Stranded on Two Feet: The Danger of Gaps in the Pedestrian Network

The only way to access this post office in Minneapolis by foot is to break the law and sprint across this speedway. Image: Clark Parket, Streets.mn
The only way to access this post office in Minneapolis by foot is to break the law and sprint across a 75-foot speedway. Photo: Clark Parker/Streets.mn

Anyone who does a fair amount of walking to get around will encounter gaps in the pedestrian network sooner or later. Sometimes they might just be minor annoyances, but they can also put people in very dangerous positions.

Clark Parker at Streets.mn stumbled into a pedestrian gap when he tried to send a letter on a Saturday afternoon. The only post office open in the Minneapolis area was by the airport. He took transit to get there, and that’s when the adventure started:

The thought of 10 miles of highway driving and dealing with airport parking seemed more trouble than it was worth. So I grabbed a book and my Metropass, hopped on a bus to Downtown, and caught the Blue Line to the airport. Upon arriving at Terminal 1 Lindbergh Station (map), I re-checked the directions; according to Google Maps, it would be an easy 6-minute walk to the post office. I headed out the door and could instantly see the USPS eagle logo across the way.

The Google Map directions proved to be inaccurate, so I improvised, making my way past a low building that led to the a wide stretch of pavement. This was the exit for the airport’s main parking garage. I was encouraged by the clearly marked crosswalk painted on the ground. Few cars were exiting the gates, so I easily made it across. At the end of the crosswalk I reached a two-lane road with cars whipping by at near-highway speed. There was no crosswalk, no bridge, and no discernible option for getting to the post office by foot.

I’m a law-abiding man, but I’m also a stubborn man of principle, especially when the principal in question is my right to move from Point A to Point B using my feet. Here I was, standing a stone’s throw away from the post office, and there was no safe or legal way to get there. I had traveled 10 miles from my apartment, a 50-minute trip via public transportation. I wasn’t about to turn back because of a mere 75 feet deemed uncrossable by airport police. To avoid breaking the law I suppose I could have hired a taxi, but I doubt they would have taken such a cheap fare. I elected to break the law, of course.

After a few moments, a gap in the traffic appeared and I sprinted across the road. When I reached the post office I  felt covered by a veil of suspicion, as if my lawless pedestrian ways would be detected by the car-driving staff and customers. After mailing the letter I went back outside and re-crossed the road, breaking the law for a second time.

It is frustrating that the only post office open on Saturday afternoon in the Twin Cities is inaccessible to people without cars. It is even more frustrating knowing that it would be accessible were it not for a stretch of just 75 feet. This “transit gap” is one of the most egregious I’ve ever encountered.

Even if most people at this post office don’t come on foot, some do. So why is it acceptable to design places like this, which all but rule out the possibility of walking?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Urban Cincy says that changes to the International Building Code could help deliver more walkable mid-rise buildings. Greater City Providence relays the news about a 74-year-old grandmother who was killed recently at an intersection without a crosswalk. And The Political Environment reports that a seven-story parking garage will accompany the extravagant new headquarters of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

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