Cedar, Lake of the Isles parkways to open for pedestrians, but crowding discouraged

Lake of the Isles. File photo

Portions of the parkway roads surrounding two more Southwest Minneapolis lakes will close to vehicle traffic to free up more room for pedestrians during the statewide stay-at-home order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but officials are asking residents not to flock to those areas.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board approved a resolution to close portions of Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake parkways to vehicle traffic on April 1. Those moves come in addition to last week’s opening of parkways to pedestrians around Lake Harriet, Lake Nokomis and along the Mississippi River in Downtown and Marcy-Holmes. Commissioners also voted to extend the West River Road pedestrian zone from Downtown to Minnehaha Park.

“We are not making an event out of this, what we’re doing is adding space,” Park Board president Jono Cowgill (District 4) said. 

Under Gov. Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, Minnesotans have been encouraged to go outside for exercise. But leaders in the state and Minneapolis are concerned about large crowds at premier outdoor areas, like the Chain of Lakes in Southwest Minneapolis. 

“The problem is people are coming to the lakes,” MPRB Superintendent Al Bangoura said. 

Other large cities, like Chicago, have closed popular parks and trails due to large crowds where people are unable to maintain proper social distancing of at least 6 feet. That’s a move the MPRB may have to replicate if people don’t heed the calls to spread out and stay in their neighborhoods. Even outside, people need to take precautions and avoid crowds, public health experts say.

“Go explore your neighborhood park. Take a walk there, take a walk back. Stay home,” said Commissioner Londel French (At Large), who voted against the resolution because he fears creating an event-like atmosphere. 

Commissioner Brad Bourn (District 6), who represents most of Southwest Minneapolis, made an amendment to add portions of parkways around Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles to the list of areas open to pedestrians. He said he didn’t want Lake Harriet becoming the only destination on the west side of the city and that opening parkways on those lakes could take some pressure off Bde Maka Ska, which has become a spot of particular concern for crowding. He said they should try to avoid creating an Open Streets type of atmosphere.

Under the changes, pedestrians should walk or run in the parkway roads or the normal foot paths around the lakes, and cyclists are asked to stay on the designated bike trails. Walkers and runners are also encouraged to use the grass areas around the lake to further spread.

The newly added parkway closures will likely be in place by Saturday, April 4, Bangoura said. MPRB staff are working to map out exactly what portions will be closed to vehicles.  Some areas of the parkways, especially around Lake of the Isles, have driveway access that the MPRB cannot fully deny. The parkways would still be open to emergency vehicles.

The changes will be in effect throughout the stay-at-home order made by Gov. Tim Walz, currently scheduled to end April 10.

The MPRB has installed signage around the Chain of Lakes and other city parks encouraging social distancing and is training staff as ambassadors who will go to city parks to encourage people to spread out. The ambassador program is currently scheduled to begin April 11, though some commissioners said they’d like to see those workers deployed sooner.