dedicated bus lane north is one part of that. There are other important details.

  • The inside northbound lane is 10 feet south of Franklin. Carry that through the intersection as far as possible before widening it.
  • Do the same thing in reverse with the southbound I94 exit lane, narrowing that lane to 10 feet north of the intersection.
  • There’s a 12-foot southbound thru-lane on Hennepin from Summit to the I94 exit. Narrow this to a 10-foot lane to slow drivers. This will make it easier for people exiting I94 to merge into the permanent lane. It might even allow that extra lane to merge north of the intersection. That would transform the pedestrian experience crossing Hennepin south of Franklin, narrowing the crossing to 4 lanes instead of 5. That would give space to continue the median all the way up to the crash-prone intersection, and offer a refuge for people crossing the street.
Edited version of City Recommendation showing proposed changes
Suggested changes in teal boxes (image: City of Minneapolis, edited by author)

Add important bike connections.

The bikeway needs a direct, obvious, easy connection to the Midtown Greenway. The Greenway is a major transportation corridor, Hennepin is a major destination. We’re encouraging people to make short trips in Minneapolis by bus, foot, and bike. If a freeway exit to Uptown is important, a bike freeway exit to this major destination is even more important. And if freeways need exit signage, bike freeways need clear wayfinding signage, too.

Prevent shenanigans.

This design will reduce street racing with narrower lanes and the median. It doesn’t do anything similar for the intersections at Lagoon and Lake Street that will remain exceptionally wide. Drivers will still have space to do donuts. Use design to make shenanigans like that impossible.

Then… Daydream of Success

Every year, I welcome spring with what I call “Spring Crash Day.” It’s the day I hear tires screeching from near-misses and crashes at Hennepin and Franklin all day. The day skimpy clothes arrive on the sidewalks is also a distracted driving day. Many Hennepin drivers focus on the people on sidewalks instead of the speeding and lane-swerving drivers around their own vehicle. I’ll know we’ve built a future-proof Hennepin when I recognize spring by hearing people shouting greetings from porches and patios. How will you know we’ve got the Hennepin Avenue we need?

Let’s make all of Hennepin delightful.

Take Action: 

  • Submit a comment in support of the city’s recommended layout for Hennepin Avenue which includes 24/7 bus lanes, sidewalk level bike path and pedestrian improvements. Comment HERE through January 28, 2022.
  • Contact your Council Member and Mayor Frey. Tell them why you support the recommended layout.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

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