Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from a letter to Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando, First Ward Council Member Kevin Reich and Minneapolis Park Commissioner Chris Meyer.
It is approaching two weeks since Craig Merrill Sulem became a pedestrian traffic fatality crossing Lowry Avenue NE.
I was on a neighborhood walk recently and realized the tragedy of his passing was fading from my memory. My understanding is that he commuted to his job by walking. I spent some time at the Arthur intersection trying to understand how this accident happened.
When I walk across Lowry, I mostly use the two signaled intersections at Hayes and Stinson Parkway which are six blocks apart. Attempting to cross at the intersections between them is harrowing. It is difficult to judge approaching vehicles often going above the 30 mph speed limit. The wide street right-of-way (two lanes and two underutilized parking lanes) encourages a false sense of safety for drivers. It contributes to them not seeing pedestrians waiting at Lowry intersections or walking across. Drivers typically don’t acknowledge a pedestrian continuing to approach them with no change in speed.
Lowry is depopulated of pedestrians because of the undersized sidewalks which disappear totally with winter plowing. Outside of people at transit stops, Lowry is a pedestrian dead zone which is avoided.
The signal intersections at Hayes and Stinson Parkway are also unsafe and uncomfortable. The underutilized parking lanes create a wider crossing while the countdown timer ticks away and approaching cars do not change speed, assuming they can stop or that the light will change in their favor.
Hayes is a Safe Routes to School route, an access crossing to Windom Park, Pillsbury Elementary, Northeast Middle School and on the Minneapolis All Ages and Abilities Network. At the Stinson intersection, a pedestrian crossing the parkway median contends with eastbound turning vehicles while having to watch for westbound vehicles using the parking lane as a turn lane onto Stinson. There are no zebra markings at the intersection and the parkway median has no sidewalk. Right turning vehicles on Stinson are more focused on interacting with left side oncoming vehicles on Lowry than the pedestrian on their right side attempting to cross.
I was thrilled on Jan. 29 to learn that the Lowry Avenue reconstruction project (Marshall to Washington) was awarded a 2020 regional solicitation grant. With some good fortune, we can now look forward to having an improved Lowry Avenue from Marshall to Johnson by 2026. However, the Lowry Reconstruction Phase 3 (Johnson to Stinson) is likely not to happen for some time. There are many reasons for this, some which are understandable and others not. It does beg the question of what can be done now short of a full reconstruction to improve safety along this half-mile pedestrian barrier.
About two years ago, I learned of a MnDOT Safe Routes to School spot improvement program which the public was invited to apply for. I immediately thought of the Hayes intersection where bollard bump outs could be added in the parking lanes. I know how dangerous this intersection feels. I regularly chaperone Pedal Power 4th and 5th graders across it. However, in Minneapolis, the Public Works department determines where improvements are made and a resident request would likely go to the bottom of a long list if ever acknowledged. Lyndale Avenue North also received a 2020 regional solicitation grant this year to add permanent spot safety improvements to locations now marked by bollards. Intersection bollard bump-outs at the six intersections between Hayes and Stinson would be a significant improvement in making it a shorter distance to cross as well as making pedestrians more visible to drivers. Furthermore, protected bike lanes as done on Plymouth, Park and Portland Avenues would address shared climate action and complete street goals. A protected bikeway could prevent the snow buildup that now eliminates pedestrian use of Lowry sidewalks in winter. Bollard protected intersections and a protected bikeway cost substantially less than a future reconstruction which may or may not happen. It could happen before or during the 2023 Lowry Reconstruction (Washington to Johnson).
Speaking candidly, it’s not possible without the willpower of our elected officials and community. I do not know of a ghost bike memorial equivalent for pedestrians. Furthermore, there is no space at this intersection for such a memorial. It would be very fitting to honor and remember Craig Sulem as the impetus for pedestrian improvements along this section of Lowry Avenue.
Dan Miller, Windom Park