Infuriated Minneapolis road safety activists, mobilized by a pedestrian’s mid-October death crossing Lyndale Avenue, were largely underwhelmed by Hennepin County’s announcement that plastic bollards and bump-outs could soon be installed at three intersections along a county road known to be one of the most perilous in the city.
“[We] do not trust the county to value our lives on county streets,” Lowry Hill resident Janne K. Flisrand said at a Dec. 2 community listening session hosted by Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene.
“I don’t think there’s any realistic situation that’s going to allow for safe crossing [on Lyndale] without limiting the number of car traffic lanes,” said Minneapolis city planner Lindsey Silas, speaking as a Lyndale resident.
The listening session was held at SpringHouse Ministry Center, about a quarter mile from where 54-year-old artist and musician Theodore Ferrara was hit on Oct. 13 while trying to cross Lyndale midblock near 26th Street.
Describing Lyndale as “miserable” and “horrific,” dozens of Ferrara’s neighbors shared personal stories and demanded that county officials and staff make sweeping safety improvements to a stretch of Lyndale north of Lake Street that the city has designated a “crash concentration corridor” and that hasn’t been reconstructed since 1954. From 2007–16, there were 59 pedestrians struck on Lyndale between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street, according to a city crash study.
City Council Member Lisa Bender, who both represents and lives in the Wedge, said walking and bicycling with her children near Lyndale is enormously stressful. “We don’t come to Whittier as much as we’d like to because it’s terrifying a lot of the time,” she said.
Alex Burns, who lives at 25th & Lyndale, said he’s had to call 911 after hearing crashes on multiple occasions. Jim Reilly, an area resident for more than four decades, said a car hit him in March as he crossed Lyndale legally at 28th Street and he was left with two broken bones in his leg. Anne Spaeth, owner of The Lynhall, said her employees have been traumatized pulling people out of crashed vehicles and compared crossing Lyndale to playing the arcade game Frogger.
Ingrid Soderberg, a manager of Nightingale at 26th & Lyndale, where Ferrera DJed once per month, said she was his friend for 20 years and was working the night he was fatally struck. “I knew it was him in the street,” she said. “I stood on the sidewalk and watched him get all his clothes cut off. It was 33 degrees. We watched him get put in an ambulance with no life in him. We visited him a couple times on life support, breathing from machines. And then we attended his funeral.”
Ferrera’s death is still under investigation by the Minneapolis Police Department. A spokesperson has said speeding and distracted driving do not appear to have been factors.
At the listening session, attended by about 100 people, local residents proposed a range of potential changes to Lyndale, including banning right turns on red, adding a rush hour bus-only lane, rigorously enforcing speed limits and installing lighting stanchions. Soderberg said she opposes any changes that would reduce parking near Nightingale, but she thinks “the road’s too crazy, too busy, too populated to continue to have no traffic lights and crosswalks at 25th and 27th.”
Halfway through the meeting, Hennepin County engineer Carla Stueve announced that two small short-term changes for the uncontrolled 25th, 27th and 29th street intersections could be made by early January. Thin reflective plastic bollards may be placed in the center of Lyndale near the three intersections to “reduce the exposure of pedestrians and bicyclists to left-turning vehicles.” And curb bump-outs may be built at the intersections to “reduce crossing distance and increase the visibility of pedestrians and bicyclists.”
Activists from Our Streets Minneapolis and the newly formed group Safe Streets Save Lives have coalesced around a few significant fixes they want by spring 2020. They’re calling for improved lighting, reduced speed limits, and medians and painted crosswalks at 25th, 27th and 29th streets. And they want Lyndale put on a yearlong “road diet” — its four lanes repainted to three, with a shared left turn lane and one lane of vehicle traffic in each direction. (Minneapolis already has plans in the works to decrease speed limits across the city.)
Stueve said those sound like “great ideas” that could be incorporated when Lyndale is reconstructed or overlaid, though Lyndale is not currently on the county’s five-year Capital Improvement Program project list.
Asked when major changes might be made to Lyndale, Greene replied, “I don’t want to say six years because I don’t want to accept six years.” She said it’s difficult to move the road ahead on the county’s list. “If Lyndale jumps the line, then what other street in somebody else’s district is going to jump the line?” she said. “I trust the public works review process.”
But many activists said they’re unwilling to accept the slow roll of county bureaucracy in a matter they see as life and death. Some at the meeting called for “radical, transformational change” on Lyndale, such as shutting the road to car traffic entirely.
Philip Schwartz said to loud applause that if a four-lane-to-three-lane conversion isn’t finished by the spring, there will be more protests like the one that stopped traffic at 25th & Lyndale on Oct. 25.
“We’ve been nice at these events where we’ve been crossing streets,” he said. “We’ve been letting cars go every few minutes. But we can make a lot more noise.”