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After outcry, committee pauses plan to alter vehicle traffic on Minnehaha Parkway

Minnehaha Parkway
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
The proposal aimed to reduce traffic volume to give priority to bicyclists and pedestrians, essentially by eliminating the option to drive continuously along Minnehaha Creek.

At a tense meeting that exposed neighborhood opposition to long-term plans for redeveloping Minnehaha Parkway, a citizen-led committee decided Tuesday night to suspend its work to allow time for new studies to help determine if vehicles should be allowed to use the scenic boulevard as they do now.

The Citizen Advisory Committee, which is under the purview of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, made the move Tuesday in response to criticism of early versions of the Minnehaha Regional Trail Master Plan, which called for new concrete medians at four key intersections — at Nicollet and Lyndale avenues, as well as both places where the roadway intersects with 50th Street near Portland Avenue — to force drivers to turn right off the parkway and onto nearby residential streets. 

The proposal aimed to reduce traffic volume to give priority to bicyclists and pedestrians, essentially by eliminating the option to drive continuously along Minnehaha Creek, and spurred opposition from people who said it would cause them inconvenience or detract from allowing everyone — even motorists — to experience the park. 

But now the committee wants to scale back those plans. It will now partner with an outside consulting firm to study traffic on the parkway over the summer and then use that information to reconvene in the fall. The committee will ultimately recommend a version of the master plan — which will guide development of the parkway over the next 20 to 30 years — to the Park Board, which will have the final say on the document. 

“I believe we should pause the master plan process,” MPRB project manager Adam Arvidson told the crowd Tuesday. “We need some time to figure out how do we actually study this piece of the master plan effectively.”

Responding to feedback

Over the past several weeks, opponents of the idea to limit vehicle traffic have flooded MPRB staff with comments with emails and online comments, as well as attended a series of public meetings. On Tuesday, more than 125 people packed a gymnasium at the Lynnhurst Recreation Center to weigh in on the proposal. 

Carrying a sign that read, “Save Minnehaha Parkway” and shouting over each other, some laid bare their frustrations with the planning process and their skepticism of the committee’s and MPRB’s agenda. 

It was the eighth meeting of its kind, which is designed to allow members of the committee — a 19-person group of representatives from neighborhood organizations and appointees by the Minneapolis City Council and MPRB — to discuss the master plan in a space where community members can ask questions and provide feedback.

Responding to the criticism, the committee on Tuesday agreed it should dial back its previous ideas to limit traffic along the parkway by removing the plan’s call for concrete medians on Nicollet and Lyndale avenues entirely. Arvidson said they support the amendment since medians don’t inherently guarantee greater safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, and the concrete additions could hinder some people’s access to park space.

Minnehaha Parkway meeting
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Sitting at a U-shaped table at the front of the gym, several committee members addressed the audience about suspending its work to allow time for new studies.
Concrete medians are not off the table, however, for the two areas where the roadway intersects with 50th Street. At least one member of the committee expressed support for them, saying the traffic calming devices would alleviate vehicle congestion. All in all, the committee agreed to use its hiatus to further explore options for the area, while also advocating for easy improvements — such as clearing shrubs that are blocking signs or repainting crosswalks — as soon as possible. 

“We can’t simply not address those intersections based on the engagement we heard,” Arvidson said. “I’m not convinced the status quo is a good long-term solution.”

Among all traffic crossings in Minneapolis, the parkway’s intersection with Portland Avenue ranked third highest for its number of bicycle-motorist crashes between 2000 and 2010, totalying 127, according to the most recent city data of its kind. At that time, data collectors tallied 194,922 vehicle trips per year, and more recent studies have calculated an uptick in the area’s daily pedestrian and bicycle trips — all trends that will influence the committee’s work.

But that data is not specific nor recent enough to guide proposals for the master plan, according to Arvidson. That’s why parks staff has partnered with Spack Consulting a Minneapolis-based engineering firm to study the travel patterns of bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicles along the entire parkway over the summer.

Sitting at a U-shaped table at the front of the gym, several committee members addressed the audience to share reasoning for their decision to pause and collect more information. Jonathan Heide, who is an assistant professor of communication arts at North Central University, for example, emphasized how the decision is a reflection of the intense level of feedback they’ve received so far and makes sense so they can effectively weigh all input.

“Once we have knowledge of who is turning where at what intersections that will certainly help what the results are,” Arvidson said, stressing how he anticipates a robust dialogue when the committee meets again in September or October. “It’s still an open conversation.”

Other aspects of the plan

The master plan could include other proposals related to driving, too, such as the removal of the lower east-bound road under the Nicollet Bridge. That proposal would direct traffic up to the existing at-grade crossing of Nicollet — similar to current roadway conditions at Lyndale Avenue. Also, the plan proposes converting some two-ways to one-ways, and vice versa. 

Still, no ideas have garnered more feedback than the earlier proposals to divert vehicle traffic from the parkway, according to Arvidson. Generally speaking, he said the public has shown broad support for tools to calm traffic and improve safety in busy areas. But most respondents, so far, are against concrete medians, and those opponents have far outnumbered any people who support the idea.

Via emails, online surveys and impassioned testimonies, some people have stressed they rely on the roadway for their daily commutes, or that it’s their only way to enjoy the creek’s natural amenities.

Minnehaha Parkway Regional Trail Master Plan
Courtesy of the City of Minneapolis
Minnehaha Parkway Regional Trail Master Plan (click to enlarge)
Louise Hertsgaard, of South Minneapolis, said in an email to project leaders that she periodically uses the route to get to and from work at the University of Minnesota when traffic is congested on Interstates 94 and 35W. She said she looks forward to taking in the parkway’s greenery from the road, and the drives mean even more to her now since she can’t experience the views via bicycling or walking because of mobility issues. “Since driving is my only way to experience this lovely route, please prevent its closure to me and others like me,” she wrote.

A few residents, however, have argued in favor of concrete medians to reduce automobile traffic on the parkway, saying they would improve safety of nonmotorists, as well as show a commitment to the city’s goals to develop urban landscapes that incentivize biking and walking in an effort to mitigate climate change. “The traffic there is very heavy, bumper to bumper, slow, and completely detracts for enjoyment of the park area,” commenter Marilyn Cook wrote in an email. “If the vision of the Parkway is to maintain a stunning natural corridor in the city, and not to serve as a heavy, traffic commuter route, then [a call to limit car traffic] is the right one.”

Beyond vehicle-related changes, the master plan includes ideas for high-visibility crosswalks and raised intersections; new technology that manages stormwater to reduce pollution and chances of flooding; improved access points to the lakes and parks; proposals to grow more vegetation; and ideas for new public art and playground spaces. 

After the committee reconvenes with new data and design ideas in a few months, it plans to vote on a version of the master plan on which the public will have a 45-day window to comment, though dramatic, conceptual changes are unlikely at that point, Arvidson said. That document will go before the park board for any potential last-minute changes and final adoption.

The planning coincides with a larger-scale project – MPRB’s Southwest Service Area Master Plan – that will establish new long-term plans for development in 40-plus Minneapolis parks south of Interstate 394 and west of 35W. Much of those trails, including Minnehaha Parkway, are part of the 50-mile Grand Rounds trail, which is one of the nation’s largest urban parkways. 

Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 07/10/2019 - 12:26 pm.

    as I mentioned in the request for public input…this a solution seeking a problem. we love our parkways in Mpls and are committed to keeping them. I would like to see the data that supports more bicycle and pedestrian improvements. as someone who drives Portland, Park, Cedar, and Chicago on a regular basis, I know that rush hour traffic can get on anyone’s nerves. but to revamp the system is just plain bad policy. I do, however, support maintaining roadways and mending potholes — on the parkways and all city streets. if you spend any time on East Calhoun Parkway, you know how blighted it is. a note to bicyclists: adhere to stop lights as though you are operating a car or truck.

  2. Submitted by Dean Carlson on 07/10/2019 - 12:52 pm.

    Comments like Ms. Hertsgaard’s are infuriating to me. She uses the Parkway as a quick commuter bypass when the interstates are too congested but then wants a pleasant driving experience to see the greenery. The later is what the Parkway was intended for and these changes would preserve that. The former is why the changes are needed. Pretty hard to enjoy the parkway when a bunch of commuters all cranky because their commute is 10 minutes longer are rushing through the Parkway.

    • Submitted by mike aganigan on 07/11/2019 - 07:11 pm.

      The cranky commuters are cranky because the Met Clowncil keeps taking whole lanes from thru-ways and making them bike lanes that are absent bikes!

  3. Submitted by Benjamin Osa on 07/10/2019 - 01:17 pm.

    I attended the Lynnhurst meeting about a month ago and it was disgusting how people in the crowd would shout down the meeting’s hosts who were explaining the proposed design’s elements (most of which are unpaid volunteers on the project).

    I support the traffic calming plan for the linear park which I believe would strengthen the park system (less noise and air pollution, a more relaxing experience without seeing cars drive 35 mph plus along both sides of the park).

    I’m not sure why the white, much older demographic (as shown in the picture above which does not reflect the community as a whole) at both meeting moved to Lynnhurst to in the first place if they can’t see the positives behind this plan and only see a slight inconvenience to car travel as the true enemy.

    I couldn’t bring myself to attend last nights meeting despite supporting the proposal due to not wanting to witness the manners of the opposition. I’m sad this got proposal got shelved for the time being.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 07/11/2019 - 02:35 pm.

      I think because many of them have lived there for years and as homeowners its easy to access. The other issue is with the constant construction, the freeways or other streets have not always been available. Going from Cedar to Nicollet, especially for older drivers, the parkway is an easier option. I also think if the city would really listen vs ‘here we have this plan and we’ll have a meeting so you can rubber stamp it’ approach it would make a difference.

  4. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 07/10/2019 - 02:05 pm.

    I am disappointed by this news, just as I was disappointed that the only places where the Parkway was being reimagined was west of Portland Ave. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the future planning demonstrated by the Park Board, CAC, and their consultants to date. While it’s right and necessary to preserve vehicular access to this regional park, it’s also long past due to reconsider the Parkway’s role as a crosstown traffic artery. I wish we were discussing adding more diversion and traffic calming east of Portland near Bloomington, Cedar, etc.

    Now that we’re pausing this process and bringing in a traffic consultancy, I hope we can reopen more specific traffic planning for the segment east of Portland as well. It’s only fair that this outside planning also reconsiders the role of this Parkway segment along with intersection designs at Bloomington and Cedar Aves.

  5. Submitted by Carl Brookins on 07/11/2019 - 12:42 pm.

    I live in Roseville and rarely use Minnehaha Parkway. When I do it is sometimes to avoid the stress of the freeways. More frequently it is to make a leisurely drive through some of the beautiful parts of Minneapolis. I almost never encounter speeders and traffic level is usually reasonable. There are a couple of places a roundabout would improve the experience and also places where signage is missing. I do not consider the parkway a traffic artery and I have the feeling the idea of interrupting the parkway and making major changes in a functioning pleasant experience is a solution looking for a problem.
    Tho my residence is now in Roseville, I grew up in the Twin Cities and consider myself a Twin Citizen.

  6. Submitted by Logan Quinn on 07/11/2019 - 05:17 pm.

    I think they need to connect 46th through that silly golf course, that would go a long way to relieving commuter traffic on the parkway.

    Also prohibit SUVs, pickups and other gas guzzling large vehicles from the parkway, those drivers are the one’s who tend to be the ones tail gating people for going the 25 mph speed limit.

    Also, add all-way stop signs at all intersections along the parkway.

    Change the stop lights to include a pedestrian/bicyclist crossing period only with “no turn on red signs” for motorists. Add longer green left turn periods to the lights for both directions of traffic as well. And rebuild the bridges to provide under or over passes for pedestrians/Biker wherever physically possible.

    In addition, we need a state-wide law that prohibits pedestrians and bicyclists from using the roads when sidewalks and bike paths are made available to them.

    • Submitted by Tom Trisko on 07/18/2019 - 02:34 pm.

      I agree with all Logan Quinns’s and John Lowen’s suggested improvements.
      I’ve lived in south Mpls most of my 74 years and drive or bike the parkway, but probably won’t be able to bike much longer. It is an important E-W route for local residents, many of whom are members of the (unnoticed by youthful city planners and council members) but burgeoning senior Boomer population (who also are paying the astronomical Mpls property taxes that support our city infrastructure). One of the biggest hazards for senior bikers like me is the high speed bikers who seem to think they own both the bike paths and the streets and who don’t stop at intersections/stop signs. Planners need to think about all four users: fast bikers, slow bikers, pedestrians and cars, not to mention scooters, Segways, mopeds, etc.
      Now is not the time to study the parkway traffic since the 35W construction is causing unusual road conditions everywhere in south Mpls. In normal times the traffic on the parkway is light and the trip is an enjoyable horse/auto recreation as the original designers intended it to be.
      Making 46th Street go through the redesigned Hiawatha Golf Course would be a helpful E-W traffic alternative that would also provide a new bus and bike route to the 46th St light rail station thus encouraging SW residents to use public transit. (See streets crossing Central Park in NYC or Excelsior Blvd at Minnikahda Golf.) Meanwhile, encouraging cross town travelers to use the wide, commercial, and underutilized 42nd Street east of Nicollet would help also.

      • Submitted by Tom Trisko on 07/18/2019 - 02:39 pm.

        P.S. Aggressive fast bikers are a safety hazard to both themselves and motorists, not just on the parkway, but all over town.

  7. Submitted by john lowen on 07/11/2019 - 06:22 pm.

    I’m a disabled person and a older man. I frequently drive the parkways and lakes for pleasure. Any other mode is out of the question with my disability. I was born and lived here all my life. Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to determine usage info during the freeway construction. The numbers will be skewed by all the vehicles dodging traffic . This seems to be a solution in search of a problem to me.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/15/2019 - 09:36 am.

    I ride my bicycle and drive along the Parkway frequently. I often prefer to take the parkway home form the airport simply because it’s so much more pleasant than the freeway. By and large I don’t see any huge issues aside from trail and road degradation and maintenance. Sure, the parkway gets a little clogged during evening rush hour, like many other streets, but if you have to sit in traffic the parkways not a bad place to do it.

    I think the parkway is part of Grand Round isn’t it? People should be able to drive it the full length. Few people walk that Parkway round trip, and a lot of people can’t bike it. If you’re worried about pollution that concern is greatest downtown, not in this Parkway.

    The should do something about the intersection at 50th, that’s probably the most problematic intersection along the route, but there’s no need to block cars from the Parkway there.

    Not sure I know what’s going on at that Portland intersection but I see a lot of cyclist try to beat that light when it’s changing, and it can be kind of a blind intersection at speed. Maybe they need to calm bicycle traffic a little? Cars will try to beat the light or run it altogether as well so you always need approach that with caution, you can’t just fly through.

  9. Submitted by Logan Quinn on 07/11/2019 - 04:56 pm.

    Feel free to reject this for language. reposting a toned down version to share my ideas.

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