Minneapolis targets downtown jams and neighborhood speedingby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis officials are trying to solve two of the city's most persistent transportation problems. Weekday rush hours downtown turn into a massive jams of buses, cars and pedestrians. In the city's neighborhoods there's constant tension between speeding commuters and residents.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Projections showing Minneapolis' population will grow are putting pressure on officials and residents to offer solutions to the transportation problems. They're putting together a 10-year transportation plan to accommodate the growth.
On weekdays 165,000 people arrive downtown for work. Nearly 40 percent commute by bus. If they were all car drivers the streets would be gridlocked.
As it is, Downtown Council President Sam Grabarski says, the blocks-long line up of buses during rush hours creates it's own chaos.
"If you've ever turned left at the wrong time when these buses have unloaded hundreds of passengers and they all start to cross the street you could probably order a pizza and have it delivered before you can turn left," he says.
City Council member Robert Lilligren says one way to reduce the downtown congestion is with circulators - smaller buses that catch car and bus commuters at the edge of downtown and bring them to their destination. Another way is to separate cars and buses.
"One thing we've learned is that by dedicating some streets to transit or possibly some streets to transit some to auto traffic, both of those transportation modes can improve," he says.
The pressure is on Lilligren and other leaders to come up with a transportation plan for downtown and city neighborhoods because projections show Minneapolis' current population of 385,000 could approach half a million people by 2030.
The old transportation formula is to widen roadways, build more lanes to accommodate traffic. But there's not room in downtown Minneapolis for widening streets.
In neighborhoods on the north side and south side, street widening to accommodate traffic is way down the list of options. In fact faced with rising citizen interest the city is moving in the opposite direction.
Thirteen years ago the city's plan to rebuild Lyndale Avenue on the city's south side included widening. But hundreds of residents protested.
They sent the plan back to the drawing board, became part of the planning process and came up with a new design that reduces rather than adds lanes.
South Minneapolis resident Elayne Lipp who lives on Lyndale Avenue, says the plan for the busy commuter thoroughfare will actually lower everyone's blood pressure.
"The situation now is people always exceed the speed limit and especially at rush hour, and it is not good for neighborhood livability," she says.
Besides reducing lanes from four to two, the plan includes redesigning intersections to unsnarl the tangle that delays traffic behind drivers making turns.
Minneapolis businessman Matt Perry, who served on the Lyndale redesign panel, says vehicle speeds will come down and some drivers will likely choose to use nearby 35W or try other modes.
"Will people stop using Lyndale? No. But some people may have used Lyndale to go down to the Twins game or Vikings game may now consider mass transportation, using bus," he says.
On the city's north side the just completed rebuild of West Broadway includes a median and turn lanes, but the busy commuter route and shopping street has not been widened. North Minneapolis resident and businessman Keith Reitman says the result is a compromise.
"That narrowness does not serve the mainstreet pedestrian needs too well and it does not serve the commuter needs of county highway commuters too well," he says.
Even so Reitman is optimistic the planned bus rapid transit service on West Broadway will help north Minneapolis residents get to suburban jobs and will attract some of the commuters out of their cars and on to buses.
The Minneapolis 10-year transportation plan is still a work in progress. Some parts of the plan are showing up in projects already underway as main streets and intersections are rebuilt. The goal is to have other ideas put to use in a year or two.
One of the most ambitious goals of the Minneapolis plan will take longer, maybe much longer. Officials want to rebuild a portion of the city's once extensive streetcar network. However, at the moment there's no clear source of money for streetcars or other facets of the city's plan.
A good share of the funds must come from other sources including the state which is still undecided about how to fund its own transportation needs, much less those of the state's largest city.