Last week, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) West Area Manager Mark Lindeberg sent out the following email response to people who have contacted the Department about the urgent need for safety improvements on Olson Memorial Highway.
July 3, 2023 email from MnDOT West Area Manager Mark Lindeberg
Thank you for your note regarding MnDOT’s safety improvement project on Hwy 55 (Olson Memorial Highway). MnDOT greatly appreciates your interest in the work we will be completing this year on Hwy 55 between Thomas Ave N and Bryant Ave N in Minneapolis to improve the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and all users of the roadway in this area.
This year, MnDOT will be reducing the roadway from three lanes to two lanes in each direction and adding in curb extensions at intersections through this section of Hwy 55, improving pedestrian crossings. Additionally, MnDOT will be resurfacing the roadway to allow for all the safety improvements to be more visible and easier for all users. New pavement markings and signage will be installed upon completion of the resurfacing.
MnDOT continues to work on transportation safety improvements in the area with a focus on pedestrian improvements. All the work mentioned above will remain in place until MnDOT’s permanent bike and pedestrian, ADA and roadway improvement project occurs, which is presently scheduled for 2027.
MnDOT also has a planning study focused on this section of Hwy 55, which will help inform the 2027 project. For more information and to provide feedback on that study, visit our website: Hwy 55/Olson Memorial Hwy in Minneapolis study - MnDOT (state.mn.us).
Again, thank you for your interest in this work.
The email shares details about planned safety improvements on Olson Memorial Highway. MnDOT plans on resurfacing the roadway and re-striping it from three traffic lanes to two in each direction while adding curb extensions to narrow crossing distances. While these changes are a step in the right direction, they fall well short of community demands and best practices for safety and transportation accessibility. This continues a pattern of MnDOT and the City of Minneapolis leaving unsafe street designs in place in communities of color, contributing to steep racial disparities in traffic deaths and severe injuries.
- MnDOT is choosing to leave the dangerously high 40 MPH speed limit unchanged.
MnDOT’s email makes no mention of lowering the posted speed limit (the legal speed limit displayed on road signs) and the design speed (the speed that the roadway is designed to accommodate comfortably) on Olson Memorial Highway. This egregious mistake will continue to put people walking, biking, and driving at severe risk. Speed has a major impact on how often crashes occur and whether or not a person survives the crash. For example, a pedestrian hit by a vehicle traveling at 40 MPH survives just 15% of the time. However, if the car is traveling at 20 MPH, the survival rate jumps to 95%. The Bring Back 6th Phase 1 demands include lowering the speed limit on Olson to 25 MPH, which is the standard speed limit for other arterial streets in Minneapolis. MnDOT could also make changes that make it much more difficult for drivers to speed, including narrowing traffic lanes and adding curves to the roadway.
MnDOT is blocking an asphalt art pilot project, ignoring an opportunity to collaborate with Northside youth.
Asphalt art projects are a proven way to reduce pedestrian crashes. A recent study found that crashes involving people walking or biking were reduced by 50% at locations where asphalt art was implemented.
An example of an asphalt art project in Saginar, Michigan. Image from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
This summer, youth at Summit Academy’s Teen Tech Center are undertaking a project to design asphalt art for the Olson Memorial Highway & Van White Boulevard intersection. The students chose this project after one of their classmates was hit while crossing at the intersection. Despite having over six weeks to prepare an application, MnDOT ignored community demands to apply for a Bloomberg Philanthropies grant to fund an asphalt pilot project at the Olson & Van White intersection. The City of Minneapolis expressed support for such a project. However, MnDOT is the ultimate decision-maker for the highway.
MnDOT and the City could easily fund an asphalt project on their own, but MnDOT has gone silent on this possibility. The email mentions that MnDOT is repaving the roadway, which is the ideal opportunity to install asphalt art on a smooth surface. Such a project would be an exciting opportunity to collaborate with the Teen Tech Center students to co-create a design for the intersection.
The proposed improvements include no safe places to bike.
Despite the email claiming the improvements will “improve the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and all users of the roadway,” it makes no mention of adding a protected bike lane or any new bike infrastructure. The removed traffic lane could be repurposed into a protected bikeway and a bus lane. Jersey barriers could be used to separate the bikeway from traffic safely. The Department certainly doesn’t appear to have a shortage of them, as they frequently use them to prevent unhoused people from seeking shelter on MnDOT right-of-way. Instead, MnDOT is leaving it unoccupied.
This was a common criticism by community members last year when talking about safety on Olson Memorial Highway. MnDOT says that the decision to exclude a bikeway was made because they didn’t feel the speed limit was safe for biking. Instead of lowering the speed limit and re-striping the roadway to support lower speeds, they did nothing. People will continue to bike on, and across Olson Memorial Highway, and when they do, they will be forced to choose between biking on the sidewalk or putting their lives at risk.
No pedestrian lighting improvements were included. Community members have frequently expressed concerns about a lack of pedestrian lighting along Olson Memorial Highway.
Better lighting has been shown to improve a sense of security and also helps people walking identify trip hazards. This is especially important in the winter when the sun sets early. A wide variety of portable, solar-powered streetlights exist that could be installed until the corridor is reconstructed. However, MnDOT’s email does not mention anything about lighting improvements.
- It is not clear if MnDOT will lengthen walk signal timing.
The walk signal timing on Olson is incredibly short, forcing pedestrians to scramble across up to eight lanes of traffic. This could be easily adjusted to allow all people, from children to elders, to have adequate time to cross.
Here are five ways that you can take action to hold MnDOT accountable and support the Bring Back 6th vision.
Attend an upcoming MnDOT community workshop on the future of Olson Memorial Highway. These workshops will inform the planned re-envisioning of Olson Memorial Highway in Minneapolis.
Take MnDOT’s Survey on the future vision for Olson Memorial Highway. The survey will close on August 1 and only takes a few minutes to complete.
Register for our virtual community forum, which will be held on Tuesday, July 25 at 6:30 PM. We will share an update on the Bring Back 6th campaign and ask decision-makers to make a public commitment to installing all Phase 1 safety improvements this summer.
Send an email. Let MnDOT know you support the Phase 1 safety improvements to key decision-makers.
Contact West Area Manager Mark Lindeberg at [email protected] or 651-775-5485.