Protesters demand street safety improvements after Lyndale Avenue pedestrian death

A group of demonstrators held signs at each corner of Lyndale Avenue South and West 25th Street in Minneapolis on Oct. 25, 2019.

A group of demonstrators held signs at each corner of Lyndale Avenue South and West 25th Street in Minneapolis on Oct. 25, 2019. Tony Webster

Community members gathered Friday evening to mourn the death of a pedestrian hit and killed by a driver near West 25th Street and Lyndale Avenue in south Minneapolis, and to demand street safety improvements for the notoriously dangerous stretch of roadway.

On October 12, Minneapolis resident Theodore Ferrara was struck by a driver while crossing Lyndale Avenue, the Star Tribune reported. He was taken to the Hennepin County Medical Center, where he later died.

“Ted was killed because he was trying to cross Lyndale Avenue,” said Janne Flisrand, one of the organizers of Friday night’s demonstration. “What we are going to do now is one of the things that should be safe and simple and easy for every person in our city. We are going to cross Lyndale Avenue in the legal but unmarked crosswalk at 25th [Street].”

For about 45 minutes, a group of several dozen demonstrators walked back and forth across Lyndale Avenue chanting, “Bike lanes, bus lanes, crosswalks now!” and “Safe streets save lives!” The group paused throughout the demonstration to stand at the corners of the intersection to allow vehicle traffic through.

Many demonstrators held signs demanding that city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials work to improve safety, especially for pedestrians and cyclists. “20 MPH speed limit now!” one sign read.

Before Friday night’s demonstration, Minneapolis resident Tim Pate penned a article asking the city and county to “make serious improvements to Lyndale to prevent something like [Ferrara’s death] happening again.” He walks or bikes along Lyndale Avenue every day, and while attending Friday night’s demonstration Pate himself was hit by a driver.

Tony Webster

Tony Webster

“The driver didn’t stop and kept going and accelerating,” Pate said, “It was clear they were going to run me over if I didn’t get out of the way.” The driver sped away after reportedly making contact with several pedestrians, and Minneapolis police arrived at the scene to take a report.

It was one of several tense moments between drivers in a rush-hour commute and the group of pedestrian demonstrators. There were shows of support, too, including a cyclist passing by who joined the demonstration.

“The street is designed for these machines that can cause a lot of damage,” said Pate. “I’d love to see us move away from designing for cars and make this a city that’s focused on cyclists and pedestrians first.”

Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender and Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene joined the group, and spoke before the event. They both said safety on this section of Lyndale Avenue was one of the top issues their constituents contacted their offices about.

“This intersection is terrifying and unsafe,” said Bender, pointing to work the city of Minneapolis was doing to improve traffic safety through the Minneapolis Vision Zero Action Plan, which aims to eliminate crash-related severe injuries and deaths in Minneapolis by 2027. “We need to flip around how we do street planning,” Bender said.

Though intersections like 25th and Lyndale lack pavement markings for a crosswalk, state law requires drivers to yield right-of-way to pedestrians at both marked crosswalks and at intersections with no marked crosswalk. Drivers must remain stopped until pedestrians have cleared the lane.

“This is a legal crosswalk and cars never stop here,” said Bender.

Minneapolis police told the Star Tribune that Ferrara was crossing mid-block when he was hit by a car, though safety advocates say that for a street filled with shops, restaurants, and apartments, intersections with marked crosswalks and traffic signals are spaced too far apart. But even that might not be enough.

According to the 2017 Minneapolis Pedestrian Crash Study, the intersection of West 26th Street and Lyndale Avenue South—with both a stoplight and crosswalk pavement markings—made the top 10 list of most pedestrian crashes in Minneapolis over a 10-year period. The signalized intersection of Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue had the most pedestrian crashes citywide.

In a three-year set of data, the city of Minneapolis found crashes involving pedestrians were most frequent when they were crossing with a walk signal, and that nearly half of vehicle and pedestrian crashes involved a motorist making a turn.

“When someone is crossing the street, they shouldn't die,” said Flisrand. She said one possible change could be reducing Lyndale Avenue from four to three lanes—one lane going north, another going south, and a dedicated turn lane—which could reduce motorists making risky high-speed movements to avoid being stopped behind a left-turning vehicle without changing overall travel times much.

One of the challenges in making changes to Lyndale Avenue is that it is a county road, limiting the city’s authority and complicating interagency action. The city of Minneapolis Vision Zero plan draft identifies 114 miles of “High Injury Streets” in city limits, but only about 40 percent of those miles are city-owned.

“The numbers show the intersections along Lyndale are some of the most dangerous, so those need to be prioritized,” said Commissioner Greene, but “there are county roads in everyone else’s district that also need fixing, so it’s in a competition for capital dollars.”

Greene sees the city of Minneapolis as an important partner in identifying streets and intersections to prioritize work on. However, the community input, engineering, and funding cycles mean substantial changes to Lyndale Avenue are years away.

Hennepin County will soon schedule a public listening session to help inform a longer-term vision, Greene said. But to many, the everyday safety risks demand more immediate action. “People's lives don't operate on the same timetable as bureaucracy,” tweeted Brandon Lust, a local cyclist.

Greene said she wants to see faster improvements too. “I’d like to work with the Public Works department to figure out what we can do more immediately,” she said, emphasizing that community members concerned about street safety should stay in contact with their elected representatives.