Drivers headed east on Lake Street from St. Louis Park may not know they entered Minneapolis when they pass Calhoun Village, 3200 W. Lake St.
"The first thing they see when they enter the city is a suburban-style strip mall," said Beth Elliott, an urban planner. "It’s very important for this area to be seen as a gateway to the city–it’s a way to make a first impression."
The Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association (CIDNA) and the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council hired Elliott to set the stage for improving the "gateway" area. The area extends from France Avenue on the west and Thomas Avenue on the east, to the Midtown Greenway on the north and West 32nd Street on the south.
The neighborhoods initially joined over shared problems on the Lake Street Bridge–heavy traffic and high speeds, and little pedestrian-friendly space. They eventually decided to study the entire gateway.
"Our purpose was to study the traffic patterns, the recreational areas, the pedestrian patterns and the infrastructure, and find opportunities for improvement," said Bob Corrick, CIDNA board member and chair of the Midtown Greenway Coalition. "We had this notion of a small area study–it’s not a complete plan."
Elliott explained that her work will incorporate:
- a summary of other studies that include the Calhoun Gateway;
- a look at existing and adjacent land-use plans;
- results from a resident survey
- suggested improvements.
Elliott, who grew up in CIDNA and received a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Minnesota in May, knows the importance of involving residents in making decisions about how their neighborhood will look and feel.
"Community input is so important," Elliott said. "If we aren’t representing the people who live there, we are doing them an injustice."
Elliott received 235 surveys (return rate of 9 percent) from neighbors and found:
- 93 percent use cars as their primary mode of transportation;
- 36 percent use the Midtown Greenway to travel to destinations within the immediate area;
- 76 percent said traffic was the area’s biggest negative;
- 17 percent said the lack of landscaping along public thoroughfares is another negative.
With the neighbors’ input, Elliott offered some ways to create a sense of place and improve neighborhood transportation.
Elliott said Calhoun Gateway could create an identity using something like the "Eat Street" banners that decorate Nicollet Avenue. Decorative lighting and a continuous landscaping theme could also establish identity.
To improve neighborhood transportation and pedestrian access, Elliott suggests designated pedestrian crosswalks or traditional crosswalk striping with signs for passing cars. Also, boulevard shade trees and plants can calm traffic, she said. Calhoun Village and Calhoun Commons parking lots could also be improved by landscaping the lots’ islands.
Elliott also suggested signs to direct people to the Midtown Greenway or from the Greenway to the business area. Since neighbors have complained that there is no direct route from one business area to another, Elliott said a pedestrian bridge over Lake Street would be perfect. But that bridge is a "dream scenario," she said, because of the expense.
"With all of these suggestions, people need to understand that I don’t know how expensive they will be or how they can happen," she said. "That is the next step."
The neighborhoods hope to secure another grant by the fall to hire an expert to take the next step. For now, though, the Calhoun Gateway is on its way to greener pastures.
"I want to be able to look back at these neighborhoods and know that I had a hand in making it a livable community," Elliott said. "Hopefully, I’ll see some of my suggestions come to fruition."