Well, that didn't last long.
The city of Minneapolis is removing five pedestrian medians that it installed over the summer to try to make it easier for pedestrians to cross E. 26th and 28th streets, a busy pair of one-way streets. The installation and removal tab will total $40,000.
The medians simply posed too many problems, according to the city's No. 2 public works official. Drivers hit them or couldn't make the tight turns they require, and there were worries they'd cause problems for snowplows.
The reversal represents a failure of a new approach that the city said earlier this year would better integrate pedestrian and bike projects into transportation planning.
"The appropriate coordination did not occur, and we have taken steps to prevent it in the future," said Heidi Hamilton, deputy public works director. She declined to say which section of her department dropped the ball. "I'll take responsibility for this," she said. Hamilton said the medians will be removed by the end of November, but not before replacements are designed. She said those won't be installed until next spring.
"I'm concerned that this decision is being made from an auto-centric mind-set," said Ethan Fawley, better known as the city's foremost bike lobbyist than as a pedestrian advocate. He blew the whistle on department plans to tear out the medians in a blog post for streets.mn. He wrote that the removal makes it more likely that he, his wife or his son will be hit on the way to child care.
The medians were installed as part of this year's sealcoating project on the twin streets, which also looked at what could be done to improve safety for bikers and pedestrians. Those decisions reduced room for cars, installing a protected bike lane on each street between 5th and Hiawatha avenues. The changes came after an series of community meetings in Phillips.
Greta Alquist, new chair of the city's pedestrian advisory committee, gave the city high marks for that process, but said city officials fell short on involving the community in deciding unilaterally to remove the medians. She learned of the decision from Fawley.
The medians are located on 28th at Portland, Park, Chicago and Bloomington avenues, and also on 26th at Bloomington. They're designed to reduce the crossing distance on each of the heavily traveled east-west streets, especially for the benefit of slower-moving pedestrians. In 2012, 4-year-old Jose Manuel Parra Rodriguez was killed crossing 26th when he was struck by a vehicle at 11th Avenue S. Community members pleaded for safety improvements at a subsequent vigil.
Neither of the area's City Council members, Alondra Cano and Abdi Warsame, returned Star Tribune calls about the median removal.
Evan Hall, the Midtown Phillips neighborhood's board chair, said overall, the new lanes and medians have been a plus. "I think there were some design flaws, but we definitely want something there," he said. Hall said the neighborhood opposes removal without community input.
Hamilton said vehicles found it hard to make a right turn around the medians. Hall said he had no trouble in his SUV. "For an eighteen-wheeler, it would probably be pretty awkward," he said.
Hamilton said that police have recorded one instance of a vehicle hitting a median, but that her department has had to repair signs marking the median eight times.
At 28th and Bloomington, bus rider Josephine Harris said she's seen multiple replacements of the signs meant to caution drivers that they're approaching the median. The city has also added orange plastic tubes to try to make the medians more visible that have seemed to help, Hamilton said.
"Is the snowplow going to have enough room?" Harris asked. Hamilton said that's probably her department's biggest concern. She said the tubes could get shaved off by plows or buried under snow, making it possible that plow drivers could ram a median. However, the front edge of each median is beveled.
Kevin Reich, who chairs the council's Transportation and Public Works Committee, said the project lacked a key vetting at its midpoint. "It just goes to show the reason why we check all the boxes on a project," he said. "If just one person doesn't vet it and that one person is a design engineer, problems will arise."
The city spent $23,000 to install the medians and will spend $17,000 to remove them, Hamilton said. The replacement cost won't be known until a design is selected. "There are better designs that can be installed that can achieve the original goals and we're reviewing those," she said.