Evaluating the city, foot by foot

  • Article by: KATHRYN NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2008 - 8:38 PM

Minneapolis is aiming to be more friendly to pedestrians.


Three pedestrians crossed the busy stretch of Hennepin Avenue near Loring Park..

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Cynthia Baxter and her 5-year-old dog, Margot, have had some close calls during their daily commute around town.

Even though Margot knows to stay close to her owner's side, the tiny black Pomeranian is no match for the behemoth cars or nimble bicycles whizzing by.

"We've had to scurry to hug the sides of buildings on Washington or guardrails on the Stone Arch Bridge to avoid getting a flat Pomeranian," Baxter said. "Is everyone in Minneapolis late for something incredibly important, or what?"

Baxter and Margot are not alone. From drivers running red lights to crews leaving heaps of snow on sidewalks, many people around the city have at least one gripe when it comes to walking from here to there.

But city officials are trying to change that.

In an effort to make Minneapolis more "walkable," city officials are working up a pedestrian master plan, which they hope will ultimately improve the safety, accessibility and beauty of problem areas.

The process goes like this: The city holds public open houses, the first of which is today, where people can point out pedestrian challenges. Those challenges should lead to recommendations. Those recommendations will be drafted into a plan and presented to the City Council in the fall.

Already, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians are putting in their two cents about potential improvements.

Areas around Loring Park, the Walker Art Center and the North Loop neighborhood downtown need the most pedestrian-friendly improvements, said Star Tribune readers who responded to an invitation to voice their pedestrian pet peeves. Adding alternative traffic signals for visually impaired walkers, raising fines for failing to yield at intersections and requiring bars to clean up their sidewalks were among other suggestions.

But pedestrians themselves came in for some criticism. Readers complained of pedestrians who walk through red lights and those who cross illegally with baby strollers in tow.

Either way, the city aims to make the city safer for pedestrians. The next steps involve developing options to improve the "pedestrian environment." Public meetings are to be scheduled in June and in the fall.

The master plan is funded through grants from the federal Non-Motorized Transportation Project and from Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

Minneapolis is one of four testing cities in a pilot program aiming to reduce driving and increase biking and walking. The other pilot communities are Sheboygan County, Wis., Marin County, Calif., and Columbia, Miss.

Today's master plan meeting is 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Minneapolis Central Library.

Kathryn Nelson is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.

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