Rendering of phase one safety improvements, including asphalt art, bike lanes, bus rapid transit, and greenery.

The Near North community has been asking for safety improvements to Olson Memorial Highway for years. Today, Near North organizations banded together in an open letter to ask for support from United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, United States Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and United States House Representative Ilhan Omar.

The open letter outlines the harmful history of the highway and the original routing of the METRO Blue Line Light Rail Extension, which was originally routed on Olson Memorial Highway.

“The light rail project was promised to bring modest but much-needed safety improvements as well as improved public transit service, affordable housing, and community-serving commercial amenities. However, after years of planning and development, the Blue Line Extension was rerouted and planned safety improvements and community benefits disappeared. Harrison, Heritage Park and other surrounding Near-North neighborhoods were left to deal with the negative consequences of this decision.”

Excerpt from the letter

The signed organizations are asking for immediate implementation of safety improvements by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on Olson Memorial Highway and collaboration on reparations for these historic and ongoing harms.

“In spite of receiving federal funding through the Safe Streets and Roads for All program and the Reconnecting Communities program, we remain concerned that state and local entities have not adequately responded to our call for safety improvements, reparations and restoration,” says José Antonio Zayas Cabán, executive director of Our Streets.

Earlier this year, Our Streets received a $1.6 million federal grant for the Bring Back 6th campaign on Olson Memorial Highway. MnDOT also received a $3.6 million planning grant for a larger portion of the transportation corridor. Pending MnDOT’s willingness to prioritize community needs, these projects could be complementary, not competing.

Learn more about Bring Back 6th.

Once called the “Beale Street of Minneapolis,” the old Near-Northside was an integrated Black and Jewish community that was destroyed in 1939 for the construction of Olson Memorial Highway, a low-trafficked highway “to nowhere” that has been polluting the neighborhood ever since.