Parkway closures extended into summer, expanded in Chain of Lakes

Visitors to Lake Harriet walk in the closed parkway road on April 19. The Park Board voted to spend up to $250,000 on the closures, which will likely last through June, to allow for more social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

Parkway closures to vehicle traffic will be extended into the summer and will be expanded to full roadway closures along the Chain of Lakes to give residents more space to practice social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. 

A Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board vote May 6 approved $250,000 to fund a prolonged closure of parkway roads. The money will likely pay for closures to last throughout the month of June, though the exact timeline remains unclear. 

Park Board commissioners had been set to vote on a measure that would extend the parkway closures until June 7, for which staff had requested up to $250,000 to cover costs. Expenses from the closures come from signage rentals, but assistant superintendent Michael Schroeder said the MPRB would receive a discount for their prolonged use of the signs and that greater savings could be achieved by putting the contract up for a public bid.  

Commissioner Brad Bourn (District 6) made an amendment that would extend the closures until those dollars are spent. 

“The intent of the amendment is to use the money as long as it would go” Bourn said. 

Parkway closures through May 6 have cost $106,419, according to a staff report, and the extension through June 7 would cost an additional $95,000. Exactly how long $250,000 will last is unknown, and both staff and commissioners discussed the potential of seeking financial help to pay for prolonging the closures once those funds expire. 

“As long as there’s guidance for social distancing I think there is a need for us to provide additional space,” Park Board President Jono Cowgill said. 

The approved extension calls upon MRPB to try to be as cost efficient as possible, which means opting for full closures of certain parkways that only have one lane blocked to cars right now, including around Cedar Lake and Bde Maka Ska in Southwest. Full closures of those parkways, with the exception of small areas for residential access, will begin May 7, according to the MPRB. Single-lane parkway closures are more expensive because of rental costs for delineator cones, with a staff report finding that switching to full closures could save about $20,000.  Full closures will also be coming to most of West River Road and Lake Nokomis Parkway. 

When the initial parkway closures were announced, the intent was to make the change through Gov. Tim Walz’s first stay-at-home order. As the extensions have gone longer than expected, the price tag has risen, but Schroeder said buying signage would be expensive and not worth the investment without prolonged use. 

“Unless we’re going to be using them every day of the year it doesn’t make much sense for us to be purchasing ourselves,” Schroeder said. 

Commissioner Chris Meyer (District 1) made an amendment that would change the configuration of the parkway closures to put pedestrians on the walking and biking paths and cyclists on the parkway roads. That motion failed, but several commissioners said they’ve heard complaints from some walkers about cyclists in the street, and complaints from cyclists about the configuration being counterintuitive. 

“The feedback I’ve gotten has been overwhelmingly negative about the distribution of space, ” Meyer said.  

In Southwest Minneapolis, parkway closures to vehicles are in effect around Bde Maka Ska, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles and Lake Harriet.