Hennepin Theatre District

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May 23, 2011
By: Tom Hoch
Tom Hoch
Get on your feet and go for a stroll

Finally (finally!), Minnesota’s long winter and rainy, intemperate spring is giving way to sunny skies and reasonable temperatures.

So for workers, residents and visitors alike, and for the good of your soul and your body, our environment and your gas budget ($4 per gallon?), embrace Nancy Sinatra’s well-worn song (“These Boots are Made for Walking”) and take a hike. I firmly believe you never really know where you live, or fully discover the wonders of where you are, until you get up close and personal with your neighborhood through a stroll.

Twin Cities walkers have accumulated some striking increases from 2007 to 2010. Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC), a program of Transit for Livable Communities, is part of a nationwide effort to compile reliable data about non-motorized transportation. BWTC annually conducts traffic counts during September from 4–6 p.m. at more than 100 locations in the Twin Cities.

Their most recent results reveal that walking in the Twin Cities is on the rise, with a healthy overall increase of 17 percent over the past three years! While we’re often lauded as a bike haven, regularly ranking first or second in the nation (after Portland), walking commuters actually out-number their bicycle riding counterparts.

Walkable neighborhoods offer multiple benefits to our environment, health, finances and communities. Your feet are zero-pollution transportation machines. Walking is safer than many other activities, it’s easier on your body parts and generally available to most of us without special training. On average, people who live in walking neighborhoods weigh 7 pounds less than those who do not. Another plus — walking is inexpensive, requiring no special investment in gear beyond decent footwear.

Communities also profit by fostering walkable neighborhoods: home values are higher, traffic movement is calmer when the presence of walkers sends a “slow down” message to motorists and streets become safer as additional eyes are effective crime deterrents. What’s more, studies show that walking can result in greater community involvement — for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent on community activities falls by 10 percent.

The role of walking is central to Hennepin Theatre Trust’s effort, in partnership with Artspace Projects and the Walker Art Center, to create a Cultural Corridor along Hennepin Avenue, stretching from the Walker and the sculpture garden, past the historic Orpheum, State and Pantages Theatres to the new Cowles Center, the Public Library and on to the Mississippi Riverfront. Establishing Hennepin Avenue as a vital, engaging, walkable place is a crucial part of this initiative.

We’ve already got a great start. Hennepin Avenue has been dubbed a “Walker’s Paradise” on WalkScore.com, earning a ranking 95 out of 100 points. The Avenue currently boasts a world class museum, historic theatres, artist-designed utility boxes, the Minnesota Walk of Fame, the Burnet gallery, plus a multitude of premiere bars and restaurants. It can only get better. In fact, while Nicollet Mall may get more attention as a pedestrian magnet, the volume of people walking over the Hennepin Avenue Bridge has increased
30 percent in the last
few years!  

In the meanwhile, get your feet moving: get off the bus a few blocks earlier, host a “walking meeting,” take the sidewalk instead of the skyway, hoof it to the library to pick up a book, stroll through the recently re-opened Nicollet Mall Farmer’s Market and saunter to Peavey Plaza in anticipation of music soon to come. Or just walk to the Mississippi River — now that the ice is gone — and join the other pedestrian adventurers in watching the waves
roll south.

Tom Hoch is President and CEO of Hennepin Theatre Trust, owner of the historic State, Orpheum and Pantages Theatres, a non-profit organization devoted to enriching the vibrant cultural atmosphere of the Twin Cities. Please visit HennepinTheatreTrust.org for more information.