The below is an abridged version (including diagrams) of the feedback I initially sent in on the Hennepin-Lyndale interchange. For those of you who read my last post, this is more about the actual nitty-gritty user experience and what it might take to improve it. I find that the way I think about most things (whether geography or design) intersects mightily with the fields of user experience/user design and human factors, and you’ll see that reflected in here. Additionally, I lack many of the technical traffic/UX terms here and for that I apologize.
This particular section is full of perceived threats to personal safety. Pedestrians are given only one option for crossing here: SW > NW > NE and vice versa. Traffic seemingly comes from nowhere–appearing abruptly from under the bridge and over a very sharp hill. Vehicles speed along. Foot traffic is relatively light, but understandably so–this is a horrible intersection to cross and not a space designed to be walked. Because I use it as a conduit between SW Mpls and downtown, this intersection links up two equally unpleasant paths: the barren interminable stretch of Hennepin and the dirty, dark, noisy, and intimidating sidewalk beneath the bridge.
I feel unsafe walking around here. Sometimes I will check to see if I recognize any of the homeless people (sometimes referred to as the Dunwoody Camp) nearby before I cross into this area because it feels so deserted and I know one or two by sight/name. Without a sense of solidarity from them, it is more frightening, even on a brightly lit afternoon. While there can be some discomfort coming from people asking for money, I would feel much much less safe if they were absent because then it would be a totally deserted and unhuman area.
Because of the restrictions coming from the limited legal crossings (which mean I cannot take advantage of whichever light is green since I need to cross both directions anyhow) and the strong anxiety elicited at this intersection, I will often jaywalk if it appears safe, just to decrease even by seconds the amount of time I spend here.
The clear car-centered scale and design of this intersection means that it can turn even the most risk-adverse and law-abiding citizens into impulsive anarchists willing to take the law into their own hands if it means getting out of this area and back into realms marginally more conscious of people outside cars.
Setting: This lane is technically a yield (but not a merge lane–it is a dedicated lane) for cars. It is excluded from the traffic lights at this corner. Cars here have recently exited the highway and are not attuned to pedestrian traffic.
Problem: There are very few clues for cars to indicate that this path differs from the car-centric highway they just left. It’s a poor line of sight for cars to see pedestrians/cyclists coming down the hill. Often cars treat this as a merge lane (though it isn’t) and are looking only/primarily to their left as they are driving into it, rather than checking for pedestrians or cyclists. Pedestrians and cyclists are left trying to cross, often in front of a stream of traffic that refuses to look our direction. I have personally been treated poorly by cars here (flicked off, yelled at) if I do choose to cross in front of them. Cars treat this lane as totally their right of way and will line up and block pedestrians from crossing if traffic is backed up. I am unsure of what signage cars might see to alert them to pedestrians/cyclists earlier).
Pedestrian experience: This intersection is frustrating and physically dangerous, as well as sometimes threatening. It feels quite exposed. Besides flicking me off or yelling at me, some cars will also speed up unnecessarily close to me, as if to punish me (usually right behind me).
Solution: This yield lane should be removed entirely, in order to protect pedestrians. Instead, cars should have a sharp right turn ONLY on green, so that they will only be responsible for looking for pedestrian/cyclist traffic, rather than also other vehicles. This should have relatively little effect on traffic flow, given how many cars are waiting for the light before turning anyhow (including waiting in what would be the pedestrian crosswalk. This would also mean pedestrians crossing here have one fewer “crossing” to get across the street. (I.e. they don’t have to wait on an extra island.)
Setting: To cross from the SW corner to the NW corner of this intersection as a pedestrian requires waiting on two separate traffic islands. Traffic coming down the hill from the north barrels by, including heavy industrial vehicles.
Problem: There is little here to indicate that pedestrians are welcome or protected. The light is short and often a long wait. We have to wait on two separate islands, the southernmost of which lacks even marginally protected pedestrian access. Cars coming from the north seem to be going really fast. The islands offer NO illusions of protection from those vehicles — the main island does have green space, but not between us and the barreling trucks. I don’t know if they pick up speed coming down the hill, but it really feels like it. The corner for southboud traffic to turn right is very rounded, as if it’s a highway turn rather than a city-street turn. There is no sense of protection from that traffic here and no distance from the road which feels comfortable (too much pavement). Additionally, cars have historically driven right over the curb coming out of the parking lot beneath the bridge, which adds to the sense that sidewalk is not a safe zone.
Pedestrian experience: Crossing here can take more than one light rotation, with a long time between greens. This means that, as a ped, I am very likely to cross without the light if it seems safe, because the entire experience here is so unpleasant and so clearly NOT designed for pedestrians that I want to be out of it as soon as possible. The sight lines for traffic coming from east/west are decent. The width of the larger island feels substantial. The northernmost corner is very bare and threatening,
Solution: Make the northernmost corner a sharper turn angle for cars. Eliminate the smaller southernmost island completely by getting rid of the yield lane. Time the lights to make sure that pedestrians can make it across in one light. On the remaining island, add in barriers to protect pedestrians from the speeding traffic, but keep these low to maintain a clear line of sight.
Setting: Crossing NW > NE corners, with speeding traffic coming from the north.
Problem: Very short sight lines to see if crossing is safe for pedestrians. Cars barrel down this when they have the green and must stop on a red on a rather steep incline.
Pedestrian experience: Crossing here is really nervewracking. Most cars are just off the highway and not slowing down unless they have the red. It often feels as if they aren’t going to stop in time. As a pedestrian, I am tiny compared to everything around me (the bridge, its pillars, the buildings, the signs) and invisible to the cars coming from the north especially, who have very little time before they might see me. I am afraid that they will not stop in time, or that they will be hit from behind and pushed into me as I cross.
Solution: I know this is outside the planning range, but I would suggest allowing pedestrians to cross E>W at the southern path as well, with full lights (which I think is inside the range). Definitely outside the range, I would like to see potentially speedbumps or other physical slowing features to remind cars very quickly that they are entering a city, as they have a short transition from highway to urban area here.
Setting: Crossing this intersection on foot, in any direction.
Problem: There are many random cut-away traffic lanes (I don’t know what they are called) in addition to multiple lanes of traffic in each direction, including drivers about to enter the highway and those just exiting it. It is a confusing interchange for drivers who must choose a lane right away and commit to that decision, while at the same time avoiding hitting pedestrians and cyclists (this intersection appears to have the busiest non-vehicle traffic of the bottleneck).
Pedestrian experience: This intersection has too many islands and the islands are too bare and exposed. Because the islands are so incredibly unpleasant to wait on and the sense of protection provided by them is so miniscule, I will invariably go ahead and cross if I think I can safely. This applies in particular to the strange lanes that jut out of traffic, which confuse me. Each of those feels like it adds to the risk and obstacles I have to juggle, and increases my physical danger. The paths themselves are very indirect, and I will not follow them-I am in transit so I will take a straight line, especially since there is little to entice me onto the traffic islands. As a pedestrian here, I feel extremely exposed, but also much more visible (this could be erroneous) than at the intersection further north. The wind whips around, sometimes driving dust or exhaust or rain/snow into my face and eyes. There is no shade nor a feeling of coolness. The landscape is barren and harsh. It feels as if there is no safe place to stand on the islands-when I do wait on them, I feel I am making a very questionable choice to trust that the cars speeding next to me will not list a few feet to the side and hit me. The sidewalk is often slippery with grit or grime. It is as if I am walking in a giant equivalent of the floor of a car-all sorts of trash and dirt and impermanence, not a space fit for humans.
Solution: Firstly, decrease the number of islands. If that’s not an option (and it needs to be!), then increase the size of the islands and include physical barriers to keep cars off them (concrete, prettified) and to protect pedestrians. Add greenery (sight lines feel less important here). Create a clear maintenance schedule and oversight for ensuring it happens to make sure that sidewalks are free of debris and shoveled to the concrete (NOT plowed-plowing alone just compacts snow into icier patches). Deal with drainage so that pedestrians will not be splashed by cars speeding around corners if they are obedient enough to wait to cross. Program the lights to give peds sufficient time to cross the streets fully, without assuming that they want to wait on a tiny patch of pavement sandwiched between four lanes of huge vehicles on the E, W, and S, and six lanes at a low constant roar below to the N. Keep the crosswalks and paths in straight lines that do not require pedestrians to go out of their way or backtrack in order to obey the law. (I and others I know will make our own straightest line as we walk–it is as if, by completely ignoring pedestrian needs in designing the intersection, we have been given the engineers’ permission to ignore ourselves the strange half-attempts to control our behavior.)
Setting: Biking S > N on the bike path to downtown, when the bike path cuts into Loring Park.
Problem: Loring Park fails in ways for me as a cyclist and as a pedestrian. Firstly, it is indirect and meandering-99% of the time, I’m walking and biking to get somewhere, rather than simply being on a stroll. Secondly, Loring Park can be unexpectedly and suddently deserted-it does not feel safe for me to take as a default path.
Pedestrian (Cyclist) experience: This intersection is a dangerous one for cyclists. I have seen (and heard of additional) crashes between cars and bikes here, each time the car’s fault (e.g. coming from the east and hitting a cyclist who is crossing in the bike path lane with a green light). Because the bike path diverges from the street at this point, I often am routed into the street, where I do my best to keep up with traffic as a very small woman on an equally small bike. I haven’t found cars to be as aggressive here as elsewhere when I bike in the street, but they go so much faster than I can and I am very aware of how much deadlier they are to me than I am to them and how there are really not visual clues for them to even expect me on the road with them.
Solution: Firstly, create a much sharper corner here, perhaps with a bump-out like some of the corners in the Wedge neighborhood. Right now cars don’t just turn whenever they feel like it (a huge problem), they also wait and inch in the crosswalk, pushing pedestrians and cyclists into oncoming traffic (and they get threatening if you walk close to their vehicle or gesture-ask them to move back). Secondly, there needs to be both bike and pedestrian paths (separate, not together) that follow the curve of Hennepin and are given a buffer from the street while still maintaining clear lines of sight. Ignore the existence of both the ped bridge and Loring Park for now-both are designed for tourists, not commuters. Thirdly, cars need to stay out of the crosswalk-this should also deter the kind of inching and sneaking and turning on red that can end in collisions. I would suggest that placing signs further back might help, as well as narrow “speed bump” type low curbs that could alert drivers to when they are crossing into the crosswalk. Lastly, signage needs to be installed and maintained to give very clear and consistent clues to drivers that they need to be aware that they are sharing the road with cyclists and can expect to see cyclists and pedestrians appear without warning.
Setting: Walking up to and crossing Groveland
Problem: Cars forget that they’re no longer on the highway. The westbound lane turning north has a really huge cut-away into the sidewalk, as does the northbound lane turning east, both of which encourage drivers to not stop and look before their turns. While this might make sense elsewhere, it is particularly problematic at this intersection when they are crossing a pedestrian path/a dedicated single-lane bike path. Additionally, bikes and pedestrians are supposed to share a single narrow pathway that is rarely maintained and directly abuts eight lanes of speeding traffic, without any clear direction about right of way–that needs to change if our city really does value pedestrians and/or bikes in any measurable way.
Pedestrian experience: Unclear. I am not sure where I’m supposed to be walking, who defers to whom. I have seen a cyclist heading north in the bike lane with the full green light run into a car turning right without looking, in the middle of the day. The cyclist was not going fast but had no chance to stop. Luckily she appeared to be uninjured. The driver of car didn’t apologize, instead reprimanded the cyclist (who did stand up for her right of way) and checked her vehicle for damage (none). Just one of many incidents that I’m sure never end up in official reports.
Solution: Create separate dedicated bike lanes and walking lanes, with bus stops not blocking either. Make sure that cars cannot do wide right turns by make the corners sharp, which will also protect pedestrians and cyclists as they (wait to) cross. Since the westbound traffic lane here is mostly one lane, do not suddenly increase it to a possible two just for the corner-this is asking for accidents as right turns are especially dangerous for peds/bikes.
Setting: Getting on/off the 6/12/25 southbound, crossing from this traffic island.
Problem: While the traffic island here is large, it’s totally desolate and unwelcoming. Its shape is very car-centric.
Pedestrian experience: Compared to the 4 stop, this is pretty much paradise, but that should be taken as damning by faint praise. The bus stop here has changed little in my 25 year memory of it, which is about the best that can be said for it. I think the island itself has declined, however, with no greenspace and cars parking on both sides of the random frontage road behind it. I am not sure why that road exists or if it needs to have parking on it, but I can tell you that crossing the streets surrounding this island (NOT including Lyndale/Hennepin) isn’t pleasant-for some reason, despite regular pedestrian/bike traffic, cars appear shocked at my existence about 2/3 of the time. Perhaps it’s the stress of having just been on Henn/Lyn, or knowing they are about to be? It doesn’t help that the topography of the land hides pedestrians behind cars (even those peds who are taller than me) and it’s right about here (perhaps starting with the direct-to-sidewalk imposing/faceless parking garage doors of the late-80s high rise) that it becomes clear we are leaving a place where pedestrians are welcome and entering a space where pedestrians are at best an unfunded and disliked afterthought. Cars waiting for the light at the northern point often sit in the crosswalk, pushing pedestrians into traffic. The island’s shape itself, as well as the nearest curb cuts opposite it at each corner, encourage cars to take the intersections without full stops for pedestrians and closer to full-speed.
Solution: I’m assuming that the frontage road is staying for whatever reason. Given that, I’d suggest banning parking on the east side of that short street in order to 1) improve the line of sight of cars so that they are less likely to nearly hit pedestrians, and 2) make the island feel safer (I’ve had some unpleasant and creepy incidents with people waiting in cars right there-despite the traffic of Lyndale behind me, I felt very isolated and vulnerable). I would sharpen all the corners here, so that cars need to make actual turns (instead of sort of curves) and slow down to a stop at the stop signs, as those are the points where I am often nearly hit. Basically, the island needs to become a long rectangle. If you look at how much the curb cuts in to allow cars priority, it is pretty clear why this happens–cars are being given a clear message that they only need to think about other cars and about what they’ll be doing at the bottleneck, not about any pesky pedestrians or bikes that might be trying to use the transit corridor as well. I think there could be a benefit to moving the bus stop to the same corner as the Walker, given that the bus is often stopped for the light there anyhow and a decent portion of traffic is probably heading to/from the Walker (with the thought that eliminating a street crossing improves safety). The island absolutely needs to be maintained (especially sand/snow removal) and landscaped (the wholesale paving of random “pedestrian” areas doesn’t scream “you matter too!”).
Setting: Getting on/off the 4 southbound.
Problem: I don’t even know WHAT I’m theoretically supposed to do. Literally. I didn’t realize until looking at this map that while I always jaywalk in traffic here, I think that is what I am SUPPOSED to do, given the traffic design. I hate having to deal with this when I have groceries, library books, or kids or elderly with. The stop is on a traffic island so exposed and so narrow that all the problems of others are magnified-=ice and snow engulf it, sand piles up, the smell of exhaust is everywhere. It’s absolutely inhospitable. It’s also not totally level.
Pedestrian experience: So when I end up being deposited on the most inhospitable traffic island imaginable. I think that theoretically I’m supposed to head back to the traffic lights to cross to land, but the traffic island is pitched and uneven to walk on and ends before the crosswalk. There is the strangest crosswalk button ever, sitting in the middle of asphalt where the island might continue if there were room for it. To trigger a green for myself, I am supposed to be standing flush in the middle of the street with high-speed traffic in both directions on either side of me. And it’s not like it’s a transfer point where I’ll wait for another bus-only the 4 passes that point. So am I supposed to dart across the road the first chance I see? Because that’s the only answer given the road design (not just the only logical answer–the only answer). That’s what I end up doing. (And that stop is necessary, as the one before it is WAY before, the one after adds six full blocks to my route, and both mean significant extra uphill.) Yes, the 6 runs the same route from downtown to this point, but there have been many many times where I have taken the 4 because it came significantly earlier than the 6. I’ve also taken the 4 instead of the 6 dozens of times when the 6 has arrived at my transfer point too full for any more passengers.
Solution: Change the 4 stop to the north side of Lyndale. There’s already a wider island there and sensible 4 drivers will sometimes let passengers out at the red light, which is a much safer option, though it jeopardizes their job, I think. It’s a much safer option, as the pedestrian is then already at a corner (rather than midblock), with more room to manouver, and with a clearer visual link between the bus and them for any cars behind (i.e. the cars might go more slowly or give a wider berth). A crosswalk should then be added to the north side of this intersection, but that would be good regardless to make it clear that the roads are engineered for pedestrians as well as cars. A pedestrian being dropped off by the bus should also be able to trigger the light here. The traffic island itself (regardless of whether it shifts) needs to be wider and with some sort of barriers to provide a sense of protection from the traffic while waiting for the bus, as well as some shelter from the elements and car detritus/splashing.
PHEW! If you stuck with me to the end of this post and read the first one as well, then expect the third post to have a much more positive tone. I ended up part of a citizen advisory committee looking at ways to make this intersection work within the constraints of the funding for all forms of transit through here. I’ll talk about the citizen process, the solutions, the areas that still need work, and the stuff that didn’t really get addressed. Also why you should probably invite traffic engineers and landscape designers to every party you host!