The city’s official planning guide says it will implement accessible pedestrian facilities – sidewalks in other words.
The hubbub about the redesign of 3rd Avenue S. downtown has focused attention and criticism on the very seat of municipal government, where pedestrian advocates say the city doesn’t practice what it preaches for sidewalk accessibility.
The west side of City Hall on 3rd features pinch points with as little as 51 inches of clearance between the building wall and a streetlight base. The east side is even narrower.
The minimum ADA width for two wheelchairs to pass is 60 inches. The city requires sidewalks be at least eight feet wide for new construction downtown. Besides pedestrians on foot or in wheelchairs, 3rd also gets foot traffic from people rolling suitcases for LRT trips to the airport.
The situation has prompted the city’s pedestrian advisory committee to launch a full-court press for widening the building’s 3rd Avenue sidewalk when the street is reconfigured this year.
But that’s not included in the plan that’s been recommended to the City Council. That’s largely due to pushback from police, who occupy about a dozen parking spots for the chief, juvenile and homicide squads and marked cars. There’s also a space for TV news vans. Police didn’t respond to a Star Tribune inquiry.
Nevertheless, wider walks are getting some traction. The council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee last week essentially told public works officials to try harder. It urged including “wider, unobstructed sidewalks” in the 3rd Avenue project if possible while removing parking. Failing that, the work should proceed in a later add-on project.
“I’m interested in having the city lead by example,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who authored that staff direction.
By contrast, the Hennepin County Government Center, which opened in the mid-1970s, typically has sidewalks between 10 and 25 feet wide, with only one section as narrow as seven feet for a parking ramp entrance. City Hall was completed in 1905 and early photographs show more extensive sidewalks around the building, especially on 4th Avenue, where the most constricted pinch point now leaves only 36 inches between a traffic signal and a wall.
The Pedestrian Advisory Committee strongly favored an earlier option for 3rd’s redesign that called for 8-1/2-foot sidewalks, and landscaping along the curb for pedestrian protection.
One potential complication for the 3rd design has also been the existence of areaways – subterranean areas that extend under the street that are used for police space, according to Erin Delaney, executive director of the Municipal Building Commission. But that’s mostly for the placement of decorative planters planned as part of the 3rd redesign.