Vision Zero enters building year

Three-year action plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths

Safe street activists crossed Lyndale Avenue at 29th Street
Safe street activists crossed Lyndale Avenue at 29th Street on a cold November evening to draw attention to unsafe conditions on the county road. The city’s Vision Zero staff are working with Hennepin County to implement changes on the street. File photo

Minneapolis is hoping the ’20s are the decade of traffic safety, beginning with a three-year action plan aimed at eliminating travel deaths.

Vision Zero, a nationwide movement to eliminate street deaths and severe injuries, was adopted in Minneapolis in 2017. In December, the City Council approved an action plan aimed at making the city a safer place to walk, bike and drive that will be carried out from 2020-22.

“We know that a smart plan is only as good as the implementation,” said Ethan Fawley, Minneapolis’ Vision Zero coordinator.

This year will serve as a buildup time for Vision Zero, Fawley said, with more major actions coming in 2021 and 2022. But already in 2020 there are improvements the city will be looking to make to streets known to be dangerous.

In Minneapolis, just 9% of streets host nearly 70% of the crashes, according to studies the city conducted in 2017 and 2018. In Southwest Minneapolis, those high-injury streets include Excelsior Boulevard, Franklin Avenue, Hennepin Avenue South, West Lake Street, Lyndale Avenue South and Nicollet Avenue. 

Many of those hazardous streets are controlled by Hennepin County, and while the county and state have been involved in Vision Zero, ironing out how new safety infrastructure will be installed and who will pay for it will be a priority in 2020. 

“All of those are things we’re looking to sort out,” he said. 

Fawley said the city is “very interested” in working with the county to make safety improvements to Lyndale Avenue South, a high-injury street that has been a focal point for safe streets activists after a pedestrian was struck and killed crossing it in October.

Small, low-cost safety infrastructure additions
Small, low-cost safety infrastructure additions, like this new sign marking a one-way northbound stretch of Blaisdell Avenue, are examples of work people can expect to see as the Vision Zero action plan is implemented. The sign was installed this fall after neighbors voiced concerns. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

County Board President Marion Greene announced county public works will be installing centerline delineators along Lyndale at 25th and 27th streets to restrict left turns in January. Bollard bump-outs will also be installed on the north side of the 27th & Lyndale intersection to narrow the street in an attempt to calm traffic and shorten crossing distance for pedestrians.

Greene said she would be pushing to get Lyndale onto the county’s capital improvement program schedule. Right now, there are no plans to reconstruct or repave Lyndale.

City-controlled Hennepin Avenue South is scheduled to be reconstructed between Douglas Avenue and Lake Street in 2023, which creates an opportunity to build in safer infrastructure. But Fawley said Vision Zero staff are looking at making temporary changes to that stretch of Hennepin in the short term, too.

Low-cost infrastructure changes like bollard bump-outs at known trouble intersections are moves the public works department has been making for the past five years and are expected to increase under the action plan. 

To track progress, the city plans this spring to release updated crash data through 2019, which will serve as the baseline for progress assessments that will be released every six months under Vision Zero. 

One big change that could come soon is lowering the speed limits on city streets, one of the highest-profile changes coming in the plan. Fawley said his department’s staff started working on a speed analysis once the state law was changed in May to allow cities to set their own speed limits and is nearing the completion of their study. They plan to bring new recommendations to the City Council this year. 

Currently, most city streets have 30 mph speed limits. At that speed a pedestrian being struck by a vehicle has a 40% chance of death or serious injury, according to Vision Zero data. The chance of death or severe injury drops to 13% at 20 mph.  The action plan identifies five dangerous driver behaviors that contribute to deadly crashes: distracted driving, driving under the influence, red light running, speeding and unsafe turning. While most people know they shouldn’t do most of those actions, many don’t think about speeding as dangerous. 

“That’s going to be a really big focus in 2020,” Fawley said.