Twin Cities Rank High As a Good Place to WalkTwin Cities Rank High As a Good Place to Walk

By Jay Walljasper

The Twin Cities regularly wins praise as one of America's biking capitals but our status as a top walking community goes almost unnoticed-even by those of us who live here.

Nearly twice as many people in Minneapolis commute to work on foot as on bikes--6.7 percent compared to 3.5 percent. Minneapolis ranks first in the Midwest for pedestrian commuters among the nation's 70 largest cities, reports the Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey. The city ranks 10th in the nation-behind New York, San Francisco, Boston and Seattle among others, but ahead of Portland, Chicago and Denver. Twenty to 40 percent of residents walk to work or school in ten census tracts near downtown and the University of Minnesota.

waking on Midtown Greenway

Minneapolis also ranks 9th on a list of top walking cities (among America's 50 largest) according to Walk Score, a website that measures the walkability of neighborhoods across the country.  Just as important, Minneapolis ranks as the 3rd safest city to walk out of the top 50, according to the national Alliance for Biking & Walking. 

Saint Paul walks a bit less than Minneapolis--5 percent according to the American Community Survey--but a lot more than most of the nation.  Saint Paul would rank 15th in Walk Score ratings if it were one the 50 largest cities.

"I would put the Twin Cities far ahead of the curve," notes Dan Burden, director of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute who has spent 30 years traveling the country promoting pedestrian power.  "But you don't want to rest on your laurels. There are still many streets where it's hard for people to get across.  The future of our cities depends on people being able to easily walk."

Here's even more good news for local environmental quality, public health and sense of community (all of which are improved when more people walk):  Pedestrian traffic rose 9 percent from 2010 to 2011, and 18 percent since 2007, according to Bike Walk Twin Cities annual bike counts.

Since 2007 Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC) has managed a $25 million federal grant to find new methods allowing Americans to switch from driving to walking and bikingThe project, focused on Minneapolis and surrounding communities, is part of the Non-Motorized Transportation Program.  Bike Walk Twin Cities is a program of Transit for Livable Communities, a nonprofit focused on increasing transportation options for Minnesotans.

Getting more Minnesotans out on the sidewalks for commuting, errands, exercise and recreation is a core goal of the program. "Helping people to be able to walk comfortably and safely is crucial to the vitality of the Twin Cities in the 21st Century," says Program Director Joan Pasiuk.

Even bike projects, notes BWTC Biking and Walking Program manager Steve Clark, improve conditions for walkers.  "Adding bike lanes to a street means, first of all, no more bicyclists on the sidewalks and, secondly, it encourages drivers to keep to the speed limits. That makes the streets safer for pedestrians, and for other motorists too."

Two innovations BWTC funds and promotes across the metro area deliver ample significant benefits to people on foot: 

*Road Diets--converting four-lane streets to three with a left turn lane in the middle-slows down speeders, thus providing pedestrians with a better experience.  In many cases these projects include curb extensions in which the sidewalk is expanded further into the intersection to shorten the distance pedestrians must cover. BWTC has directly funded road diets on 10th Avenue Southeast, Douglas Drive in Golden Valley and Valley View Road in Edina and others-and the idea is being adopted in communities across the metropolitan area. 

 *Bicycle Boulevards-more accurately "bike/walk boulevards" according to Clark--which offer priority to walkers and bikers as well as local motorists on certain residential streets by diverting through-traffic to busier nearby arterial streets. They have been installed on 40th Street, Bryant Avenue South, 22nd Avenue Northeast and 5th Street Northeast in Minneapolis and are coming on Jefferson Avenue, Griggs Avenue and Charles Avenue in Saint Paul. 

Bike Walk Twin Cities is also working to fix the problem that Dan Burden highlights-busy intersections that are dangerous as well as unpleasant to cross on foot: 

*The Seven Corners intersection at Cedar and Washington near the West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota is notorious as one of the most dangerous in town for pedestrians, prompting BWTC to fund improvements including head-start walk signals, curb extensions, and bike lanes.

Bike Walk Twin Cities is also fostering a host of other projects to make sure the Twin Cities remain one of the top walking communities in the country.

*It funded a pedestrian master plan for the city of Minneapolis, which identified seven goals for making Minneapolis a great walking city. BWTC is now helping fulfill those goals through many programs and projects. 

*BWTC's staff has trained people in various neighborhoods to conduct walk audits, identifying the chief deterrents that keep folks from walking more.  In some cases, city and state traffic departments have implemented neighbors' suggestions for improvements.

*Pedestrian improvements have been added to particular streets as part of reconstruction projects, including Marshall and Como Avenues in St. Paul, which include building sidewalks in places where there were none, curb-extensions, medians, mid-block crosswalks and better walk signals.

Lisa Bender, the state coordinator of the Safe Routes to Schools program, which works to make it easier for kids to walk and bike, lists the numerous assets that make Minneapolis and St. Paul strong walking communities. "There are sidewalks almost everywhere. People generally live close to schools and shops.  We have a lot of neighborhood businesses." But she notes that even where it's possible to walk, a lot of people won't unless it feels safe, comfortable and interesting--a phenomenon of which she is now more aware since she frequently walks with a one-year-old.

Bender is pleased to see a growing emphasis throughout the Twin Cities about "How can we really, truly make it safer and more enjoyable to walk and bike."


Jay Walljasper-author of the Great Neighborhood Book-writes widely about cities for many publications.  He is editor of www.OnTheCommons.org and a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces. His website:www.JayWalljasper.com.  


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