Minneapolis' One Way Street Pairings

in 1905, Park Avenue in South Minneapolis was a people-centered boulevard. (Img. MN Historical Society.)

There's a nice article in today's Star Tribune about the possibility of turning Park and Portland Avenues back into two-way streets in South Minneapolis. the piece suggests the need for a balance between "accessibility and liveability", and points out some of the history of the street. But, to my mind, it doesn't put enough on the table.

While author Steve Brandt calls for a release of the city study of the two avenues, he doesn't adequately point out two major costs to the current street alignment. First, the safety hazard of the street that has killed two people (one pedestrian and one cyclist) so far this year. We've covered this pretty thoroughly on this website. Second, the cost to the city of the decreased liveability in the neighborhoods directly ajacent to the two roads. How much is it worth to be able to have your children play in the yard? To be able to enjoy peace and quiet every once in a while? To be able to walk your dog? To sit on your porch?

Discussing liveability, Brandt makes a good comparison between the long-standing airport noise issue and these one-way streets. It's a good comparison, only these unnecessary streets seem to be far worse, because they combine all the noise of an airplane with pollution and safety concerns. It's time to end the reighn of wide one-way streets in Minneapolis, beginning with Park, Portland, 35th and 36th. 

(For more information about the City of Minneapolis's current proposals, see p. 63 of Chapter 4 of the Access Minneapolis plan using the link below.)


Yes, yes, yes

I could not agree more Bill. This is one of the things that absolutely drives me nuts about Minneapolis. The neighborhoods become places to drive through (extremely fast) instead of places to live in -- and become very dangerous for anyone not in a car. James Howard Kunstler had a great rant on one of his podcasts about all the one-ways in Minneapolis. I'll try to track it down.

All the one-ways?

It's a little bit of an exaggeration to talk about all these one-way streets -- there's just a small handful outside of downtown. There was an e-democracy thread on this (started by Steve Brandt) which has some useful information: http://forums.e-democracy.org/groups/mpls/messages/topic/63KoQWualvK3i4pLptKrgO

I think the "one-way" part of this is a scape goat. Those streets have excessive lane widths and lanes. 35th/36th street are more conservative, and they aren't as much of a problem. (Apparently the city also doesn't feel they can turn them into two-way streets because of how they connect with 35W.) I think it would be a terrible waste to do something as boring as to just turn Park/Portland into normal two-way streets. They could be better, but they don't need to be the same as every other street.

I just moved from Chicago, and one thing that is quite nice there is the number of small one-way streets. Those streets are calmer, smaller, less intrusive, and though I don't know if they are safer, I know they feel safer. So I hate to see one-way streets disparaged in a general sense.

Well, from my perch safely

Well, from my perch safely across the river from the streets in question, I respectfully would put advance another perspective.

Are there studies on the safety of one way streets versus two ways, outside of downtowns? I see reasons to support two-way conversions in downtowns. But it seems to me there may be reasons to keep one way streets from a safety perspective.

Seems to me that they are likely to be safer, in part because once cars get "in the flow" of the synchronized stoplights, they are less likely to catch a red or yellow light, and the intersections are the source of most car collisions.

With one way streets you can synchronize the stoplights - which generally doesn't work on two-way streets. You can advertise that the stoplights are synchronized to a 30 or 35 mph speed, or whatever, and thus eliminate a good deal of the incentive to speed.

In general - though I doubtlessly support the basic premise of streets for people - I would think it would be a good thing to provide reasonably speedy but also safe car routes through that part of the City on City streets. Certainly small business that gives streets their life could use a bit of a boost in that area, auto traffic will be part of that boost, and I've never seen Park or Portland particularly "maxed out" in their carrying capacity.

Finally, there's something just more predictable about traffic on one-way streets that would seem, in general, to provide a measure of safety that two way streets, with their confounding need to turn in front of opposing traffic would seem not to provide. But again, I haven't seen the research.

Seems like it is the lane widths on these streets, lack of bump-outs, speed limit, etc, might be a place to focus, along with signage or striping that better alerting drivers to the bike lanes when making turns.

ALL Cities NEED non-freeway cross-town collector and thru street

If the idea is to drive the through traffic over to 35w - FYI - 35w will never be big enough to accommodate - and east side residents are too far away to benefit from 35w anyway. Community need always should exceed individual resident preferences when everyone getting around is one of those needs. YOU don't HAVE to live on that street if you don't like it! Residents in a city should be able to get around, going across the city on major streets like all successful metro areas. A resident near 60th street should be able to go the few miles to downtown - or Lake St shopping - without taking 62 crosstown to 35w. That's a waste. In fact I see many traffic, polution, accident, and injury problems caused by the fact that there is no other through east-west route other than 26 & 28th streets. There ought to be another set of one-ways further south. Because of lake interference the only real possibility is 35th & 36th to be completely one-ways. ... ... AS TO SPEED. Many Many Years ago, before more consideration was given to crossing intersections like Lake, 38th & 46th, Park and Portland lights were timed for 32mph (in a 35 posted zone) and signs were so posted along Park & Portland. I found going exactly that 32mph cleared every light while the speed up and stop drivers never got ahead of me by much but did a lot of pedal pumping. Let's go back to that - it makes sense.

Getting around IS important to residents. One does not only live in one's neighborhood. If you want all of us to drive stop-start at signs all around Minneapolis, Minneapolis will surely die faster in favor of suburbs that do have more modern transportation layouts. And we will have greater polution in our neighborhoods as cars both idle more and accellerate more. I would rather have a strategically placed through streets most people use than put stop-start traffic on all Minneapolis streets.


As Ian and Bob point out, the one-way orientation of these streets isn't necessarily the problem--the problem is too many cars moving at excessive speeds on Park and Portland.  Converting one-ways to two-ways is one treatment that can address excessive motor vehicle trips and excessive speeds, but it is only one of many.  

The City of Portland, OR is another example of a city that uses networks of one-ways that are appropriately designed for an urban context.  As they are designed and operated today, Park and Portland Avenues in Minneapolis are inappropriate for an urban context, IMHO.   

Agreed, somewhat ;)

Yes, my point was more about the one-way thruways rather than all the one-ways in general.

And while I agree that the main issue is speed and there may be a number of ways to address it, it seems the main argument for these one-ways is increased efficiency of travel and the ability to move faster from point A to B. In which case, these one-ways (not all) do encourage faster speeds. But if other suggestions like fewer lanes or smaller lane widths help, that's great.

To the point about mobility...

I understand I'm probably in the extreme minority on this, but I think we will have to completely restructure our cities and re-localize them, neighborhood by neighborhood, because the type of travel we currently undertake will not be possible (and this includes driving across town on these de-facto highways to get to the store) both economically and ecologically.

Anyway, I'm probably not the best at advocating these positions so I recommend reading Kunstler, Dmitry Orlov, and Jaime Correa.

And as for "Minneapolis will surely die faster in favor of suburbs that do have more modern transportation layouts." Huh?


There is a problem with some people driving at crazy speeds on these streets. It's one thing to have stead 35mph traffic; it's noisy and not incredibly pleasant, but it's not so horrible. But there are a small but significant number of cars that travel *way* faster than that. And the lights almost seem to be timed for something like 40mph traffic.

We don't need to slow the traffic to a crawl there to make it much better.

In defense of through-ways: Park and Portland are throughways for residents of the city. There's people who say 35W is the throughway people should be using, but inside the city the interstates are not useful -- there's too few entrances and exits. The interstates are really most efficient when traveling longer distances (e.g., to or from a suburb).

If we could rip out the interstates and replace them with high-volume city-oriented streets like Park and Portland that would be a great improvement ;) (Some cities work like this; someone mentioned Winnipeg in a post somewhere.) But of course that's not on the table. Still, we shouldn't make all streets the same, or all parts of the city the same.

Should cities be more like suburbs?

I think most people in this conversation agree that speed on these streets is a problem, and that doing something about it would improve the city. It's my opinion that making the streets back into two-way streets presents the least expensive and easiest option for dealing with this problem. Other solutions would involve lots of infrastructure, and would cost the city money it doesn't have

But the argument that we need to have one-way streets because otherwise people wouldn't be able to get around (and would move to the suburbs) seems like a very old canard. Many cities bought this line back in the 60s and did lots of street widening (and one-way treatments) in order to 'compete' with the auto-centric suburbs. That didn't work for cities, and did far more harm than good. Minneapolis should be trying to offer an alternative to the suburbs, to keep its unique, historical and walkable neighborhoods vibrant and pleasant. This means some serious reduction in auto speeds.

Just look across the river. Saint Paul (while it has lots of streets that need some major calming IMHO) doesn't have any of these high-speed one-way streets. And people aren't moving out of the city because they can't drive fast enough. People still get around quite well in Saint Paul. Minneapolis would only gain by making this simple change.

Neo-luddites gone wild

Anyone arguing for turning Park and Portland back into what they used seem to be advocating for turn of the 20th century life. Problem is, it's not 1909 it's 2009.
If you have problems with Park and Portland then put those on the table. If you want to turn those streets back into what they used to be then you're arguing against automobiles themselves.
Let's recognize streets in the city that need ACTUAL WORK RIGHT NOW. Talking about this ahead of those is nothing more than a distraction. Seriously, this is absolutely NOT work talking about until we re-engineer, rebuild or resurface a couple dozen thoroughfares of greater need first.

Local retail and walkability

Having relocated from NYC I see a major gap. One solution to this problem would be local retail that actually provides what the neighborhood needs. This would resolve the problem of people driving across the city, or any distance greater than one mile, for basic services.

For example I live in Whittier. In less than 1/2 mile radius I have all the services I need. In addition, I am close to downtown, uptown, midtown exchange, and local bus routes. Between walking, taking the bus, or biking all my needs are met.

Yes, the NIMBY knee jerk reaction to this is NO, but otherwise how do you solve the issue without full reconfiguration as Neal suggested. This is why we need to get away from the silos and talk comprehensively about solutions.

More photos of Park Avenue

Some more neo-luddite imagery from the past: