For decades, we have prioritized the movement and storage of cars on our streets. These decisions have come with serious consequences.
Today, carbon emissions from driving are the largest and fastest growing cause of climate change in the United States. An epidemic of traffic crashes produces close to 100 fatalities on Minneapolis streets each year.
In addition, discrimination in transportation decisionmaking has created and perpetuated racial inequity — from Black homes and businesses being destroyed during the creation of the interstate highway system, to Native Americans today being the group most likely to be killed while walking in Minneapolis.
Climate change and racial inequities intersect closely. For example, the impacts of climate change are going to be felt the most in Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities — groups that have contributed the least to the problem.
Today, just 9% of Minneapolis streets, called the “high injury crash network” are responsible for over 70% of the worst traffic crashes. Nowhere is this more evident than on Minneapolis streets owned and operated by Hennepin County. These streets make up nearly half of the high injury crash network.
This is why Our Streets Minneapolis launched a new campaign called County Streets for People — a grassroots effort to build community wide support to reshape Hennepin County streets.
For example, Lyndale Avenue South could become a calmer, safer street if narrowed from four lanes to three with a center turn lane, raised crosswalks, bike lanes and bus islands. All of these can be done quickly and efficiently.
The impact of COVID-19 has left Minneapolis and cities across the nation at a crossroads. As we begin to recover from the pandemic, we must ensure that transit riders and others don’t switch to driving, which would exacerbate the problems of traffic congestion, air pollution, traffic crashes and carbon emissions.
To prevent this scenario, and foster more equitable transportation outcomes, we must rethink what our streets are designed to do. We must increase the availability of street space for people biking, walking, rolling and taking public transit. And we must prioritize the voices of those who have been left out in transportation decisions.
It will also be crucial to financially sustain Metro Transit through this crisis. While the agency has taken steps to protect rider safety through cleaning, mask wearing and social distancing, it will take time to safely rebuild transit ridership. Without emergency assistance, long-term service reductions or fare increases could be required, which would disenfranchise people who cannot afford to own a car and undermine the Twin Cities’ long-term economic recovery.
These changes would be the first step toward a more comprehensive transformation of our streets. Local governments can’t do this on their own. In addition to emergency transit funding, Congress should increase long-term funding for walking, cycling and transit as part of a new transportation bill currently being negotiated.
We also need local governments to create streets that put people first.
Ashwat Narayanan is executive director, Our Streets Minneapolis. Ron Burke is senior manager, Lyft Bikes and Scooters/Nice Ride.