By Evan Roberts, former chair of the Prospect Park Association Transportation Committee

Pratt Elementary School, like many Minneapolis schools, sits at an intersection that is too wide to keep drivers at speeds that are safe around schools. The Pratt Parent Teacher Organization and the Prospect Park Association joined together to make the intersection safer by installing planter boxes. We were inspired by an idea from London’s Low Traffic Neighborhoods.

Nearly all of Minneapolis’ thousand miles of streets are too wide for speeds that are safe near school children. The streets around Pratt are dangerous because of their unique geometry. On two sides, Pratt is flanked by Malcolm Avenue and Sidney Place which are narrower than the typical Minneapolis side street. Despite the slightly narrower streets, the shape of the curbs radii creates an 84-foot crossing distance between Malcolm Avenue and Sidney Place.

The intersection outside of Pratt Elementary School has narrow streets but the location of the curbs means drivers would drive fast through the intersection. Photo by Evan Roberts

Pratt cordons off one block of Malcolm Avenue with plastic saw horses at either end during recess. Despite a stop sign, the lazy geometry of the corners meant drivers would regularly try to turn onto the street while children were playing.  

Pratt sits at a key junction in Prospect Park, on the way to the light rail and grocery store, and opposite a church that hosts many neighborhood events. Improving the walking experience by the school was also a neighborhood priority.

With $2000 in unspent Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds that had been designated for traffic calming, we put our proposal to the city in Summer 2020. We proposed a chicane style design that would force cars on Malcolm Ave to drive in an “S” shape before entering the block used for recess. Chicanes are typically used in road designs to slow traffic.

Minneapolis usually uses what I like to call plastic flappy sticks, technically called bollards, for small, experimental changes in street layouts like protected bike lanes. A group from the Prospect Park Association and Pratt PTO knew we could do better.

There was initially mixed support from the City’s Public Works staff in the fall of 2020 for the proposed chicane design, so we reached a compromise to install planter boxes to extend the curb line where Malcolm Avenue meets Sidney Place and Orlin Avenue.

With soil inside, each planter box weighs 700 pounds, heavy enough to slow a car if hit at 30 mph but poses little risk to drivers.

when in office, Ward 2 Councilmember Cam Gordon and his policy aide Robin Garwood were key supporters of our vision.

In February 2021 the City installed plastic bollards to test the turning radii for plows and buses where the planters would be installed. Finding it workable, we were cleared to begin making our planters. Emerging from the pandemic the safe outside activity of constructing planters, filling them with soil, and planting was a popular activity.

Members of the Pratt Parent Teacher Organization built planter boxes to slow traffic in front of the elementary school. Photo by Evan Roberts

The planters hit the street in June 2021, and in three years have not been hit once. Teachers at Pratt report that the problem of cars inadvertently turning into the recess street is now rare, not regular. Crossing guards working the shorter crossing find it easier to get cars to stop. We mounted a bench on one planter under a boulevard tree, providing a resting spot for children at recess, or adults walking home with groceries.

The finished planter boxes outside of Pratt Elementary School have been a success, slowing down cars, and providing greenery and a place to sit. Photo by Evan Roberts

Our one challenge has been the plants themselves. Sitting on the street, the planters are exposed to warmer temperatures and dry quickly. Finding the right plants for Minneapolis has been a process of trial and error. Spirea have been the most successful plants. If we did this again, we would spend a little extra money to make the planters self irrigating. A nearby hose is a must.

In the long term we can make Minneapolis streets safer for children and their parents by narrowing our streets when they are reconstructed and adding street bump-outs. In the short term, planter boxes provide a prettier and safer alternative to bollards for immediate changes on our streets.

Instructions for building planters can be found at Evan Roberts can be reached at and @evanrobertsnz on Twitter/X and Bluesky.