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.