Over the course of summer 2017, the 29th Street shared street has taken shape.
Through steering committee meetings, community meetings, and events, features of the temporary shared street have been put in place, and plans for an artistic, welcoming woonerf have been laid out.
The shared street, which runs parallel to the Midtown Greenway, is part of a private grant to encourage healthy, active communities through temporary demonstration projects. Planning began at a steering committee in June, and an initial community meeting was held at the house of an East Phillips neighborhood resident.
The most important part of a shared street is that it properly fits and serves the community where it is located. In an effort to fully involve the surrounding community, meetings with translators were planned for Spanish speaking and Somali residents.
Meeting with the community
On Saturday, August 12, the Midtown Greenway Coalition convened a Somali community meeting to gather input on what unmet needs the shared street project could help achieve in the long run.
The meeting took place on the site of the new shared street temporary parklet located on the block between Bloomington Ave and 16th Ave S. Earlier in the day, members of the steering committee assembled a picnic table for the space. Built and donated by a Midtown Greenway Coalition board member, the table will remain in the parklet for the remainder of the demonstration, along with several mosaic planters.
The Somali community meeting was led by Midtown Greenway Coalition Director Soren Jensen, and community leader and founder of Kaly Radio Mahamed Cali. With many Somalis living in apartment buildings in the area, it was important to the process to get the input of this community group, Jensen explained.
Several adults and many children from the area attended, with the adults discussing and asking questions about the shared street. When asked about their current opinions of 29th Street, attendees responded that it was a difficult area. During the day, the street is very busy. At night, attendees said, the street feels unsafe.
These attendees said that walking was their main form of transportation, and they do not always feel safe walking in their neighborhood, especially at night.
Attendee's comments were consistent with feedback gathered from the community in 2016 in preparing the Making the Connection: Midtown Greenway to Lake Street report. Implementing welcoming features that encourage people to spend time outside in community spaces will direct more eyes to the street, with the potential positive outcome of decreasing illicit activity.
Additional plans for the temporary shared street include installing bump-outs at intersections and creating a meander with bollards. By disrupting the straight line of traffic, bump-outs force cars to slow down and pay attention, making streets safer for pedestrians.
Improving the street
When asked about specific improvements they would like to see in the area, community attendees first and foremost indicated that they desire a safe space for kids to play. The most popular suggestion by far was a basketball court. There are currently no nearby basketball courts, and it’ is an extremely popular activity among community youth.
Parents expressed a specific desire for a fenced-in play area with a gate. Although there is currently a small playground near one of the apartment buildings, it is not enclosed. Attendees expressed interest in the current parklet, and suggested that the space might be enclosed to better enable kids to play in an area close to the street.
Attendees also stated that they would like a safer way to cross the street. There are currently no crosswalks at any of the intersections included in the three block demonstration project area, which proves an issue when cars drive down 29th Street at high speeds.
Attendees placed dots on photo boards designed by architect Ward Joyce, indicating by the placement of dots the potential shared street projects they were most interested in seeing implemented. These boards presented over 40 different ideas for the shared street, with pictures and a short description. The suggestions ranged from physical structures to safety improvements to events. The most popular features were a playground or play structure, flower boxes or other landscaping improvements, and places to sit outside.
A long term vision of better connections
After the community meeting, steering committee members had a chance to speak with Mahamed Cali, a former employee of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, about more of the changes that the Somali community would like to see. Cali expressed gratitude for the new parklet and picnic table.
“This is great,” Cali said. “Somali people love to sit outside in the afternoons, but right now there is nowhere for them to go. This area is a place for that, and it would be even better if there were more seating.”
Cali also offered valuable insight about long-term plans and improvements for the area. He talked about the Somali community’s increasing use of the Midtown Greenway, and highlighted one specific area where improvement is needed. Further down the Greenway there are sections that do not have an easy entrance to the Midtown Greenway. Members of the Somali community in these areas have a desire to use the Greenway, but no way to get on it without going far out of their way.
“Our mosque is near a Greenway entrance ramp, so many people bike to mosque now,” Cali said. “The elderly people in the community would love to walk on the Greenway, but they have no way to get on. Because of the lack of connections, not everyone has these options, even if they want them.”
Cali’s comments aligned with several issues raised in the Making the Connection: Midtown Greenway to Lake Street report. Improved Greenway connections are one of the long-term goals for the Midtown Community Works partnership and Midtown Greenway Coalition, and Cali’s and other community members’ comments highlighted the relevance to the community of this long term vision.
The Midtown Greenway Coalition will continue implementing new features of the 29th Street shared street through the end of the demonstration in October.