Minneapolis downtown to become more pedestrian friendlyby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
The new 35W bridge that opened in Minneapolis this morning does not allow pedestrians. It's an interstate bridge after all, and there are two other bridges on either side which accommodate walkers. However, designers of the new 35W bridge did include a plan for a walkway under the bridge, and if money is ever found the walkway could still be built. That would be a most welcome development to Minneapolis officials because the city is on a mission to encourage walking. A public meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. today at the central library in downtown Minneapolis to hear suggestions from people about how to make the city more accessible to walkers.
Minneapolis, Minn. — 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."
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.
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.
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.
- Morning Edition, 09/18/2008, 7:25 a.m.