Exploring ways to make streets safer

Have you been noticing parking spots converted into benches? How about basketball hoops in the middle of a residential street? If not, grab your bike and check out what’s happening in Minneapolis as more residents are getting involved in street design experiments.

From pop-ups to parklets to a greenway demonstration project, here is an update about pilot projects taking place on city streets this summer.

A bump-out diagram.
This diagram shows how bump-outs extend sidewalk space for pedestrians. Diagram created for the 2016 pop-up bump-out by Julia Curran of Happify Design.

Volunteers from the Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC) and Minneapolis Pedestrian Alliance have come together to create a pop-up bump-out so the public can experience an improved approach to intersection design. The pop-up features curbs that extend out into the street and an attached crosswalk. The benefits of the design include shortening the amount of time pedestrians are in traffic, improving visibility for drivers, slowing cars and keeping cars from parking too close to the corner where they can impede sightlines for pedestrians. Volunteers displayed the pop-up at the Open Streets Downtown. “People kept asking me, ‘How do I get one of these in my neighborhood?’” said Shaina Brassard, who serves as co-chair of the PAC’s Programs & Policies Sub-Committee and has been involved in this project.

Brassard said advocates like her have a vision of making Minneapolis the best city for walking in the U.S.

“It’s not just about sidewalks either,” Brassard said. “How do we design our streets to slow cars down so crashes between cars and pedestrians are not fatal?” Brassard asked. Although the speed limit is 30 miles per hour in much of Minneapolis, Brassard said our streets are designed to make it easy and appealing to drive 45. Speed matters because it increases the chances that a crash will be fatal.

In pedestrian-vehicle crashes where the car is traveling 20 miles per hour, there is a 5 percent chance the crash will be fatal to the pedestrian, at 30 miles per hour that odds increase to 37-45 percent and 40 miles per hour there’s an 83-85 percent chance the pedestrian will be killed. In 2015, there was one crash between a pedestrian and a motor vehicle every 38 hours on average in Minneapolis.

On foot, people are vulnerable and Brassard said her group is using their pop-up to educate the public about concrete ways walking conditions could be improved. Try the pop-up bump-out at Open Streets Franklin on Sunday, Aug. 21 or West Broadway on Saturday, Sept. 10.

Irving Avenue North is hosting a unique demonstration project from the 3000 to 3500 blocks. The North Minneapolis Greenway demonstration is meant to simulate how the streets connecting Jordan and Folwell Parks might function if they were redesigned to prioritize walking, biking, playing and gathering.

The demonstration includes one block that is completely closed to motorized vehicles — with the exception of emergency vehicles — and other blocks that mix road users. These mixed segments include bump-outs — brightly-painted half-moons extending from the curb toward the center line and protected by planters placed on alternating sides of the street, encouraging slower driving by forcing cars to weave around them. Inside the bump-outs or chicanes — as they are also called — are picnic tables, tetherball poles and other amenities inviting rest and play.

The project was opened at the end of June and already some of the play equipment is getting worn out, according to neighborhood resident Will Lumpkins. “The kids were out there immediately,” said Lumpkins who has helped advocate for the project. As a father, he said he is excited about the greenway’s potential to connect libraries, parks and schools. Lumpkins thinks the greenway could help address some of the health disparities experienced by Northside residents. “The closer you live to green space, the more likely you are to use it,” he said.

The project is a collaboration between residents, a technical advisory committee and the City of Minneapolis Departments of Health and Public Works. Over the course of the next year, residents will have the chance to try it out and see if this is a piece of infrastructure they want to make permanent.

Parklets are another type of temporary projects out on the streets this summer. Parklets are on-street parking spaces that function like mini parks or public squares and feature amenities like benches, café tables and planters. These temporary installations are sponsored by local businesses and organizations and are open to the public so be sure to stop and take in the view next time you come across one. There is a second type of parklet, which is managed by a business seeking to provide an outdoor seating area for customers. The Loon Café unveiled one of these parklets — created in partnership with the Downtown Improvement District — during the Open Streets Downtown.

By converting a street parking space into a pleasant seating area or a residential street into a greenway, neighborhood change-makers are hoping to positively influence the way streets function and are used. Ultimately, they are working to create streets that work for the people who work, live and play on them.

Annie Van Cleve is a freelance writer, blogger and volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. 

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Minneapolis parklets:

— 115 N. 2nd St. is sponsored by Hyde Development in partnership with VELO.

— 913 W. Lake St. is sponsored by CARAG and hosted in partnership with Morrissey’s Irish Pub.

— 1603 Chicago Ave. S. is hosted by Twin Cities Coffee & Deli.

— 3722 Chicago Ave. S. is hosted by Smoke in the Pit BBQ and CANDO.

— 4208 28th Ave. S. is hosted by Angry Catfish Bicycle + Coffee Bar.

— Loon Café is a private parklet providing outdoor seating for the restaurant.

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