Fighting for safety

Southwest residents advocate for street improvements

Blaisdell Avenue crash
Two vehicles were totaled when a driver traveling the wrong way on Blaisdell Avenue T-boned a car traveling on West 41st Street. Submitted photo

On Sept. 16, Jamie Perez met her children at the bus stop after school. Less than 10 minutes later, she heard the screeching crunch of a crash and emerged from her home at 41st & Blaisdell to see two mangled cars spun into the same corner where the bus had just dropped off her kids.

The intersection has had at least three crashes in the past two years, and several near misses, according to Jamie Perez and her husband, Oliver. They and their neighbors are lobbying the city to make it safer.

“I just want a solution that’s not going to result in someone getting killed,” Oliver Perez said.

A few blocks west on Bryant Avenue, Craig Buchanan is running out of patience. He’s lived at 44th & Bryant since 1998 and has been trying to get the city to redo the street since the early 2000s.

Back then, it wasn’t in Minneapolis’ plan for five-year capital improvement projects. Now it is; public works is scheduled to reconstruct Bryant between Lake and 50th streets in 2023.

Buchanan is trying to get the city to speed up the work. He’s launched a website, savebryantavenue.home.blog, and printed off yard signs he’s distributed to neighbors in an effort to raise awareness and lobby the city to advance its timetable for the reconstruction.

At a time when Minneapolis is working to make city streets safer, residents in Southwest are taking it upon themselves to pressure elected and appointed officials and get results now.

crash

‘We all want a stop sign’

South of 40th Street, Blaisdell Avenue gets weird.

When the one-way, southbound avenue hits 40th Street in Kingfield, it dead-ends and resumes a half block to the east. But the block-long stretch of Blaisdell between 40th and 41st streets is a northbound one-way. Then, south of 41st street, Blaisdell becomes two-way.

This odd configuration can lead to people mistakenly driving south — the wrong way — on a one-way street toward the intersection with 41st Street, where they can easily collide with an eastbound or westbound vehicle.

That’s what happened the afternoon of Sept. 16, when a driver heading the wrong way on Blaisdell stuck a westbound car on 41st Street, totaling both vehicles and sending them spinning into the corner where the Perez children board the bus to their elementary school.

“We need a solution and it’s a unique intersection,” said Chris DeParde, who has lived at the corner for 28 years.

The Perez family and their neighbors are trying to raise awareness of the unsafe intersection and want the city to make changes.

Perez and DeParde said there are two problems with the intersection: 1) The one-way signage on Blaisdell is insufficient, and 2) There are no stop signs on 41st Street between Nicollet and Pillsbury avenues, which can lead drivers to speed.

They’ve been lobbying for improvements since at least 2015 but said the issues have been worse during the Interstate 35W reconstruction, which has resulted in more traffic through nearby neighborhoods.

“My frustration is when I talk to the city, it’s always, ‘You need to talk to someone else,’” Oliver Perez said.

When he last contacted the city after the Sept. 16 crash, he said he was told to contact the team behind Vision Zero, the city’s project dedicated to eliminating traffic deaths by 2027. Someone at Vision Zero told him to contact public works. A public works staffer told him to report the problem to 311.

He has met with his Ward 8 council member, Andrea Jenkins, who called him after the Sept. 16 crash, but he’s worried the city won’t act unless someone is seriously hurt.

That’s what happened at 43rd & Nicollet, where bollard bump-outs were installed after a 74-year-old woman was struck by a motorist and killed there in November 2017.

Perez isn’t sure what the remedy is. He’s a concerned parent, not a traffic engineer. Maybe they could put a stop sign at 41st & Blaisdell, he suggested. Maybe they could add bump-outs at the intersection.

City officials did not respond to a request for comment on safety improvements at 41st & Blaisdell.

“I get it,” Perez said. “There’s angry dads all over the city. We all want a stop sign.”

Craig Buchanan
Craig Buchanan has been trying to lobby local officials to repair Bryant Avenue since the early 2000s. Now he’s launched a yard sign campaign to try to advance reconstruction on the street. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

‘Dare to dream’

The 2.5-mile stretch of Bryant Avenue between Lake and 50th streets has pavement “beyond its expected useful life,” according to city documents. Part of the road dates back to 1957.

To Craig Buchanan, the issues on the street are traffic speed, traffic volume and general aesthetics. Cars tend to speed, he said, particularly between 43rd and 46th streets, where there are no stop signs. The street is wide, with parking on both sides of the road. Public works routinely patches potholes along the road, but it remains rough, which Buchanan believes undermines its status as a bike boulevard.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who thinks the status quo is acceptable,” Buchanan said.

He’s been frustrated with the state of the road for years and has been in conversations with his Ward 13 city council members, from Betsy Hodges to Linea Palmisano. Now he’s trying another way to put on the pressure, a yard sign campaign. He spent $500 on 40 signs, which encourage people to call their city council representatives and ask them to advance the project. Many of his immediate neighbors near 44th Street have put up signs; he’s trying to distribute more.

No one is questioning the need to redo the street, but the timetable is up for debate. Bryant Avenue was originally slated to be reconstructed in 2021 but was pushed back to 2023 in the 2018 budget process, according to city spokesperson Sarah McKenzie. The decision to delay was made to allow for more community outreach and design work and to prevent overlapping with the planned Grand Avenue reconstruction of 2021.

But the city does reexamine the order of its capital improvement plan every year, and McKenzie said public works has received many comments on Bryant and “will explore options to accelerate the planning and the funding for the project.”

In an email to Bryant Avenue residents in East Harriet, Palmisano said she’d worked to get the project on the capital improvement plan and will try to prevent it from being delayed further. She encouraged residents to keep documenting street issues with 311, which could help advance the project scheduling.

When the road is redone, Buchanan would like the city to get creative. He pictures something like San Francisco’s famous curvy, landscaped Lombard Street. He’d like a separated bike space instead of the current setup, where he believes the city is using cyclists as a traffic-calming measure. He’d like more nature incorporated to reduce runoff and beautify the space.

“Dare to dream,” he said.