City plans to make streets safer for pedestrians 

lighted tree display
Attendees of a Transportation Action Plan open house at Richfield Lutheran Church in Windom provided feedback on how to evaluate the success of the plan using a lighted tree display created by city staffers. Photos by Andrew Hazzard

For the first time, Minneapolis is putting together a comprehensive plan that will guide the way people move around the city.

“Our goal is to improve people’s day-to-day lives,” transportation planning manager Kathleen Mayell said at the city’s first open house on the Transportation Action Plan, held April 9 in Windom.

The Minneapolis Transportation Action Plan is a 10-year comprehensive plan to guide future planning and designs for transportation projects across the city. The plan is moving forward with Vision Zero, a three-year plan being implemented with a goal of having zero pedestrian deaths in Minneapolis by 2027.

The Transportation Action Plan is developing strategies for seven transit topic areas: advanced mobility, pedestrians, bicycle, transit, freight, street operations and street designs.

The plan aims to enact transportation goals laid out in the Minneapolis 2040 Plan, currently under review by the Metropolitan Council.

Unlike 2040, which lingers in a distant, hard-to-imagine future, the changes from Vision Zero and the Transportation Action Plan will be noticed by city residents sooner rather than later, said Mayell, who is overseeing Vision Zero. As such, the planners are seeking opinions on how to best lay out streets going forward.

“We’re really looking to get a lot of public feedback,” Mayell said.

Transportation Action Plan

Initial feedback from the plan was provided by travel behavior surveys at Open Streets events and online that reached more than 5,000 people.

The surveys found that the most frequent mode of transportation for 50% of respondents was to drive, followed by 18% who rely on transit, 15% who bike and 14% who go by foot.

But when asked about their preferred means of travel, 36% of respondents said it was by bike, 22% favored transit, 16% wanted to walk and only 20% liked driving best.

One of the main goals for the Transportation Action Plan is to make it easier for those who say they’d prefer to drive less to drive less, which is seen as critical to the city’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The city is looking at ways to beef up its transit, biking and pedestrian networks to make more people more likely to take alternate transit modes, like getting more city inhabitants within a half-mile walkshed of high-frequency public transit lines.

Mike Reed, a Linden Hills resident and regular bike commuter who attended the Windom open house, said he felt many of the proposals of the options presented for the plan were good. He’d like to see better enforcement of traffic laws and bigger penalties for drivers who hit pedestrians.

While Reed thinks Minneapolis has an OK transit system, he doesn’t believe heavy bus investment is the answer and thinks the city should be more seriously considering streetcars. He also lamented how long it takes for street improvement projects such as the reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue from Lake Street to West 36th Street last year.

“Time is short,” he said.

Transportation Action Plan
Residents peruse poster presentations and chat with city planners about the future of getting around in Minneapolis at the Transportation Action Plan open house in Windom on April 9.

Safer streets

For foot traffic, city planners are working on a pedestrian priority network, a web of critical sidewalks that help move large groups of people to major destinations and transit stops. They’re eyeing areas to improve, like along Excelsior Boulevard in West Calhoun, where narrow sidewalks cram pedestrians near the future West Lake Street Green Line stop.

“It’s a way for us to prioritize improvements and make walking a more viable option,” said city planner Kelsey Fogt.

More than 60 percent of crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists on Minneapolis streets also involve a motor vehicle making a turn, according to a Vision Zero crash study released in January.

To combat that, bump-outs at intersections—where the pedestrian area is extended to shorten crossings for walkers and turn lanes are deprioritized— are a common design element planners are using to make the city more walkable, Fogt said. Planners are also looking to make streets more people-friendly by putting in expanded medians, wider sidewalks and narrower car lanes.

In Minneapolis, a high percentage of crashes happen on a small number of streets, mostly four-lane county roads that run through the city. Public Works is coordinating with several other local entities such as Hennepin County, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and MnDOT on city plans.

Updating street design is critical to making Vision Zero’s goals a reality, Vision Zero program coordinator Ethan Fawley said. Planners are looking at national best practices and trying to fit them to a local context to make Minneapolis streets safer.

“There is no panacea,” Fawley said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article included the incorrect job title for Ethan Fawley. He is currently the Vision Zero Program Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis. Fawley was formerly the executive director of Our Streets Minneapolis.