Why I Walked Across LynLake Avenue During Rush Hour

I’m the “this woman” in the video who walked into Lyndale avenue… during rush hour… at an unmarked corner.

Allow me to explain because this is a decidedly bad idea. Yes, it is my right by law, but that doesn’t make it smart. Quite the contrary. 

I did it to illustrate a point: While Lyndale might be a convenient and fast way to travel, it isn’t a safe, people-friendly street. The advocacy group I was with that day--Our Streets Minneapolis--wanted to send that message to our leadership at Hennepin County. You see, while the City of Minneapolis is making huge strides to make our streets more pedestrian friendly, the County is lagging behind.  Since Lyndale is a county road and the City has little jurisdiction over it we needed to direct our energies to the right entity to create change. We simply wanted to demonstrate that the pedestrian experience on Lyndale is a problem now. Today. And regardless of your thoughts on traffic and cars and density and parking and bike lanes, I mean, who doesn’t want safer and more pleasant experience for humans as we walk our streets and sidewalks? Afterall, streets and sidewalks are public realm. As in public… yours and mine and that new mom with the baby stroller. Ours. 

To be fair: I personally do not stop for pedestrians on Lyndale. I mean, why would I? I’m driving 40 mph with a line of cars on all sides of me doing the same. It's (expletive) dangerous to stop. No one around me is expecting it, likely on their phone, not paying attention and liable to smash into me or veer around me and smash the pedestrian. I am not suggesting that we stop for pedestrians on Lyndale as we know it today. That’d be unruly and unrealistic.

I am suggesting that we can remake Lyndale to be an effective corridor for cars and safer for humans. Hear me out… If I’m on a side street and I’m traveling 25 mph, it makes sense for me to stop when I see a pedestrian. It’s easy to go from 25 to zero and back to 25. My fellow drivers expect it and patiently wait for the crossing. 

On Lyndale, relatively minor infrastructure changes can create a completely different culture on the street that encourages more humane behavior. We need only look a few blocks away to Lyndale south of 31st as an example. Traffic still moves efficiently, but with only three lanes and a median, is eons safer for pedestrians, quieter… softer.

I moved to Minneapolis 20 years ago. And even I can remember “the good old days” of bombing down our streets. 28th street was my favorite. With the right timing, I could make it to Hiwatha in like six minutes. It was glorious. For the same trip today, I leave a good 45 minutes early because I know the slow-moving river of traffic that awaits. Do I long for the bygone era? Selfishly, absolutely, yes. But if I can get past myself, I think the trade-off is worth it. I like living in a city that honors people on foot and bike and bus equally--even if it is a little more inconvenient for me. 

As a side note, I own a small business in LynLake and am the co-chair of the LynLake Business Association. I totally, 100% know that parking and circulation is important to the success of our business corridor. I also know that our customers’ shopping and spending habits were changing BEFORE the City started promoting density (ie “more congestion”) and and changing street infrastructure to make them more human-friendly. “The parking problem” is the low hanging fruit. It’s easy to fight about and talk about and blame for shuttered shops. What’s hard is thinking critically about spending behavior and how to help small business thrive in a completely unknown, targeted, utterly absorbing electronic economy

In Lynlake, we aren’t having the parking conversation at every meeting. Instead, we are refocusing our energies--minds young and old--on understanding the seismic shift in the way people spend--ie virtually-- and finding ways to invite people back into our commercial node. We aim to build a healthy coalition of small business owners who support one another. We aim to create a one-of-a-kind place that draws people out of their amenity-rich apartments, off of their screens and into our real and tangible and experiential neighborhood. And once here, maybe they’ll have a beer or nibble or pop into that corner store. 

It's all connected. How we engineer public streets to make them feel safe and welcoming… How creative we get about public spaces and places in Lynlake and how well we do as a commercial district. 

Stepping into Lyndale during rush hour: Not good. Sparking conversations about how to make ours a vibrant and safe city: Not bad.