Monday night I walked the road to Zion (Pillsbury Ave), where the City was holding a meeting on the impending reconstruction of Nicollet Ave between Lake and 40th. The hosts happened to be my old friends Kimley Horn & Ass. and the facilitating was no less than head honcho Horn, who handled pretty well the sharp twists of opinions from residents of a relatively progressive and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood in an otherwise conservative city. Unfurled at this meeting was the new layout for Nicollet, so fresh it isn’t even online yet. [Edit - Thanks to Reuben for the news that this layout is now online - see the project page for the big ol' pdf.]
Legend has it that this stretch of Nicollet can fold a steel bike rim over like a taco shell. Probably the only place in the Twin Cities where I am unable to read on the bus is on Nicollet between Lake and 38th – the constant tremor makes me more queasy than the tilt-a-whirl after too many funnel cakes. More quantitatively, this segment of a fairly important arterial has a Pavement Condition Index lower than 99% of Minneapolis’ street miles (as of 2009 and not counting CSA streets). The mess of a street running through the Lyndale neighborhood could be used to indict the politics-driven CLIC process.
But I’ll instead use it to indict the wide-road policies of the Automobile Age, which in 1954 built a Nicollet Ave with a 50′ wide roadbed, creating 50 years of confusion about how many lanes there are and encouraging drivers to speed around the spacious corners. As a result, Nicollet Ave between Lake and 38th has a much higher accident rate than nearby comparable streets.
The layout presented last night remedies the safety problem in the most direct way possible – by narrowing the street. As presented, Nicollet will go from 50′ width to 44′ in typical mid-block segments and 46-48′ at intersections depending on left turn lanes, major cross streets, etc. The layout shown last night also included solid stripes between the parking and the through lanes, which should help to reduce confusion.
The design as presented also included bump-outs, although they made pains to emphasize that they would only be built if the community wanted them. Not sure why such a crucial safety feature would be contingent on the support of such an unrepresentative group as people who show up to community meetings, but I also got the sense that it would take a pretty determined resistance to drastically change the design at this point. The timeline for the project is shooting for the city council to approve the layout by August, allowing the public a generous 55 days to collect its thoughts and make well-reasoned suggestions. We’ll see when the layout gets published online for those members of the public who didn’t have a chance to memorize it.
The condensed timeline also makes it clear that Public Works won’t consider a variance to MSA guidelines, which take at least three months to go through. That means that the community’s input is really limited to widening the street at this point, since the design already allows for the narrowest street possible under MSA (the traffic count they’re designing for assumes Nicollet is connected north of Lake St, for which they forecast more than 10,000 cars along the whole stretch). If they had asked their intern to come up with this formulaic design shortly after the last public meeting for this project (almost a full year ago), there would have been time to apply for an MSA variance.
That is a problem because the proposed layout actually reduces sidewalk width in a lot of areas. Mr. Horn said that can be mitigated by reducing boulevard width – an idea that will certainly have widespread appeal, since everyone hates boulevards. If there was time for a variance, the parking lanes could be reduced to 8′ and 2′ reallocated to each sidewalk, making the everyday occurrence of two strollers passing on a Nicollet sidewalk a little bit easier.
I have simmering in the boozy cauldron of my brain a hot batch of ideas to proactively address the unsafe conditions on Nicollet and I hope to flesh out and submit soon (there is a tight deadline, after all). I’ll list them quickly so readers can call out the craziest:
- Parking bays south of 38th
- Textured driving surface in the business node at 38th
- Roundabouts at 35th and 36th (they’d probably need signals for the traffic on 35th & 36th heading for 35W
- HAWK signal at 34th
- One-way, right-turn only entrances and exits for the eastern segments of 33rd and 32nd
There will be another public meeting in July to discuss aesthetic details (sidewalks were specifically mentioned as an example of these). We’ll see how much the proposed layout has changed in response to community input.