Minneapolis neighborhood proposes changes to troublesome, crash-prone intersection

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Minneapolis business owners are calling for change after cars continue to crash into the same restaurant.

What began as a small neighborhood intersection is now something of a major thoroughfare. City officials are looking into making the whole area a little safer after a couple of recent crashes into buildings.

“It took out half our patio here and ran straight into that door,” said Jason Dorweiler, who owns the Ramen restaurant Tori 44. “Glass shot everywhere, too."

Dorweiler’s restaurant has only been open six months, but in that time, the business has been hit by cars three times, the latest coming on Saturday at the height of brunch service.

“It sounded like the roof caving in,” he said. “I didn’t know what happened until I saw there was a car almost in our restaurant. Thankfully our wall stopped it. There was a lot of glass damage that sprayed on customers and onto our food.”

The Victory Neighborhood Association says it’s the ninth crash into a commercial building at 44th and Penn since the intersection was redesigned in 2014.

On Wednesday, an accident between two vehicles a couple blocks away at 42nd and Penn sent a car into the side of a house, affecting personal lives and not just a business. The crash left a pregnant mother without a home just days before Christmas.

“I think speeding traffic is a challenge and people not paying attention,” said Katie Fitzpatrick, of the Victory Neighborhood Association. “We’ve been really fortunate with weather this winter but I’m very nervous if things were to ice over or weather conditions got worse."

In 1942, cars were already crashing into buildings near the intersection, so the people there know it’s nothing new.

Still, the Victory Neighborhood Association is asking the county for flashing lights to let motorists know they are approaching a business district. They also seek permanent radar signs telling drivers how fast they are going and the posted speed limit. In addition, they want more traffic enforcement from the city to make the area safer for everyone.

“I feel really frustrated because we’ve been really fortunate; up until this point, there haven’t been serious injuries or fatalities, but that’s luck and it’s just a matter of time before we do see serious injuries,” Fitzpatrick said.

The city and county are considering installing a handful of granite benches from the old Nicollet Mall in front of some of the businesses to act as barricades, but Dorweiiler says they can’t come soon enough.

“Is this going to happen again? Is someone going to lose their life?” he asked. “That’s the worst case scenario, but it could happen.”

Those benches should be in place by the end of January or early February. Until then, the neighborhood association would like to see some temporary barricades installed before the end of the year.

Minneapolis City Councilor Phillipe Cunningham released the following statement when asked about the intersection Friday:

As a resident of Ward 4 myself, I have been concerned about safety on Penn Ave N long before I became a City Councilmember. My husband and I were on a date night at Tori 44 and left no more than thirty minutes before the latest accident happened. Then, only a few days later, I met the pregnant young woman whose family is now displaced due to these dangerous driving conditions destroying her home. This is unacceptable. All Minneapolitans, including Northsiders, deserve the basic safety of being able to comfortably rest at home, patron a business, or stand on the sidewalk without a constant fear of being hit by a car.

The residents of Ward 4 have made it clear to me they want more Northsider-owned small businesses and public gathering spaces in the community, but we cannot cultivate, support, and retain a strong local economy within these conditions. This is both an equity and public safety issue. I, along with the City of Minneapolis, stand at the ready to continue partnering with our Hennepin County colleagues to think innovatively about how we can turn these dangerous roads into corridors for and by the community.