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Minneapolis downtown to become more pedestrian friendly

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Redesigning Second Avenue
Minneapolis is redesigning Second Avenue here and nearby Marquette avenue with double bus lanes as part of the city's transportation plan to relieve downtown congestion and make transit more attractive.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

The challenge is people on foot are up against half a century of urban design that champions car culture, says avid walker Sarah Harris.

"For the last 50 or so years we've designed our cities thinking of automobiles first."

Consultant Sarah Harris
Consultant Sarah Harris, founder of Walking Minneapolis, says cities need to create areas that are clean, green and safe if they want to encourage walking.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Harris, a consultant and founder of Walking Minneapolis, promotes ideas that attempt to tame the streets. And she's very impressed in that regard with Minneapolis' strategy.

The city's new philosophy is easy to state.

"In all corridors the auto should not necessarily be the only or most important priority," according to city transportation planner Anna Flintoft. 

Even as she enunciates it, one can almost hear the collision of interests.

The city's promotion of walking is music to the ears of people in neighborhoods and at downtown intersections waiting for a break in traffic. However, it puts the brakes on commuters wanting to speed their trip to work, to school or to the mall on streets free of obstacles such as buses, bikes and people.

Expanding waist lines, rising gas prices and a growth in transit use which often requires a hike to the nearest bus stop are behind the walking revival.

Safer routes are part of a ten-year plan
Minneapolis officials, as part of the city's ten-year transportation plan, are promoting increased use of transit and they view plans for making walking safer and easier as a key component.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

People are more likely to walk when the public space they are walking in is clean, green and safe, says walking advocate Sarah Harris.

"How well is it cleaned, what is the standard of behavior that is being asked of the people that are in the spaces, and do we care in general about the condition of our public spaces," she says.

Minneapolis does pretty well on all points Harris says.  

Minneapolis transportation planner Anna Flintoft agrees.  However the city's busier streets are still mean, and Flintoft says there's work to do.

"Particularly on streets with higher traffic volumes where we've got very narrow sidewalks, not a lot of street trees, constrained conditions sometimes because there are utility poles and other things in the corridor," she says.

Wide sidewalks and plantings
Over the years Minneapolis has tried to create pleasing routes for walking with wide sidewalks and plantings, including this plaza near the Hennepin County government center.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

And then of course, there's winter.

City sidewalks can become long, narrow skating rinks overnight, sometimes lasting for weeks because of property owners aversion to removing snow and ice.

Minneapolis officials tonight will tell people at the public meeting where walking fits in the city's future. Then they want to hear suggestions for improvements.

This is all part of the city's 10 year transportation plan called Access Minneapolis.  

The city received nearly $200 million in federal dollars to redesign downtown streets to accommodate buses, bikes and pedestrians.

The federal money also is being used to designate and design some neighborhood streets as safe for walking and biking. The plan for making Minneapolis more accessible to pedestrians eventually goes to the city council for approval.