An Opportunity of a Lifetime on Hennepin Avenue

It was a moment that forever shaped the way I think about street reconstructions. A mom speaking at a public meeting, holding her child, asking the city’s public works department for a street with sidewalk space to push a stroller. Even more than that, she wanted a street designed with aspiration for the future — because whatever we decide today, we’re going to be stuck with it from now until the time her little baby is middle aged.

That little baby was me.

Not really. That happened in like 2017. I’m pretty old now. But I think it makes my point quite powerfully. If a street is being reconstructed near you, think of it as the opportunity of a lifetime. You may not be around to see or influence these changes again.

In 2023, Hennepin Avenue in south Minneapolis will be reconstructed from Lake Street to Douglas Ave. Public Works is hosting two upcoming virtual meetings on September 22nd (4:30-5:30 pm) and September 30th (6:30-7:30pm) for you to share your experiences and expectations. 

This 1.5 mile section of Hennepin Avenue runs alongside three neighborhoods (Lowry Hill East, Lowry Hill, and East Isles) with a combined population of 15,000 people, where more than a third of workers don’t drive to work. I chose to live here about eight years ago, after judging it to be the most hospitable place in Minneapolis to live without a car. But “most hospitable place in Minneapolis to live without a car” is faint praise. We must do better.

Minneapolis has a long term goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. In order to achieve this, car trips will need to be reduced by 38 percent. Beyond climate concerns: auto emissions, brake dust, and tire particles continue to cause preventable deaths (and are currently exacerbating sickness and death from Covid-19).

Hennepin Avenue can be a model for what a complete street looks like in Minneapolis. If we won’t do it here, then we probably won’t do it anywhere. According to Minneapolis Public Works (2017-2018) and Metro Transit (2017) “on a typical weekday during AM and PM peak hours, buses are 3% of motor vehicles and move 47% of people on Hennepin Ave.” The future E Line bus rapid transit (BRT) is planned for this area as well. 

While Hennepin and surrounding neighborhoods are full of people walking, biking and busing, the street has been designed in a way that squeezes those folks to the side and makes them less safe. From the city’s crash analysis: “The Hennepin Ave Corridor has a larger percentage of pedestrian and bicyclist crashes (11% overall, 57% severe injury) than the city as a whole (approx. 5% overall, 38% severe/fatal).” And beyond the reported crash data, there are the daily trials, indignities, and near-misses that never get reported. 

But we can’t expect more people to choose greener and healthier transportation if our streets aren’t designed to make it safe, dignified, and convenient. And for those who have no choice? They deserve equal respect. This is why the city has adopted a complete streets policy designating “a modal priority framework that prioritizes people as they walk, bicycle, and take transit over people when they drive.” Better sidewalks, safer pedestrian crossings, bike infrastructure, bus lanes, encouraging non-homicidal vehicle speeds — no matter how you get around, I think that sounds like a better Hennepin Avenue.

The Minneapolis Public Works department will be guided by city policies, such as the (pending) Transportation Action Plan (TAP)Complete Streets Policy and Vision Zero. If you’d like to hold the city accountable to its own policies and goals, you can attend either of the two virtual open house meetings: 

Tuesday September 22nd, 4:30-5:30 pm
Wednesday September 30th, 6:30-7:30 pm

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