Plans to alter park roads face resistance

On Minnehaha Parkway in Tangletown, residents have placed signs in their yards opposing city proposals to limit through traffic on the parkway. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

If you’ve taken a trip down Minnehaha Parkway lately, you’ve probably noticed the signs.

“Save Minnehaha Parkway before it’s too late,” read the white, green and blue lawn signs, which echo the color palette and graphic design style of signs used by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

But the signs are not from the Park Board. They are being printed by a group called Preserve the Parkway, a group of area residents opposed to MPRB plans to limit road access on Minnehaha Parkway as part of an ongoing master plan process. The plans, still under consideration, would discourage through traffic on the parkway by installing roadway barriers at Humboldt and Portland avenues and removing a one-way stretch of the parkway from Pillsbury to just east of Nicollet Avenue.

“I saw it as a huge mistake,” said Al Giesen, who lives on Minnehaha Parkway in Tangletown and is part of the Preseve the Parkway group. “There are many people who use the parkway.”

Much of the parkland in Southwest is currently being reimagined through ongoing master plans for 43 neighborhood parks in the Southwest Service Area and regional parkland surrounding the Minnehaha Creek Trail. Many of the proposed changes elicit responses from residents, but nothing has drawn more attention and passion than potential modifications of roadways.

“We did not anticipate this level of ire,” said Adam Arvidson, director of strategic planning for the MPRB, who is heading the Minnehaha Trail Regional Master Plan.

Arvidson’s email address is on many of the signs the Preserve the Parkway group is using —Giesen said the group has distributed about 380 signs, with 200 more on the way. Arvidson said he’s been receiving “really toxic emails” and that he doesn’t believe it’s an accident the signs look so much like MPRB designs.

“That’s clearly deliberate and people are confused,” he said.

Giesen said a volunteer in the group designed the signs, and while he knows some people are unhappy about the sign design, their intent wasn’t to “pick on the Park Board.”

While the Preserve the Parkway group was happy to see planners remove designed barriers to vehicles at Lyndale and Nicollet avenues, Giesen said the end goal is to prevent any limits on vehicle access and to preserve the one-way stretch planners propose eliminating.

“We don’t think they’ve gone far enough [in removing barriers],” Giesen said.

The group would rather the MRPB focus on improving intersections to increase user safety, he said.

Arvidson said park planners chose to take an aggressive stance on changing the use of the parkway in part to spark a larger conversation about how people should be recreating and if “pleasure driving,” as the initial proposal for the Grand Rounds referred to it, is the best use of the parkways today.

Park Board President Brad Bourn, who represents much of Southwest including its portion of Minnehaha Creek, said he normally doesn’t engage with master plans before Community Advisory Committees (CACs) give their recommendations to the board. But he has been hearing a lot about the parkway access from constituents and said he doesn’t think closing the parkway to through traffic makes a lot of sense.

“The Grand Rounds is a point of access to parks for a lot of people using a lot of modes,” he said.

The CAC for the Minnehaha Trail is on a temporary hiatus while the traffic flow on the parkway is studied and will likely reconvene in October, Arvidson said.

Parking debate

Changes to the design of The Mall in Uptown proposed by CAC members in July call for eliminating pavement for green space and volleyball courts between East Calhoun Parkway and Irving Avenue. The area currently serves as tree-lined de facto parking lot for local residents, several of whom have been vocal in their displeasure of the plan.

“Any time parking comes up in any type of discussion it’s pretty heated,” said Colleen O’Dell, who is leading the Southwest Parks Plan for the MPRB.

At parks like The Parade, in Lowry Hill, community members have asked for the specific number of parking spaces that would go in a proposed parking garage, details that Arvidson said are not common for a master planning process and that were not called for in other parts of the city that have gone through the master planning process. (Southwest is the last group of neighborhood parks to be master planned.)

“That resistance has come to its most vehement head in Southwest,” Arvidson said.

The Mall has received the most comments of any park in Southwest, according to results from an online survey. Several respondents are supportive, but many decry the loss of parking and say volleyball courts would bring in raucous crowds and go underused in the winter.

“The idea of adding volleyball courts to this area is actually quite frightening to me,” one commenter wrote. “I do not believe this area needs more people bringing more garbage and more drama and noise to this quaint area.”

The proposal from CAC members is “visionary,” O’Dell said, and sparks the debate over the benefits of removing paved asphalt and putting in grass, trees and recreation space. The mission statement of MPRB is to preserve green space and provide recreation opportunities, O’Dell said, but it doesn’t mention parking.

“It’s really a question of what is parkland for,” O’Dell said.

A board meeting of the East Isles Residents Association on Aug. 13 featured several residents speaking against the proposal for The Mall and some board members voicing support, according to board president Ellen Van Iwaarden. Many people had heard some misinformation about the designs online, including unfounded claims that the design would remove current trees.

“The neighbors are thinking about it and talking about it,” she said.

The board has agreed to hold a vote on whether or not to lend its support to the design.

Changes proposed in MRPB master plans are phased in over 20-year periods depending on available funding and a variety of factors, including the Park Board’s equity matrix that seeks to prioritize investments in underserved communities. If the CAC’s recommendations are approved by commissioners, it could be over a decade before any changes take place.