Hoping to bring order to the chaotic scene that typically follows bar closing in downtown Minneapolis, the city will flood a three-block area with licensing inspectors and agents to direct traffic this weekend.
The plan was unveiled Tuesday morning at a news conference on 1st Avenue, in the heart of an area closed to most traffic on weekend nights. A dozen employees will be stationed in that zone, ensuring that only taxis, buses, limousines and Uber and Lyft drivers are allowed inside.
“We’ve been doing bar close transportation management basically the same way for quite some time,” said Steve Cramer, president of the Downtown Council. “But much has changed about how people get into and around and out of downtown. Light rail, Uber, Lyft, party buses, all of these things now give people different options than they’ve had in the past.”
Police inspector Michael Sullivan, of the First Precinct, said the extra staffing and better coordination among departments will alleviate other pressures on police officers patrolling the area.
“Having those additional resources from our traffic agents is a significant added bonus for our First Precinct officers, so that they can actually kind of do more police work,” Sullivan said. The licensing inspectors will ensure only authorized vehicles are allowed to enter.
The plan also involves stationing food trucks along 6th Street N., giving people another place to congregate after a night of dancing and drinking.
“Hopefully people get a chance to soak up the alcohol, to be safe, and then to get home,” said Council Member Jacob Frey.
Particularly in the summer months, people begin to flood the streets along Hennepin and 1st Avenues around 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings. It’s during those early morning hours when violence grows more common, particularly near the heart of the club district. Three people were shot in early September, just before 2 a.m., near 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue, for example.
“We believe that this traffic mobility plan is a significant contributor to our public safety plan as well,” Sullivan said.
Mayor Betsy Hodges said mobility challenges in downtown “make the end of a great night less fun for people” and put a burden on downtown employees. Yet she also heralded having a thriving entertainment district.
“The fact that so many people are coming downtown from every city in our region, every country in the world, and every neighborhood in Minneapolis is a good problem to have,” Hodges said.
The “pilot project” will be tested this weekend during Halloween festivities. Hodges said the city will be collecting and monitoring data about its effectiveness.