Lake Street near Lake Calhoun is the busiest county road in Hennepin County, with 39,300 vehicles zipping through daily. The Chain of Lakes is the busiest park in the Twin Cities, with 5.1 million annual visitors.
The Minneapolis Park Board is trying to find a way to make it safer at Lake Street, where those two heavy uses intersect as bicyclists and pedestrians navigate heavy traffic.
The largest idea is what Assistant Superintendent of Planning Bruce Chamberlain calls the Lake Street Lid; a plan to sink Lake Street below ground level and build a grassy bridge over the top.
He has presented the Park Board with an idea of spending $200,000 to $250,000 to conduct a feasibility study to find out how much it would cost to put a lid on Lake Street, as well as how to go about engineering such an idea.
The Park Board doesn’t have money budgeted for such a study, so it’s asking Hennepin County, the city of Minneapolis and neighborhood groups to chip in.
While the study is supposed to provide financial details, Chamberlain, at a June 6 Park Board meeting, gave a very rough indicator of the project costs, saying a lid “might cost anywhere from $15 million to $40 million. I am just throwing out numbers because we don’t really know, but it’s a very expensive endeavor.”
Chamberlain presented three options for a Lake Street lid, one at 150 feet long, one at 300 feet and one at 1,200 feet.
Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman said she’s had informal conversations with the Park Board about helping fund the study, but no formal request has been made.
Dorfman took a walking tour of the area with neighbors and said a project to put a bridge over the street has merit.
“I personally, and staff here as well, think conceptually it has merit. It’s obviously a big project, but it totally makes sense to separate pedestrians and bikes and create this access between the neighborhoods and the lake,” Dorfman said.
Some Park Board members were cool to the idea of spending Park Board staff time and political capital on the project.
Jon Olson, for instance, said the Park Board has already adopted the RiverFirst Initiative, which includes a land bridge over I-94 connecting North Minneapolis to the Mississippi River.
He told fellow commissioners he won’t support a Lake Street Lid project until staff does a feasibility study on the land bridge over I-94 and puts it on its bonding requests at the state Legislature.
Commissioners Scott Vreeland and John Erwin said they’re concerned the Park Board’s planning staff is already overworked.
Others, however, say that with 39,300 daily vehicle trips along the stretch, neighbors and park users deserve a reprieve.
“Lake Street is frankly a near highway. It’s not exactly (I-)94, but it looks like it,” said Park Board Commissioner Bob Fine, who was elected at-large but lives in Southwest.
According to a Hennepin County traffic count map, that stretch of Lake Street is the busiest non-freeway in the city of Minneapolis. Traffic is heavier than well traveled arterials like Hiawatha Avenue (38,000 daily vehicles); South Hennepin Avenue (19,800) and Washington Avenue in downtown (29,200).
Another major issue might be drainage problems in the area. Just north of Lake Street, on the east side of Dean Parkway, water doesn’t drain efficiently near the Calhoun Beach Club (this reporter used to live nearby and one weekend left his car parked on the east side of Dean Parkway over the weekend. When he returned, he discovered his car had been submerged in water all the way to the top of the engine. He junked the vehicle.)
City Council Member Meg Tuthill said pedestrian and bicycle crossings in the area are a concern, but she’s reluctant to sign off an idea to dig down and make Lake Street deeper.
Nearby luxury apartment building 1800 Knox ruptured the groundwater table and is now pumping 100 million gallons of groundwater a year into the lagoon between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.
“I would have to be really convinced environmentally that this would work,” Tuthill said.