Between 2015 and 2019, there were 2,473 crashes involving motor vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists on University and Central Avenues from the Mississippi River to U.S. Hwy. 10; 1,173 were on University and 1,300 were on Central. Of the more than 2,000 crashes, 110 resulted in deaths or serious injuries. Two more deaths occurred on Central Avenue this year.
They are statistics to ponder as the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) begins a study of these two state highways, with an eye to future use.
In a Zoom meeting on Oct. 27, presenter Heather Kienitz said 17 intersections – nine on University and eight on Central – have higher than average crash rates.
MnDOT actually expects traffic rates to remain flat for the next 20 years. Companies that have shifted their office personnel to working from home during the pandemic may well decide to continue that practice when the emergency is over. And larger somewhat parallel highways 35W and 252 are absorbing traffic increases.
Ten percent of residents in the study area don’t have access to a vehicle, Kienitz said. More people live at the southern end than at the north.
Mass transit is part of the transportation mix, but 17% of all bus stops are not accessible via sidewalk. MnDOT showed a photo of a bus stop in Fridley that sits right on the shoulder of the highway, without so much as a pullout lane or bus shelter to protect bus riders. Kienitz, the traffic engineer with Short Elliot Hendrickson leading the technical aspects of the study, noted that 65% of bus users have cars, but walk to transit stations.
Pedestrian “comfort” is another concern. Intersections in Minneapolis are somewhat safer than those farther north, where speeds are higher and there is more traffic volume. During the meeting, it was noted that roadway lighting is “not good” for pedestrians or bicyclists.
Only 1% of total traffic goes from end to end, from Central and University to Hwy. 10. About 15-25% of through travel takes place between I-694 and Anoka Co. Rd. 10.
University (Hwy. 47) and Central (Hwy. 65) are important freight as well as transportation corridors. Companies such as Target, Cummins, the United States Postal Service and Quality Pork use these highways to receive and ship goods. Shoreham Yards, between the two highways in Northeast Minneapolis, also has a great deal of freight traffic coming and going as trucks pick up and deliver intermodal freight containers.
MnDOT has identified nine focus areas they think will need work in the next 20 years, and are open to hearing about others. On University, those areas are the junction with Central Avenue to 1st Avenue NE, 16th to 27th Avenues NE, 37th-47th Avenues in Columbia Heights, 53rd to Mississippi Street in Fridley, up to Osborne Road. On Central, those areas are the junction with University up to Broadway Street, 24th-29th Avenues NE, 37th-51st Avenues NE in Columbia Heights, and from Rice Creek to 81st Avenue NE in Fridley.
Dave Elvin, MnDOT project co-manager/planner with Tony Wotzka, acknowledged that the study covers a very large area. “Six municipalities,” he said. “We don’t have a specific project in mind right now. We’re just gathering information and input. Next year, we’ll come back with some concepts for people to discuss.”
To get a better picture of the scope of the Planning and Environmental Linkages study, take a survey and make comments of your own, visit MnDOT’s website, www.universitycentralvision.com. It will be up until Nov. 25. Planners are also open to meeting with neighborhood organizations and other groups, and anticipate making phone calls to reach people who use the two thoroughfares.
Below: Hwys. 47 and 65 are under study. (Graphics provided by MnDOT)