Ababiy: The Complete Streets Policy means shoveled sidewalks

Sidewalks are a pivotal part of a Complete Streets Policy.

Jonathan Ababiy

Although I haven’t been going to the University of Minnesota’s Recreational and Wellness Center, I’ve been jumping a lot the past couple weeks. 

I’ve been jumping from the bus to the curb, praying I will make it past the foot of dirty, wet snow between the curb and me, and praying I don’t slip on the patch of ice waiting for my gripless shoes when I land. I do it on almost every bus I’ve gotten off since it got cold and the snow fell.

Then, once I’m off the bus, I have to penguin-shuffle across blocks of sidewalks slicked with ice. I’m not always particularly successful in keeping myself off the sidewalk in this step of the process.

Our dry first half of the winter spoiled us, but now we know. We’re experiencing firsthand how bad mobility is when you’re not using a car in Minneapolis or on campus. Our sidewalks, bus stops and bike lanes simply haven’t been a priority like our roads.

We have bumps and bruises to prove it. Emily Seifriz, a University student I reached through Facebook Messenger, told me she slipped and fell as soon as she got off the bus, bruising her right knee. “I fell completely down hard, landed on my knees and hands,” she said.

For someone like, Maria Wardoku, president of Our Streets Minneapolis’ Board of Directors, a pedestrian and bike advocacy group, this is a systems issue. “No, we don’t actually have to live like this,” she told me. 

In 2016, Our Streets, which went by the name Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition at the time, worked with a coalition of other groups to push the city to adapt a companion item to the City’s transportation action plan called the “Complete Streets Policy.”

This new policy codified a framework that prioritized public right-of-way use for walking, biking, transit and motor vehicles, in that order. The policy radically departed from decades of the city’s car-centric thinking, where the ability of cars to move as quickly as possible took precedent in transportation decisions. “We’re working against decades of thinking about public spaces in a certain way,” Wardoku said.

Historically, the policy is in line with how Minneapolis used to think about transportation in the pre-war era. Much of Dinkytown was built around streetcar lines, and many of these old streetcar lines are now Metro Transit routes.  Metro Transit Route 3, the lifeline of every Como resident, was a streetcar line from 1898 to 1954, when it was replaced by buses.

The trouble with the policy is it’s simply a framework made to inform decision-making, not an actual rule. The Complete Streets Policy says one thing, but Wardoku said, “You can see actually what happens during a snowstorm … it’s really reversed. We’re plowing for vehicles. We’re not clearing street corners and bus stops for days, sometimes weeks.”

Crucially, the City of Minneapolis is considering changing this. The City Council is debating getting tougher on enforcement for winter sidewalk maintenance and possibly clearing sidewalks itself, like it does roads. Sidewalks are a serious issue, and the Council should come up with a solution soon.

In 2016, nearly 60,000 Minneapolitans walked, biked, or took transit to work every day. So why are we forgetting them? As long as we do, people will keep slipping, sliding and falling.