Despite the forecast for heavy storms, Audubon Neighborhood Association (ANA) members and city representatives met on Aug. 18 to discuss and observe ongoing safety concerns along 29th Avenue NE. The association has arduously advocated for a full reconstruction of the thoroughfare for several years.
Members of the 29th Avenue Project, a subcommittee of the ANA, led a discussion and walking tour of the areas along the route they believe pose the potential for accidents and serious injury. Residents who attended expressed concerns about the road conditions.
Megan Wolle, who works at home and has a front-row window view of 29th Avenue, says the increase in traffic has deterred her family from walking and biking along the well-used street. “It’s very anxiety-inducing having that level of traffic in our neighborhood,” said Wolle. “I’m also a cyclist, and I’m sure anyone who drives on 29th Avenue knows how terrible it is.”
Some of the safety hazards identified include the wide lanes of 29th Avenue that encourage speeding, increased freight traffic, a lack of crosswalks to Northeast Middle School and Audubon Park, and poor lighting on the bicycle collector route.
ANA has worked with Public Works since 2017, and previously developed a full reconstruction plan that would begin in 2021. But residents and business owners were disappointed when the plan was dropped from the budget in January 2022, and at best, downgraded to a resurfacing project to save money.
The neighborhood association and residents sprang into action and began to organize a plan to show local politicians and residents first-hand why the street needs a more intricate design. “We all came here for different reasons,” said Jonathan Harms, ANA member and project member.
“Some people noticed the speeding, others saw smog, or some with issues walking their dogs. But despite having different perspectives on many things, [we are] organizing work together because we can all see that 29th Avenue is in rough shape. We can see that it’s getting worse, and it has problems that won’t be fixed with band-aid solutions.”
The walking tour began at Audubon Recreation Center and included Ward 1 Councilmember Elliott Payne, District 60A Representative Sydney Jordan, and Mayor Jacob Frey’s senior policy aide on infrastructure and legislative affairs, Suzanne Sobotka. The group traveled across Johnson Street, pausing at the intersection of 29th and Hayes Street NE.
The need to slow speed
Between the Hayes Street and Arthur Street four-way stops on 29th, the ANA collected automated traffic data to learn more about the driving habits in the area, using a Raspberry Pi processor and specialized camera/sensor. The findings indicate high levels of speeding, creating danger to students and families crossing the street to get to the middle school.
“We’ve got people traveling 45 mph between these two [streets] that are measured at Garfield [Street],” said Harms. “In the middle of a school zone, you can’t police that. It shows there is a culture of speeding that must be fixed through design and it’s one of the key reasons why we think a full redesign is necessary.”
Three-quarters of the Northeast Middle School student population consists of students of color from multiple wards. From a race equity perspective, the 29th Avenue project group wants to advocate for people of color who live in the area and attend the school by providing equitable and safe access to roads. Students coming and going from the school often cross the street, placing them at risk of injury due to speeding traffic. ANA Executive Director Deborah Brister says downgrading to pavement replacement “does not make sense to cut corners like this when the city is trying to combat traffic fatalities through its Vision Zero campaign.”
Councilmember Payne said, “I want to look at the budget for that traffic calming process because as we talk about a culture of speeding, I would rather not have to deploy police resources for that type of risk in the community,” said Payne. “I’d rather our built environment prevent that kind of speeding in the first place. I think it’s going to be more effective and it’s going to be safer for everyone involved.”
Increased freight traffic
Besides the need for crosswalks at the school and recreation center, the neighborhood group and residents expressed concern about the increase of freight traffic over the past three years. After CP Rail demolished a building they originally planned to use for more storage and shipping expansion, residents in the area noticed an increase in freight traffic along 29th Avenue. The increase of freight traffic in 2019 was due to a new Shoreham Yards entrance opened by CP Rail at Central Avenue and 29th.
“Stop the semis,” yelled a passerby out of their vehicle window, supporting road redesign on 29th Avenue.
The walk again commenced with a stop at food truck Fare Game, at 29th and Johnson Street. Business owner Jason Sawicki believes the freight activity can place his customers in danger when the large vehicles pass through the intersection of Johnson Street and 29th Avenue. He’s even placed huge planters around his outdoor restaurant as a means of protection for his restaurant patrons.
“I see a lot of things that are kind of scary,” said Sawicki. “A lot of semis come down here rolling [through] pretty fast, making a lot of noise. There are a lot of young families around here and a very well- traversed intersection. It’s one of my concerns as a business owner that something could happen one day.”
Some of the solutions include a similar design to the 2021 reconstruction of Johnson Street NE. Narrower traffic lanes and installed medians helped discourage speeding and large freight trucks from using the Johnson Street route.
ANA’s written plan says that while they do not want trucks banned, they do want the traffic brought down to a safer level given the foot and bike traffic along 29th.
As the group finished the final leg of the walking tour back to Audubon Park, the lack of a crosswalk was pointed out while crossing 29th at Buchanan Street. Payne says he’s lived in Northeast most of his adult life and has seen the road conditions worsen over time. But as we adjust to a post-COVID world, Payne says revisiting and prioritizing past project decisions is important.
“We recently just approved the street design guide that has a robust framework around how to improve bike ability, pedestrian facilities, safety, and water management because of flooding towards the bottom of a hill,” said Payne. “We have the tools in place to be able to do a comprehensive redesign. It’s just a matter of making sure that we prioritize that for this road [29th Avenue].”
Jordan says listening to residents talk about street safety is necessary and acting if possible is essential. “I’m always worried about street safety,” said Jordan. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about public safety, and I have found consistently that Northeast residents feel the least safe when they’re interacting with roads and streets. Beyond anything else, we need to have safe streets. That seems like a very basic thing. If we can do more with road design, we should do it.”
The ANA and residents will continue to seek funding and support from local politicians for the project.
“Our next immediate goal with 29th Avenue is to keep pushing for a full redesign and reconstruction, with whatever avenues are available to us in the budget process,” said Harms. “It’s our job to show neighbors, businesses, and the city that reconstruction is the only way forward. We will continue working with Public Works to address the lack of pedestrian signage and with Shoreham Yards to identify other paths freight trucks can take. Both have been willing to work with us in the last few months. Most importantly, we’re going to keep growing our organization and building our voice as an opportunity for the entire community to engage with this issue.”
The city’s Public Works Infrastructure Committee will continue to work with ANA to develop plans surrounding traffic calming. The meetings about the project redesign can be viewed on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KUp1ecOm8g. A copy of the ANA report can be accessed here.
Below: Audubon Park residents and city of Minneapolis reps gathered around Fare Game on Johnson Street to discuss safety issues along 29th Avenue NE. 60A House Rep. Sydney Jordan looked over the proposed Audubon Neighborhood Association plan for 29th Avenue NE. ANA Member Jonathan Harms explained the traffic safety concerns at 29th and Hayes. (Photos by Marla Khan-Schwartz)