NE Mpls. Residents Push to Convert Hennepin Ave., 1st Ave. to 2-Way Streets

Updated: 06/12/2014 11:01 PM By: Stephen Tellier

Everyone knows two heads are better than one. But when it comes to city streets, are two-ways better than one-ways?

Residents in Northeast Minneapolis think so, and they're pushing the city to convert parts of East Hennepin Avenue, First Avenue NE, and Fourth Street from one-way streets to two-way streets.

That area has seen a lot of development recently. Some say for development to continue, it's time for a literal change of direction.

New Bohemia in Northeast is known for craft beers and kooky brats.

"You can come in and get some crazy sausages -- alligators. I got some yak that I just brought in," said Kyle Melby, general manager of New Bohemia.

But Melby also sees some pretty crazy stuff just outside the restaurant's windows.

"We do see a lot of cars going down the wrong way, almost daily," Melby said.

New Bohemia sits along Hennepin Avenue, a one-way done the wrong way -- at least, according to Victor Grambsch, president of the Nicollet Island East Bank Neighborhood Association.

"This was a mistake. It was a way we thought about cities in the 1960s. We think about them differently now," Grambsch said. "Two-way streets are simply much superior to one-way streets."

Grambsch said he hopes two-way traffic will calm that traffic, increase safety, improve access to existing businesses, and lure new ones.

"If you want to build a retail district, which is what we're talking about, basically reestablishing this as a traditional retail district, the one-way streets are just absolutely deadly with regard to being able to do that," Grambsch said.

"Of course, it wouldn't be the first time that a major street in Minneapolis switched from a one-way street to a two-way street. Just on the other side of the river in downtown, Hennepin Avenue and First Avenue both used to be one-ways, but were converted to two-ways in 2009.

"The two-way streets downtown work as well as the one-way streets ever did," Grambsch said.

A rendering of what a two-way First Avenue in Northeast might look like includes parking and bike lanes on both sides of the street, in addition to two-way traffic.

If it helps bring other businesses to his burgeoning block, Melby said he's all for it.

"For me, the more, the better. It just brings more people to the neighborhood," Melby said.

"I think we'll see it -- well, not tomorrow. But we'll see it in the foreseeable future," Grambsch said.

There are potential complications, like what to do with the Hennepin and First Avenue bridges, which are configured for one-way traffic on each. And this is all very preliminary. The neighborhood association has included two-way streets in its draft Small Area Plan, which was presented to the Planning Commission for the first time on Thursday. That means the city still has to review the plans, and decide the next move.

A city report put together the year after Hennepin Avenue and First Avenue in downtown were converted to two-ways found the change increased total traffic volumes slightly, but cut the number of car and bicycle accidents, and succeeded in improving access to businesses on those streets.

Get more plan details here.