U needs a shift from road rules

To improve Washington Avenue, we should move past over-signaling and vehicle-centric thinking.

by Eric Best and Chris Iverson

University of Minnesota students may not realize that Washington Avenue — now a multi-modal transit mall — was a car-dominated concrete jungle four years ago.

Though the Stadium Village street has seen numerous improvements, it now counterproductively controls pedestrians in what should be a 21st-century flow of walkers.

Today, Washington bears a striking resemblance to Nicollet Mall, with hundreds of buses and pedestrians going by each day. The difference between the two roadways is key, however: Whereas Nicollet has multiple car-dominant intersections, Washington has little to no car traffic and a huge number of pedestrians. But the lights and signals on Washington poorly reflect this; the lights are far too long and impede pedestrians from crossing. This causes buses to slowly move through campus and pedestrians to regularly jaywalk. What was meant to be a safety feature may, in reality, push pedestrians into the street, which in turn further slows down the buses.

If we want to make Washington safer for pedestrians and bikers, we have to meet them at their level with less of a road-based perspective. We’ve overcompensated on safety and signaling features. While the road domination may alleviate next month when the light rail comes in and Metro Transit reduces Washington bus routes, we should build this vital stretch of campus to be truly multi-modal and pedestrian-friendly. Pedestrians should be the focus, rather than the periphery.

The way we move about the campus is extremely important. Not only will students, staff and faculty have to go through campus, but every light-rail passenger will see a major expanse of the University. We should make the most of their experiences in the name of safety, convenience and aesthetic appeal.

We shouldn’t fear a transit hub with two light-rail trains, buses, bikes and pedestrians. In fact, this diversity is the goal of Minneapolis and the University. We should improve Washington with multi-modal signaling and trust pedestrians to get where they need to go.