Hennepin County’s new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Kelley Yemen stressed pragmatism at her presentation at a March 26th Happy Hour Q & A event hosted by the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
“We cannot let perfect be the enemy of good,” Yemen said.
Yemen, who replaced Rose Ryan as the county’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator on February 10th, brings four years of experience with the New York City Department of Transportation to the job. A native Minnesotan, Yemen shared some examples of scrappy solutions when full blown bicycle facilities are not feasible or in the budget.
She said the NYC DoT would use just about any tool to improve the bicycle and pedestrian experience including bollards, paint, intersection treatments, unorthodox striping, signage, planters and shrubbery.
Yemen acknowledged that reducing vehicle congestion and allowing greater driving speeds have dominated transportation decisions for too long, but cautioned against trying to take too much away from vehicular traffic in just one project.
“If you incrementally work on [these projects], you can take care of some of the traffic problems [but you shouldn’t try] and take it away all at once,” she said, “because you’re just going to lose your political leverage.”
Near the end of her speech,Yemen spoke briefly about the Hennepin County Bicycle Plan. After the initial outreach of the previous fall and winter, Yemen said that they are at a phase where they are completing their analysis and composing a draft of the plan. Yemen said Hennepin County will be seeking comments its county-wide Bike Map and other draft documents it will release on the Hennepin County website. The official public comment period will start in June.
Takeaways from the Q & A
In the Q & A session which followed, Yemen addressed the concerns from the audience while admitting she is stilling getting up to speed after about six weeks on the job. Here are a few of her comments:
On the situation at Franklin and Lyndale Avenues: “An important lesson is to study [the vehicle counts] so that you know how to deal with the traffic. [We are] looking at what we can do … to create a better intersection there.”
On how to change motor vehicle driving patterns: “Banning [right turns] is a hard one. It was amazing in New York [because turning] right on a red is universally banned in New York City, and it’s the one traffic law that everybody follows for some reason. Everything else they ignore, but no one turns right on a red.”
On converting four lane streets into three lane streets: “We’re working with [the City of] Minneapolis right now on a four-to-three conversion on Cedar Avenue between Riverside and Sixth Street. Hennepin County is open to doing it where the volume allows.”
On finding alternative solutions to traffic problems: “County roads are the major traffic roads for a lot of Minneapolis and the rest of the county. Something we can maybe work within the county is how we’re doing our traffic studies with our signal timing. Some of that [involves] working with Minneapolis because Minneapolis controls the signal timing for all the roads [within it], including county roads.”
In closing, Yemen said she welcomes input and the best way to contact her would be by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reactions from the audience
The bicyclists in the crowd may have grilled Yemen with some challenging questions, but their reaction to her presentation was mostly positive.
Tim Donahue said that he came to the event with a very open mind, and joked that he would have loved to hear that “we were going to just bump cars out of the way.”
Speaking more seriously, Donahue said he was glad that members of the Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee were in the audience and asking Yemen the “tough questions” as well as continuing to represent his interests in as cyclist and that he was excited to see more riders around. “You can see the increased ridership. I don’t need to look at studies; you can tell that ridership is increasing,” he said. “And especially along the greenway I’m seeing new people on bikes.”
University of Minnesota grad student Kelsey Fogt and her friend Lauren Johnson were impressed by Yemen’s stories about the difficulties they faced in New York City and how they were able to solve their problems creatively, citing a story Yemen told about how bit by bit, the NYC Department of Transportation was able to transform the major thoroughfare of Broadway from serving predominantly cars to serving pedestrians and bicyclists with minimal capital.
Johnson was impressed that Yemen wanted to study traffic data before giving her recommendation on Franklin Avenue. At the same time, Johnson agreed with several other audience members that numerous areas on Franklin Avenue need a great deal of improvement in order to make it safer for bicyclists, because the current reality on Franklin is not good.
Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) member Paul Frenz asked Yemen if she would attend a BAC meeting to discuss areas for bicycle improvements. Yemen welcomed the idea and promised to seek the BAC’s input.