While residents seem ready, county officials not persuaded the change is necessary.
Tired of cars whizzing through their neighborhood, residents of the East Hennepin area are pushing to eliminate one-way traffic on two key streets.
The conversion of E. Hennepin Avenue and 1st Avenue NE. from one-way to two-way streets is the top transportation priority of the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood’s draft plan for their area.
“If you want to … restore the old East Hennepin commercial district, the fact that you have one-way Hennepin and 1st [avenues is] really harmful to trying to get that done,” said Victor Grambsch, president of the neighborhood association.
Not only is it harder to woo customers traveling at high speeds, Grambsch said, but one-way streets make navigation of a commercial area more cumbersome.
Since the early 1970s, cars have used three lanes of one-way traffic between downtown and NE. 7th Street on Hennepin and 1st avenues, a corridor that passes such local landmarks as Nye’s Polonaise and Surdyk’s. In 2009, the two avenues were converted to two-way streets on the downtown side of the river.
The neighborhood’s vision for the area is now under consideration at City Hall. The neighborhood plan must be approved by the City Council and will help guide future development and infrastructure decisions in the area.
The neighborhood is already facing resistance from Hennepin County, which owns the road.
In a critique of the plan, J. Michael Noonan, administrator of the county’s office of strategic planning, wrote that “one-way to two-way roadway conversions affect traffic operations and safety by increasing conflicts and the potential for crashes.”
Noonan said Hennepin County does not currently support this proposed change.
Another major difficulty will be determining how the new two-way streets would flow onto the Hennepin Avenue Bridge, which is composed of two one-way corridors. Grambsch said a specialized intersection would be required.
Grambsch said the neighborhood will likely compromise on some of the proposed changes, but added that local leaders need to view streets as being home to more than just cars.
“There’s this famous line from George Clémenceau about ‘War is too important to leave to the generals,’” Grambsch said. “And I think that we want to go with: ‘Use of the street is too important to leave to traffic engineers.’ There is just simply many more uses of the street than moving cars.”
These segments of Hennepin and 1st avenues carry 15,300 and 10,300 cars per day, respectively, the county said.
One-way to two-way conversions are somewhat rare in the city. A city spokesman said 1st Avenue S. between E. Franklin Avenue and 29th Street was converted in 2003. Following the conversion of Hennepin and 1st avenues downtown, the city discovered that traffic accidents actually decreased.
Specifically, the neighborhood’s plan would convert three 12-foot one-way lanes into two 11-foot drive lanes and one turn lane. That would allow room for a tree-lined boulevard, which is known to ease traffic.
Another factor in the potential conversion of the streets are proposals to run a streetcar into the area. Plans drawn up by the neighborhood envision it traveling in mixed traffic along one of the drive lanes on Hennepin Avenue, possibly beside a new protected bike lane.
Council Member Jacob Frey, who represents the area, noted that proposals for a high-rise building on the Washburn-McReavy site and a to-be-determined high-rise building at the Superior Plating site illustrate a vibrant and rapidly evolving neighborhood.
The area “is still very much an on-ramp and an off-ramp for large segments of the day,” Frey said of the street. “This measure would be designed to move away from that.”