Minneapolis earns walk friendly gold

City recognized for pedestrian safety and outreach

Minneapolis was one of 10 cities recognized as a Walk Friendly Community in September, and one of only three to earn a gold-level award for plans and policies aimed at keeping pedestrians safe and comfortable.

“It’s really impressive that a cold-weather city has such a detailed plan [for] maintaining sidewalks,” said Dan Gelinne, a program manager with the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC) in North Carolina, which announced the award. The Federal Highway Administration funds the organization.

That was just one of the many reasons the PBIC put Minneapolis in the gold-level tier, along with Chicago and San Francisco. Seven communities have earned golds since the first awards were announced in April 2011; Seattle is the lone community with platinum status.

Back in June of 2007, the city launched its Ten-Year Transportation Action Plan. According to the plan’s Pedestrian Realm in Downtown section, “improvements to downtown will vary but may include wider sidewalks, sidewalk repair, curb extension, pedestrian level lighting, landscaping, street furniture and other amenities.”

All the measures mentioned above are to enhance and increase the number of pedestrians in Minneapolis, said Anna Flintoft, transportation planner for the Minnesota Department of Public Works.

Keil Figenskau-Wiley, who works at the Davanni’s restaurant on Hennepin Avenue, acknowledged the lighting in the Downtown area.

“I’ll get done at close and still be able to walk around without any problems, everything is lit up,” Figenskau-Wiley said.

The city’s sidewalks stay intact and operational through an annual inspection done by the Sidewalk Inspections Office of Public Works. Before the construction season starts, the office sends an inspector to look for faults, including: damage that could cause pedestrians to fall; damage that could impede wheelchair users; and common defects like breaks, unevenness and projecting or settled sections.

Minneapolis resident Kyle Schiemo said he thought city sidewalks were better taken care of than streets.

“I run into more potholes [in the street] than issues with the sidewalks,” Schiemo said.

Also outlined in the Ten-Year Transportation Action Plan are incentive programs for neighborhoods and employers.  

Through the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization, one of these incentives includes a parking “cash out” program.  The program allows employers who subsidize employee parking to instead give that money directly to the employee.

Bike Walk to Work Week is a program constructed to promote walking or biking to work.  This year it ran from Oct. 3 to Oct. 9 and includes activities and route information at the Hennepin County Government Center.

The Guaranteed Ride Home Program, put together by Metro Transit, allows for people who either bike or walk to work three times a week to request an emergency voucher.  With this voucher pedestrians have access to free transit rides or a cab fare amounting to $25.

Deriving from the Safe Routes to School international movement, the Minneapolis Safe Routes to School program promotes walking to school to prevent childhood obesity while maintaining a safe environment.  The program was developed by both the City of Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support and the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Besides these initiatives, the City also has many campaigns for pedestrians.  Open Streets Minneapolis, an event held on Lyndale Avenue for the first time in 2010, works to bring awareness to the walkability of Minneapolis.  

Once a year Open Streets Minneapolis blocks off a section of Minneapolis so traffic cannot enter.  Individuals may then walk, bike and skate around the streets free from the normal congestion.  This year the event was held on June 12 and offered music, yoga and other recreational activities.

All of these campaigns and policies were set in place by the Minneapolis Pedestrian Master Plan, which was adopted by City Council in October of 2009, and has significantly improved the walkability of Minneapolis.

According to a 2011 study by Transportation for America, Minneapolis ranks fifth-safest place to walk in the nation.

“Historically Minneapolis has had great infrastructure for pedestrians along with a commitment to improve its walkways,” said Flintoft.