Traffic study examines changes to Minnehaha Parkway

presentation on the results of a Minnehaha Parkway traffic study
A presentation on the results of a Minnehaha Parkway traffic study on Nov. 19 was attended by about 100 people. The master planning process for the parkland around Minnehaha Creek has included proposals to limit vehicle access on the parkway. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

After seeing the results of a traffic study, Park Board officials are confidently moving ahead with plans to limit vehicle access on Minnehaha Parkway in Southwest Minneapolis, but the study has them reconsidering changes further east. 

The traffic study suggests the Park Board can continue with plans to eliminate two short sections of West Minnehaha Parkway: a section crossing the creek near Lynnhurst Recreation Center and a section abutting the south bank of the creek near Nicollet Avenue. (From the first section, vehicles would be rerouted to James Avenue and, from the second, they would be routed onto a parkway road that crosses Nicollet Avenue at street level.)

These changes are the recommendations of a community advisory committee (CAC) convened as part of the Minnehaha Parkway Regional Trail Master Plan, an effort to shape the next 20 years of parkland around the creek.

But plans to alter the parkway have drawn intense public ire. Current design concepts would discourage through traffic on the parkway by installing roadway barriers at Humboldt and Portland avenues and by removing the two stretches of parkway in Southwest. Staunch opposition to those ideas led to a pause in the master plan process this summer while the traffic study was conducted. 

The traffic study, which cost $37,725, counted vehicle, pedestrian and cyclist traffic on Minnehaha Parkway at three locations: at 50th & Minnehaha Parkway near Lynnhurst Park, on the southern portion of Minnehaha Parkway below the Nicollet Avenue bridge and at East Minnehaha Parkway & Portland. The counts were conducted on a Thursday and Saturday in October. 

The study’s results led planners to reconsider their ideas for Minnehaha Parkway near Portland Avenue, said Adam Arvidson, the MPRB’s project manager. The data showed that closing the parkway at Portland would lead to long backups.

But Arvidson said the traffic study supported planners’ designs for the two sites in Southwest. 

Those designs have faced resistance from some area residents. A group called “Preserve the Parkway” created a yard sign campaign in response to the plan and has been speaking at both CAC and standard Park Board meetings in opposition. While the group has been happy the Park Board has scaled back on plans to put through traffic barriers where the parkway intersects Lyndale and Nicollet avenues, its members would rather the CAC focus on improving traffic conditions, not restricting vehicles.

“We’d like things to stay more or less as they are,” said Al Giesen, a Preserve the Parkway leader who lives along Minnehaha Parkway in Tangletown. 

Near the current Lynnhurst Recreation Center, planners are calling for the removal of a small stretch of Minnehaha Parkway north of 51st Street. Right now, that stretch of road provides access to the rec center, but plans are in place to eventually move the rec center north of 50th Street. Under the current plan, vehicles traveling north on that portion of the parkway would be routed west onto 51st Street and then onto James Avenue. 

The traffic study suggests the change would impact about 1,900 vehicles per day. During the 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. rush hour, the study estimates that 120 southbound vehicles and about 100 northbound vehicles would be shifted onto James Avenue. Some at the meeting expressed concerned about routing traffic near Burroughs School, but planners said the impact would be lessened because the school day ends at 3:40 p.m.,
about an hour before peak traffic time. 

“Traffic is not the reason to not do this,” Arvidson said. 

The changes would likely result in fewer conflicts between drivers and pedestrians and cyclists. The traffic study recorded 126 bikers and pedestrians passing through the intersection on weekdays in October and 272 on weekends; a July count recorded 384 pedestrian and cyclists crossing there in July.

Near Nicollet Avenue, the study found removing the lower, one-way eastbound portion of the parkway that runs under the Nicollet bridge and diverting those cars to the upper parkway would roughly quadruple the number of vehicles that take the upper parkway daily. Today, the upper parkway averages about 300 vehicles per day west of Nicollet Avenue and 560 vehicles per day east of Nicollet; traffic would increase to about 1,200 vehicles per day west of Nicollet and 1,500 east of Nicollet, according to the study. While the increase in traffic on the upper road would be high, planners said it would be in line with parkway traffic in other areas. 

“It would make the upper roads function more like the parkway as a whole,” Arvidson said.

Dozens of Preserve the Parkway members attended a Nov. 19 public presentation on the traffic study, wearing nametags and passing out literature on the project. The group plans to continue voicing opposition to the changes throughout the CAC process. 

“We still have to convince them that even though they can, doesn’t mean they should,” Giesen said. 

Traffic, Arvidson emphasized, will not be the only factor in considering the future of the parkway. The CAC is still working through its preferred designs for the project, and CAC recommendations are ultimately nonbinding, with master plans subject to change after public hearings.