COVID-19 alters Minneapolis streets

The city has deactivated pedestrian signal buttons at more than 400 Minneapolis intersections, including Humboldt & Lagoon (pictured). Photo by Andrew Hazzard

The coronavirus pandemic has led the city of Minneapolis to open 11 miles of streets to pedestrians, implement expanded sidewalks and cancel the beg button at intersections.

Minneapolis public works began implementing its “Stay Healthy Streets” program on April 29, which established three walking and biking loops on city streets in North, Northeast and South Minneapolis, according to a press release. The streets will be closed to through traffic with a goal of letting people safely spread out, on foot or wheels, while exercising outdoors during the pandemic. The pedestrianized loops are intended to complement parkway closures by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which has established several miles of open roadway around the Chain of Lakes in Southwest.

The South Minneapolis loop includes a small portion in the Lyndale and Kingfield neighborhoods along First Avenue South from 35th to 40th streets. The loop extends east to 17th Avenue South and passes through Powderhorn Park to the north. The 4.3-mile route is estimated to take about an hour and a half to walk or half an hour to bike.

Public works has also marked off about five miles of expanded sidewalks, where lanes are blocked to vehicles to allow people to stay 6 feet apart while walking. In Southwest, those areas are Lagoon Avenue between Hennepin Avenue and Bde Maka Ska and Lyndale Avenue between 22nd Street and the Loring Greenway.

The pandemic has also led public works to deactivate pedestrian push or “beg” buttons at intersections to minimize common touch points during the pandemic. The city has altered traffic signals at more than 400 intersections to make the walk signals come on automatically. Eliminating beg buttons has long been a goal of pedestrian advocates.

In an attempt to accommodate businesses transitioning to takeout models during the pandemic, the city has installed more than 50 new pick-up zones that allow for 10-minute parking.

Trash patterns

Since the stay-at-home order began, the city has seen an increase in residential waste and recycling volumes, according to Dave Herberholz, who leads the solid waste and recycling division within public works. Exactly how large the increase is will be clearer in May, when the department will be able to compare this April’s volume with past years’.

While some cities across the country have seen disruptions to waste services, Minneapolis has been lucky to have all its contractors continue operations.

“The reason the whole system is working right now is they’re able to take our material,” Herberholz said.

With yard waste collection beginning, he said, the crews have had to remind residents not to help them load additional items to prevent contact.

In Minneapolis, all residential trash is brought to the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC), a trash-to-energy burner near Target Field. In a typical year, the HERC burns about 80,000 tons of Minneapolis residential trash, according to Ben Knudson, a waste reduction and recycling supervisor with Hennepin County.

With people staying in homes and dine-in restaurants, office spaces and large event centers empty, the nature of waste and recycling in Minneapolis is likely to change in the coming months, and people in the industry are eager to see the data.

“I think we’re all curious about what it will look like,” Knudson said.