Principles: Create Walkable Neighborhoods and Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices
In a nutshell: Hopkins, Minnesota, is a walkable, bicycle- and transit-friendly city located southwest of Minneapolis, with a population of 18,000. Since its inception as a 19th Century railroad town, Hopkins has always had a traditional downtown, yet the downtown began to transition to a more typical auto-oriented design in the second half of the 20th Century. Starting in the early 2000s, city leaders began to re-emphasize and build on downtown’s strengths – namely, a compact, walkable environment and access to a rich transit network. Today, downtown thrives with a healthy mix of businesses, a walkable environment and viable transportation choices.
Hopkins is the third most walkable city in Minnesota, behind only Minneapolis and St. Paul, according to “Walk Score;” it is connected to four regional trails, which people use for both recreation and regular transportation, and serviced by nearly 150 bus stops across 4.1 square miles. The city is implementing recommendations from its 2013 Pedestrian and Bike Plan, systematically filling the gaps and improving pedestrian and bicycle connections between residential areas and businesses, schools, parks and other destinations.
Why we like it: City leaders and residents believe in and are committed to building walkable and bicycle friendly communities as a path to revitalization of its business district and improved quality of life. They started with a focused effort on small projects that improved pedestrian and bicycle connections to the downtown business district, which led to more people shopping and strolling downtown. These small projects led to big success later. They actively engage with the public and implement innovative yet practical approaches to demonstrating their commitment to serving people with a range of transportation options. For example, the city plows the trails after a snow, just as it does the roads; the city does not ask individual residents to pay for sidewalk upgrades, because sidewalks are considered a general public good; and the city provided small grants to businesses to maintain alley/backdoor access during roadway improvements.
Hopkins’ walkable downtown has gained a lot of attention in the past three years and is attracting new residents, businesses and investment. In 2015 alone, the private sector invested over $4 million on just eight blocks of Mainstreet. Anecdotally, city staff hear from people every day who are moving to Hopkins to be able to walk or bike to work, shopping and other daily needs, and businesses know that this trend works in their favor. Also in 2015, Hopkins received two accolades that reinforce its standing as a great place to live and open a business: Movoto ranked Hopkins the best Minneapolis suburb for young professionals and Nerd Wallet ranked Hopkins as one of the top twenty places in Minnesota to start a business.
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