Seeking a safer Lyndale Avenue: county, city eyeing improvements

northwest corner of Lake & Lyndale
A billboard for the personal injury law firm TSR is posted at the northwest corner of Lake & Lyndale. The intersection was found to be the most dangerous in Minneapolis for pedestrians in a city study. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene keeps a list of streets she receives the most comments about from constituents.

“In Southwest Minneapolis, I hear the most about Lyndale,” she said.

Lyndale Avenue South, or County Road 22, is among the most dangerous streets in Minneapolis to walk, bike or drive, according to crash studies released by the city in recent years. The city considers Lyndale Avenue from Franklin Avenue to Lake Street to be a crash concentration corridor for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.

The intersection of Lake & Lyndale led the city in pedestrians being struck by drivers from 2007–16, with 24 crashes, tied for second in cyclist-motorist crashes with 15 and came in 13th for vehicle-on-vehicle crashes with 123.

Also hazardous, the intersection of 26th & Lyndale was ranked 10th for most pedestrians struck by motorists, with 15 collisions counted during the decade under study.

“The numbers bear out that they need some attention from a safety point of view,” Greene said.

No major reconstruction work is currently planned for Lyndale Avenue. That leaves many safety activists calling for low-cost, non-labor-intensive changes that can improve the way the street functions.

“There’s immediate things they can do today that would make a significant difference,” said Ashwat Narayanan, executive director of Our Streets Minneapolis, a nonprofit that advocates for improved safety.

Techniques such as raising and adding brighter painting to pedestrian crossings and adding more protected bike infrastructure could also help, Narayanan said. Abigail Johnson, a Lowry Hill East resident who chairs of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee and co-founded the Feet First movement that encourages walking, said small changes like adding bollards at intersections and painting larger median strips could slow vehicles and make a huge difference in how the street feels.

Some of those changes could be on the horizon.

Hennepin County has studied future improvements at 26th & Lake, according to Jordan Kocak, the county’s bike and pedestrian coordinator. He said the county is exploring “possible short- and long-term solutions” on Lyndale, but it’s still early in the process.

The city aims to release a draft of its Vision Zero plan this fall, which will lay out strategies to achieve the goal of eliminating pedestrian deaths in Minneapolis by 2027.

One change that advocates say can be made without breaking the bank is repainting Lyndale to convert it from four lanes to three lanes, with a shared left turn lane and one lane of vehicle traffic in each direction. These changes, often called road diets, are increasingly common for county roads and engineers say the changes make significant safety improvements.

According to Hennepin County Public Works, three lane roads usually see a 33%–50% reduction in crashes compared with four-lane roads. This is because cars drive at slower speeds in narrower lanes, because turning vehicles only have to cut in front of one lane of traffic and because larger shoulders allow more space for bikes, delivery vehicles and bus stops.

corner of 26th & Lyndale
The intersection of 26th & Lyndale was ranked as the 10th most dangerous in Minneapolis for pedestrians. There were 15 collisions between pedestrians and motorists from 2007–16, according to a crash study released by the city. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

Traffic delays at such intersections are largely unchanged by these four- to three-lane conversions for roads that average about 20,000 vehicles per day or fewer, according to a Federal Highway Administration study. For roads with more than 20,000 vehicles per day, there is an increased likelihood that traffic will worsen and drivers will choose different routes.

Lyndale Avenue generally picks up more traffic the closer it gets to the Interstate 94 exchange, according to Hennepin County average daily traffic counts. The last average daily traffic count recorded 14,300 cars per day at 31st & Lyndale and 17,200 cars per day at 27th & Lyndale in 2015. Average daily vehicle traffic rose to 24,000 at 22nd & Lyndale, according to data last recorded in 2011.

A FHWA case study in Pasadena, California, found a four- to three-lane “road diet” reduced collisions by 65% on a 1.1-mile stretch of road that averaged 23,000 vehicles per day. Traffic volumes on the street reduced by between 3,000 and 4,500 vehicles per day after the conversion.

The conversion of Lyndale Avenue south of 31st Street to a three-lane road with more pedestrian islands has been successful, Greene said. But whether such a change is on the horizon for the rest of the street is unclear.

Each year, the county undertakes several road projects, Greene said, and while she advocates for more work in her district, even small fixes can be hard to schedule into ongoing plans.

“There is a kind of a tension between being able to do some of those things and putting resources elsewhere to do different projects,” she said.

A small number of streets, mostly larger county roads like Lyndale, account for the majority of crashes in Minneapolis. About 36% of vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian crashes occur on just 2% of streets in the city. Those streets carry 10% of all traffic in the city.

County roads in the city serve as arterial streets that move large volumes of people through neighborhoods at higher speeds; but they also function as commercial stretches where many residents walk to work, play and shop. There isn’t a clear formula for how to balance those needs, Greene said, adding that safety improvements are needed.

“As Minneapolis gets denser, the needs are different,” she said.

Narayanan said roads serving as major thoroughfares can hinder local access. His organization hears from many people, especially those with disabilities, who live near Lyndale but won’t patronize a business that’s located across the avenue.

“They don’t feel they can easily and comfortably cross the street,” Narayanan said.

One way to make Lyndale Avenue immediately safer for pedestrians, Johnson said, is simply to walk. The idea is if drivers see more pedestrians, they’re more likely to slow down.

“I understand that road is not fun to walk on, but keep walking on it,” Johnson said.

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  • Kari Sachs

    There needs to be left turn traffic signals for Lake Street!!!!
    (And turn lanes)
    I’m a city bus driver & it’s the intersections that have a lot of vehicles turning left, but no signal to allow them to do so, which causes problems because they dash to turn in a gap without checking for pedestrians!

  • JJ

    Thanks for this article. As somebody who lives in this neighborhood, I can attest that Lyndale from Lake to Franklin really is this bad. It’s stressful for drivers, it’s stressful for pedestrians, and it’s extremely dangerous for bikers (Bryant is a much better bike route, but for some reason people still bike on Lyndale). I personally saw a pedestrian almost get hit at 26th and Lyndale just today by a car making a left.

    The problem is definitely people trying to get across all of those lanes in a cramped and busy environment. It’s difficult to get across Lyndale both as a left-turning car and as a pedestrian, and it seems people regularly feel pressured into making stupid decisions to get across this road. Four narrow narrow lanes of traffic (the lanes really do feel narrow) and six lanes with parking is just too much. I fully agree with the road diet idea. It makes sense. The city should try it for a couple months as a pilot, get feedback from the public, and see how it goes.

    As for Lyndale and Lake, there’s also an issue with pedestrians crossing Lake causing backups on Lyndale headed south (cars have to wait to turn right, which often eats up half of the green light time and, once again, leads to cars making stupid decisions due to the traffic / time pressure). I’m sure there are traffic engineers who have looked at this, but it seems with some tweaks that intersection could more efficient.

  • Hiawatha

    Hennepin County is usually ahead of their neighbors to the east, but not on this issue. Ramsey County has heard the gospel of road diets, and is busy converting four lane county highways to three lanes. There’s no increase in congestion, but a big increase in safety. When will the Hennepin County road engineers get the memo?

  • Matt Steele

    Hennepin County knows how to do great work and they’ve progressed so far over the past decade. I have full confidence that Hennepin can fix Lyndale. The current design isn’t safe for anyone, including motorists.

    Hennepin would work great as a three lane design with center turn lanes, but then create full refuge medians at 25th, 27th, and 29th that force motorists to turn right onto or off of the side street but make it far easier for bicyclists and pedestrians to get across one lane of traffic at a time. Hennepin just did this for 66th St at 10th Avenue in Richfield, and the medians provide effective intersection conflict management for motorists, add greenery and future shade, and make it far easier for pedestrians.

  • Matt Steele

    They have the memo, but it’s a slog to get through all of these problem spots. Hennepin has done it on reconstructions like 66th or Portland in Richfield, and has done it on mill-and-overlay maintenance such as Nicollet in Bloomington, or 46th and 50th Streets in South Minneapolis. Yes, let’s accelerate the pace of these improvements. There’s so much that can be done with relatively low cost compared to street reconstructions, but the main issue is political and managing conflicting interests of stakeholders (such as business parking at intersections).

  • Joshmo

    Removing lanes from Lyndale is a big mistake. This is a major traffic route, not a neighborhood street. Manipulating the length of traffic lights, limiting turns is a more practical solution. Southern Lyndale was ruined by modifications. People need to be more careful. Lowering the speed limit is another option.

  • Mary Sue weir

    Please provide left turn lights on all stops to allow traffic to move. Idle traffic increases air pollution. Also, why not choose one major road for bikes to use instead of all? Narrowing lanes makes it very dangerous for all.

  • Leo M Whitebird

    the biggest issue with the 3-lane model on this stretch is the abundance of delivery trucks that park in the street to unload and the lane closures from Development cancer….BAD IDEA DEPARTMENT

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