The night before his fatal injury, Theodore Ferrara was spinning records during his monthly gig at Nightingale, a restaurant on bustling Lyndale Avenue in south Minneapolis. He kept playing music until well after closing time, as the staff cleaned the restaurant.
“It turned out to be really special, given what happened the next night,” recalled Nightingale manager Ingrid Soderberg.
Ferrara was struck by a vehicle as he and his friends crossed Lyndale to the Bulldog after midnight Oct. 13, she said. His death brought demonstrators out into the street, blocking traffic and demanding change to a road known for fast cars and dangerous conditions for everyone else.
The stretch of S. Lyndale Avenue between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street has become the center of the push to make city streets safer for drivers, cyclists, transit riders and pedestrians. A 2018 crash study cited the corridor as one of a handful in a “High Injury Network” for all modes of transportation.
It’s a common sight to see people crossing in the middle of the road, with pedestrians sometimes having to walk far to the nearest painted crosswalk. Soderberg knows people who have suffered brain injuries and other serious damage after their scooters and motorcycles were hit by cars.
Soderberg watched that night in October as Ferrara was loaded into an ambulance. He died from his injuries a few days later. He was 54.
“I’ve had long-term issues with the street and the lack of conscious traffic control,” she said.
Three times since then, demonstrators have clamored for safety improvements on Lyndale. Decked out in beanies, mittens and heavy jackets, they walk back and forth along the middle of the road, holding up traffic and hoisting signs that say “Safe Streets For All” and “#FixLyndale.” Members of a new campaign called Safe Streets Save Lives say they plan to protest each month until more changes are made to the street.
“Making Lyndale safer is, I think, step one of a grand movement to make Minneapolis much more livable,” said Abigail Johnson, chairwoman of the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and member of the Safe Streets Save Lives movement. “A more walkable neighborhood creates a better neighborhood and a better living environment.”
Hennepin County and Minneapolis leaders have taken notice. County Board Chairwoman Marion Greene hosted a packed public meeting in December where people shared stories of feeling unsafe on the street. The next month, public works crews installed plastic posts called delineators at 25th and 27th streets, which do not have marked crosswalks, in an effort to control traffic and left turns.
“I don’t think we thought it was going to fix everything,” said Lisa Cerney, the assistant county administrator for public works. “It was the first step that we could take.”
Mobility activists were underwhelmed by the solution.
“It is not a safer street,” Johnson said. “Those are useless safety measures intended to appease us.”
Many of them are calling for the county to convert the four-lane road to three lanes with one center turn lane, which they say would better manage vehicle traffic and speeding, as well as painted crosswalks and flashing lights when pedestrians are crossing the street.
The stretch of Lyndale Avenue was last reconstructed in 1954, according to Cerney. Greene said all options are on the table as the county works to make the street a capital funding priority in the next five years.
The county does not have an estimate for how much an overhaul of the road would cost, and it is now collecting data to learn more about traffic patterns.
“I’d like to see it become a street that has a better balance,” Greene said. “We want more people living there and we want those businesses, but we also need to change the infrastructure to match that, and even change the infrastructure to lead to that.”
County roads have emerged as high priorities for the city, which set a goal to end deaths and severe injuries on streets by 2027. Lyndale itself “needs pretty significant change,” said City Council President Lisa Bender, who represents the surrounding neighborhoods.
“People who live nearby look out their window and hear screeching tires and see crashes a lot,” she said. “It’s really a big barrier in a part of town that’s a walkable neighborhood with lots of destinations.”
The city posted signs banning left turns on 25th and 27th streets and will add more streetlights later this year, she said.
Police officers knew about the latest demonstration, held on a frigid evening Feb. 12, and diverted traffic where demonstrators planned to cross, Johnson said. The protesters moved up Lyndale, handing out fliers to stalled drivers letting them know about the dangers of the road. Some were understanding, others were not; one driver bumped one of the protesters with their car, Johnson said.
Ferrara’s family has made it their goal that no other family go through a similar loss on the street, Soderberg said. She has also continued her push to make the street safer, writing a lengthy e-mail to city and county officials last month urging them to add more lights, larger signals and bollards in front of businesses.
“My feeling and his family’s feeling would be, if he had to die, let’s make it not for nothing,” she said.
The driver who struck Ferrara had a suspended license, and the case remains an open investigation, according to Minneapolis police.