Road rage: Pedestrian death on Lyndale ignites protests

Wedge Live blogger John Edwards and other protesters
Wedge Live blogger John Edwards and other protesters stand face-to-face with the driver of a pickup truck during an Oct. 25 rally in which activists demanded immediate safety improvements for Lyndale Avenue. Earlier in October, a Minneapolis man was fatally struck by a driver several hundred feet from the protest site. Submitted photo

The death of a pedestrian crossing Lyndale Avenue has created a rallying point for activists protesting unsafe conditions on a county road long labeled as one of the most dangerous streets in Southwest Minneapolis.

Shortly after 1 a.m. on Oct. 13, 54-year-old Theodore J. Ferrara was struck by a driver while attempting to cross Lyndale midblock between 25th and 26th streets. Ferrara, an artist and musician remembered for being a generous friend with many talents, died three days later from his injuries, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office.

In the wake of Ferrara’s death, a crowd of dozens gathered on Oct. 25 to demand safety improvements to Lyndale. They marched back and forth through the intersection at 25th & Lyndale, near where Ferrara was struck, stopping traffic and chanting slogans such as “This is a crosswalk!” and “Safe streets save lives!”

Drivers honked at the protesters, who yelled back. One motorist bumped a protester with his car, driving into the man at more than 5 mph. The man backpedaled to safety and afterward appeared unharmed. The driver sped away. 

During a speech outside Common Roots Cafe before the protest, City Council President Lisa Bender said she, too, wants to see improvements on Lyndale Avenue, which is a county road. Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene said the county needs to listen to community members about possible short-term improvements.

“[I] share frustration with a lot of my constituents at the pace of change, and I know we need to move faster,” Bender said.

State law says all intersections, marked or unmarked, are crosswalks and drivers are required to yield to pedestrians as long as pedestrians enter the crosswalk with enough time for a motorist to stop.

Days after the protest, traffic cones used by protesters to create makeshift bump-outs at 25th & Lyndale were still in place. 

A known issue 

A Minneapolis Police Department spokesperson said early investigations do not link the death to speeding or distracted driving. The investigation is ongoing, and the full police report was not public at press time.

Jasha Johnston, who co-owns Nightingale at 26th & Lyndale, where Ferrara would DJ once a month, said he’s been aware of safety issues at the intersection for years. One big problem, he said, especially near where Ferrara was struck, is a lack of adequate lighting at night. 

For many protesters, Ferrara’s death is seen as a preventable and predictable incident that occurred because of the well-documented hazardous conditions along Lyndale Avenue.

Between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street, Lyndale is considered a crash concentration corridor for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists, according to the Vision Zero and Pedestrian Crash studies released by the city in recent years. There were 59 pedestrians struck in the stretch from 2007-16. The intersection of 26th & Lyndale, near where Ferrara was struck, ranked 10th for intersections with the most pedestrian crashes, with 15 recorded in the decade of the study. More than 80% of crashes in Minneapolis occur at intersections and more than half occur at intersections with traffic lights.

A small number of streets, mostly larger county roads like Lyndale, account for the majority of crashes in Minneapolis, according to the studies.

Currently, there is no major construction work scheduled for Lyndale Avenue. A county spokesperson told the Southwest Journal in August that staff have studied 26th & Lyndale and Lake & Lyndale for future pedestrian improvements and are looking at short- and long-term solutions to make the street safer. In a Facebook post about Ferrara’s death, Greene wrote that the county is planning a public meeting on the future of Lyndale.

Minneapolis officials recently announced intentions to lower speed limits across the city with the goal of improving safety and said they’d be working closely with Hennepin County colleagues. Currently, Lyndale Avenue has a 30 mph speed limit.

Several dozen protesters
Several dozen protesters marched back and forth across Lyndale Avenue at 25th Street on Oct. 25, demanding immediate safety improvements
to a road on which a driver fatally struck a Minneapolis man earlier in the month. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

‘He’ll be greatly missed’ 

Johnston met Ferrara years ago playing on the CC Club softball team and became close with him over the years.

“He was a longtime neighborhood fixture,” Johnston said.

Ferrara had an extensive vinyl collection of rock, hip-hop and jazz and would DJ at Nightingale once a month. The Friday before he was struck, he DJed at Nightingale and played records after bar close to brighten up cleaning time for the staff. 

Ferrara was also a painter and guitar player who was drawn to Minneapolis from his native New York in the 1990s by the art and music scene. A recent memorial service drew several friends and family who gathered around Ferrara’s artwork to remember him, Johnston said. Ferrara founded the Chipgroover art gallery in his home on Aldrich Avenue in the late ’90s to showcase the work of local artists, including his own paintings, according to an obituary. With his varied interests in music, art, sports and animals, he was often considered a Renaissance man by his friends.  

When Johnston was sad after his dog died a few years ago and hesitant to get another, it was Ferrara who told him there was another dog out there who needed him, prompting Johnston to get his current pet.

“He’ll be greatly missed,” Johnston said.

— Nate Gotlieb contributed reporting to this story.