The streets of Minneapolis have changed markedly in the nearly 25 years since residents near Lyndale Avenue South had to turn out several hundred people to block plans to widen the street. Their alternative design was largely followed when the street was redone.
Bike lanes have proliferated since, along with color-marked crosswalks for pedestrians and other features intended to tame motorized traffic and encourage other means of getting around. The motor still is king in practice on city streets, although driving has the lowest priority the city’s two-year-old “complete streets” hierarchy. But motorized traffic is no longer quite so dominant.
The latest evidence of that can be found in the three shared-use spaces that have cropped up in the past several years in Minneapolis. Also called woonerfs, from the Dutch term, they’re designed to encourage pedestrians, cyclists and slower-moving motorized vehicles to coexist in the same space.
The best-executed woonerf is tucked away in a two-block-long passageway once dominated by railcars serving the former Pillsbury milling complex. It’s a half block uphill from Southeast Main Street and its dominating A-Mill, not far from the east end of the Stone Arch Bridge.
A second shared-use space lies in another rail corridor on the other side of the river, between South 2nd Street and the downtown riverfront. It bisects two new housing developments.
The third is the city’s revamp of a two-block-long street in LynLake that overlooks the Midtown Greenway; it’s due to be extended three more blocks in a few years.
Here’s what I like and don’t about the three:
— The Pillsbury area woonerf does the best job of making pedestrians feel like the street is their space. That’s partly because the abutting mill and elevators in the complex redeveloped by Dominium give the passageway an intimate feeling, one that’s extended to the next block, redeveloped by Doran. The space also uses a variety of surfaces, from poured concrete to paver blocks to crushed granite to define edges and guide drivers.
“I make a point of walking through it on my daily pilgrimage to the Stone Arch Bridge,” said Marcy Holmes resident Ted Tucker. Most of the motorized traffic through here, aside from service vehicles, consists of low-speed access to parking garages by residents of the complex. The design negotiated by city heritage preservation officials and landscape architect David Motzenbecker, a Kingfield resident, preserves some of the corridor’s heritage, such as the route by which grain hoppers delivered and dumped their loads to serve the complex. Remnant rails follow the historical rail-switching pattern; rusting artifacts of the mill complex remain, most notably in the catwalk-spanned dumping pit area. The most arresting feature consists of a row of elongated conical screens that were used to filter in the milling process.
The only flaw I found in this privately owned public space is a lack of signs interpreting the history of the complex.
— The corridor at Mill City Quarter has excellent signs explaining the history of a rail yard that’s sprouted buildings over the past 20 years of redevelopment. It also scatters railcar axles on the former rail corridor’s margins. This shared-use space was created to satisfy the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s park dedication requirement of land or money for new developments.
But some question whether it feels like a woonerf. The car is still king here. By day, workers in nearby offices park here, with their head-in parking maximizing the auto-centric feel of the corridor. By night, the same spaces are open for public parking.
The arrangement will make more sense for walkers and cyclists when a planned link from the northeast end of this space connects to riverfront parkway trails along the river as part of the Park Board’s Water Works remake of parkland on the west end of the Stone Arch Bridge. That scheduled 2020 completion will give pedestrians and cyclists more reason to use this corridor.
— Meanwhile, the city’s sole entry in the shared-use street realm lies in LynLake on the two blocks between Lyndale and Bryant avenues on 29th Street. This shared-use street had the most community input and adjoins new housing that has sprung up along the street.
This formerly was one of the worst maintained streets in Minneapolis. It has been replaced with twin 8-foot driving lanes, each bordered by a 2-foot non-curbed edge of darker concrete. They create a visually narrower surface.
I’ve found few cars parked there during my several daytime visits. Ditto for pedestrian and bike traffic. Visibility has improved with new pedestrian-scale lights.
One disappointing development has been the die-off of the saplings planted along the verges of the street, especially in front of Lime Apartments, where one would think that someone would take responsibility for watering.
It’s also evident that the curb-less design has some problems. At winter’s end, the thawing turf beside the pavement edge was riven with tire ruts. A moving truck recently was parked not in one of the six pay parking spaces but half blocking the driving lane, overlapping the grass.
Another disappointment is that no entity has stepped forward to assume the programming of the space that was widely desired by those who showed up to brainstorm this street. They envisioned such ideas as markets and street fairs.
The project was handed off politically from departing Mayor R.T. Rybak to area Council Member Lisa Bender. Maybe the planned 2021 extension of the concept to three of the four blocks to the west (a fourth was unfortunately vacated by the city) will help the street meet Rybak’s ambition for a “great place for pedestrians.”
Here are three brief follow-ups to my recent columns:
- February’s column was about the Park Board’s laxness in adjusting the rent at its superintendent’s mansion at 3954 Bryant Ave. S. Now a group that includes Linden Hills resident Joan Berthiaume is resuming the tours formerly offered of the house before hostility erupted from former superintendent Jon Gurban. Later, his successor, former superintendent Jayne Miller, exercised her option to live there. She vacated it earlier this year. The Minneapolis Park Legacy Society will offer free tours of 75–90 minutes noon–4 p.m. on these Sundays: Aug. 12, Sept. 9 and 23 and Oct. 7. Superintendent Mary Merrill, with an assist from board President Brad Bourn, helped open the house to Berthiaume’s group while the board mulls the future of a house built for famed superintendent Theodore Wirth.
- The April column highlighted the disgraceful condition of King Park’s long-neglected sidewalks and the Park Board’s lag in addressing sidewalk repairs at King and 14 other parks. I can now report that King Park has fresh concrete around most of its perimeter, mostly notably where some panels were crumbling to dust.
- Barb Balcolm passed along a note to update the status of her scarecrows, featured in this column last summer. They’ve graced the corner of 46th & Lyndale, where the Tangletown neighborhood resident has gardened with the permission of the property owners for the past 29 years. The home is up for sale, so the scarecrows are in hiding during the marketing. Whether they’ll return depends on the new buyer.