Q&A with Hennepin for People

Hennepin for People supports city's proposed plan for Hennepin Ave. South

One of our co-founders answered questions from the SW Connector:

Question: Please talk about who you are, how you are connected to this area, and how you use Hennepin Ave. 

Answer: I’ve lived in the Wedge neighborhood (just east of Hennepin Ave) for almost 10 years. I choose to live here because it’s walkable to grocery stores, shops and other destinations. It’s also served well by transit and has good biking infrastructure. I mainly experience Hennepin on foot or transit to access all our local businesses and to get to Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska, Loring Park and the Sculpture Garden. I co-founded Hennepin for People because as a woman of color I know how our streets don’t serve everyone well. For generations, city streets were built solely with car travel in mind, at the expense of the Black, brown, and Indigenous communities who experience the most traffic related fatalities (followed by seniors and children). I want a reconstructed Hennepin that ensures safe and comfortable passage for everyone who uses the street on a daily basis, no matter how they travel . And if you depend on your car, I care about your safety too. Nobody is served well by the high speeds and reckless behavior encouraged by the existing design of this street.     

Question: How has the first half of the Hennepin Ave. reconstruction project been for your/self/family/business? What parts do you like and what don’t you?

Answer: My preference was for a more ambitious design for Hennepin south of Lake Street  but it was implemented before the Transportation Action Plan was adopted. I appreciate the pedestrian improvements and the inclusion of bike lanes. It would have been better for the bike lanes to have been concrete protected or at sidewalk level to deter drivers from parking in the bike lanes. I would like to see more greenery, public seating, and dedicated bus lanes.

Question: How would you describe the proposed plan for the second half of the Hennepin Ave. reconstruction project?

Answer: In the recommended layout for Hennepin Avenue I see a street that values people who walk, roll, bus, bike, and drive. Based on crash data, the city has designated Hennepin Avenue as a high injury street; the current layout doesn’t serve anyone well. I am excited about the recommended layout especially with the future E Line Bus Rapid Transit. During rush hour, 49% of the people in vehicles on Hennepin are in buses; this is why 24/7 bus lanes are absolutely essential – transit riders deserve priority. Our population is growing and we should use the limited space we have efficiently. We can’t compete with suburban shopping centers on parking availability. But we can and should embrace what makes this area special: the density of people and destinations, and the choices we have for how to travel.

Question: What do you appreciate about the plan and what worries you?

Answer: In the plan I see that the City of Minneapolis takes seriously their adopted climate and transportation policies like Complete Streets, Vision Zero, and the Transportation Action Plan. It’s easy to say what your values are – much harder to act. By following through on implementing these policies it helps build public trust. Also reflected in the plan is a city that takes climate change and racial equity seriously. Dedicated 24/7 bus lanes, pedestrian improvements, a bike route for access to our many Hennepin Ave businesses –  these are all supported by existing city policies. I want to see the recommended layout fully implemented as proposed. This will be up to the City Council and the Mayor. This is an opportunity for the City Council and Mayor Frey to show climate leadership. While Hennepin is a city-controlled street, what happens with this street can set a precedent and shape the redesign of dangerous county-controlled streets across our city.  

Question: Hennepin Ave. is used by businesses, residents, walkers, transit, etc. In what ways do you think this plan balances the needs of those users and in what ways doesn’t it?

Answer: It’s important to begin by noting that the current design of Hennepin Avenue reflects generations of prioritizing fast car travel over the needs of people and neighborhoods. The recommended layout is an inclusive design that redistributes space in a way that considers the needs of everyone who uses the street. The current design of Hennepin Avenue is a pass-through street that encourages speeding. The recommended design will bring more people to the area. It can become a place to gather, linger, shop, and dine at our great local businesses. The most important change brought by this design is that no matter how people get around, they can do so safely.   

Question: What is your response to those concerned about how reduced parking will affect small businesses?

Answer: What gets lost in the conversation about parking is that Hennepin Avenue itself constitutes less than 10% (342 spots) of the total available parking (3630 spots). This is all data from the city’s parking study. Cross streets provide 453 spots, parking ramps provide 1,405, and parking lots add an additional 1,430. There’s currently enough parking to go around. I’d encourage people to look at the city’s parking study showing even during the busiest times of day, 25-50% of on-street parking on the Hennepin corridor goes unused.

What I hear when I talk to my friends and neighbors is that very few of them are willing to park on Hennepin Avenue as it is. They prefer to park on a side street or interior street and walk a short distance. Hennepin as currently designed is not a street you want to step out from your car and immediately confront fast moving traffic.

I want our local businesses to have a street where they can thrive and this recommended layout will deliver. I want to walk, bike or bus to businesses on Hennepin without fearing for my safety. I want to gather with friends for a conversation on a restaurant patio without having to fight the sound of four lanes of speeding traffic. Study after study shows that making these improvements will be good for local businesses. People who walk, bike, roll, and bus, shop at local businesses more often and spend more money. This area is desirable because of the amenities and the density of people; more than 15,000 people live in the project area. I understand people can be resistant to change, but this change will be a good one.

Question: Any other comments?

Answer: With my extensive organizing with Hennepin for People I’ve had the opportunity to talk to so many of my neighbors about this project. There is so much excitement about creating a Hennepin Avenue that works for everyone who lives, works and travels the corridor. This street reconstruction will last us for at least the next 50 years. We owe it to ourselves to be ambitious and forward thinking with its design.