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Walgreens robbery suspect says he held up 13 Twin Cities stores

Posted by: Erin Golden Updated: September 11, 2014 - 11:30 AM

A 23-year-old Minneapolis man nabbed by police after a robbery at a Walgreens on Hiawatha Avenue has confessed to 12 other robberies at drug stores and gas stations in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Brookyn Center.

Robert Abraham Lee was arrested Sept. 8 after Minneapolis police were called to the Walgreens at 4547 Hiawatha Av. Lee had allegedly demanded  Xanax from a clerk while showing the handle of a Taser -- which the clerk thought was a gun. He later forced a cashier to provide money from a drawer before walking to the nearby light rail station and hopping a bus.

Police stopped the bus and arrested Lee, who later confessed to a string of robberies that began Dec. 29 at the Winner Gas Station at 3333 Cedar Av. S. Lee said he also robbed six separate Super America stations and two Walgreens in Minneapolis, along with a CVS in Brooklyn Center and three Walgreens in St. Paul. 

Five of the robberies were committed on one night: New Year's Eve. Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder said Lee sought drugs and money in his robberies.

Until this week's robbery, Elder said police had plenty of footage of Lee's crimes but no leads on a suspect. He credited the quick work of officers and bystanders who reported the latest incident and let police know Lee was headed to a bus stop. 

Lee has been charged with four counts of first degree robbery in connection with the robbery of the Hiawatha Avenue Walgreens, and more charges are pending. 

"We solved a lot of crimes and that's why it was a big get for us," Elder said. 

Reopening W. River Parkway could take much of 2015

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 29, 2014 - 6:48 PM

The closure of W. River Parkway near the University of Minnesota is likely to continue well into next year, according to a recommendation made Friday as heavy rain pelted down on the same unstable hillside that collapsed two months earlier.

The recommendation to hire an engineering consultant to oversee a permanent repair notes that the firm, Barr Engineering, is urging that no construction occur in the winter months when fluctuating temperatures will send groundwater in the hillside through a freeze-thaw cycle. A Park Board staff memo said that construction to repair the hillside would most likely start in spring.

The proposed contract for up to $640,000 with Barr goes before park commissioners for a vote on Wednesday. That covers further investigation into the conditions at the collapse site, designing a repair, and overseeing construction.

The total cost of dealing with the collapse, including construction, is estimated at about $6 million, according to Bruce Chamberlain, an assistant parks superintendent. Chamberlain said the Park Board would likely pay about three-quarters of the cost, with Fairview-University Medical Center covering the rest. Park officials said they are planning on federal disaster aid flowing from the heavy June rains eventually  reimbursing 75 percent of the project's cost, and hope that the state legislature will cover the balance.

The June 19 hillside collapse closed the parkway near S. 4th Street, blocking use of the parkway by an estimated 6,900 vehicles and almost 1,000 bikers a day, according to the staff memo. Although temporary measures have been installed, Chamberlain said park officials have decided not to reopen the parkway until they're confident it is stable enough not to collapse again.

"I'm going to head down there right now and see what we've got," Chamberlain said after heavy late afternoon rain on Friday.

The temorary measures include an impervious fabric to shield the hillside from the impact of further rain, and the diversion of storm water that flows from the hospital area away from the hill.    

Protected bike lanes in both 26/28th concepts

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 28, 2014 - 3:19 PM

Minneapolis stands a good bet to get its lengthiest protected bike lane by far with both concept designs unveiled for a paired set of one-way crosstown streets proposing physically separated lanes between cars and bikes.

The designs for next year’s planned repaving of E. 26th and 28th Streets differ mainly in whether each street gets a one-way protected bike lane or whether a two-way lane is installed on 26th. Both rely on drivers giving up one of their current lanes.

The designs presented to the community Wednesday night are intended to slow speeders and to better protect people on foot and bikes.  Bikers now largely eschew the twin streets in favor of the Midtown Greenway and residential streets, according to traffic counts.

“These streets are dangerous and we need safety improvements immediately,” said Council Member Alondra Cano, who represents the area slated to see repaving next year. A four-year-old pedestrian was  killed by a car along 26th near Stewart Park two years ago at twilight.

The initial work next year would happen between Interstate 35W and Hiawatha Avenue. But it’s likely to influence any future repaving of the twin one-way streets as far west as Hennepin Avenue, according to transportation planners.

Protected bike lanes use curbs, metal bollards, parked cars, plastic pipes or planters to separate driving and biking lanes. They're the third generation of on-road bike lanes to be introduced in Minneapolis after the initial narrow painted lanes, and later buffered painted lanes about the width of a car lane.

The city’s first protected bike lane is a mere six blocks along 1st Avenue. N. downtown. Construction of a two-way set of protected lanes is expected any week now on an eight-block section of W. 36th St. east of Lake Calhoun. But the work on 26th and 28th would encompass more than 20 blocks.

The potential protected lanes on 26th and 28th are still some distance from a certainty.  Jon Wertjes, the city’s traffic director, said the next step is to factor in public feedback on the alternatives and put them through analysis of their impact on motorized traffic and cost.

Then things get political, since the City Council ultimately would approve layout changes, as well approve outside funding that Wertjes said would be necessary to pay the cost of bike lanes that are much costlier than extra-wide painted lanes, such as those installed when Portland and Park avenues were narrowed to two traffic lanes.

The city has earmarked $400,000 in 2015 to make biking or pedestrian improvements on the two streets when it strips a layer of old asphalt and repaves 26th while adding a thin layer of tar and rock chips to resurface 28th. Among the potential improvements for people on foot are intersection bumpouts to reduce the time and distance needed to cross the streets, and concrete islands to give them a refuge partway across a street.

But it’s the proposed reduction in the number of lanes that’s likely to provoke a backlash from some drivers.  Wertjes acknowledged that people who like to drive at more than the posted speed limit of 30 miles an hour “are going to be sorely disappointed” by the design concepts.

If a protected bike lane is added to each street, they would shrink in the Hiawatha-35W section from three continuous traffic lanes to two lanes, although a third lane would be available for intermittent stretches, subject to turn lane and parking needs. That’s also true on 26th if a two-way bike lane was added there, but 28th would maintain its current number of lanes under that scenario.

“This has a variety of positive impacts,” said Jose Luis Villasenor, who lives between 26th and 28th in the Phillips community. He said he hesitates to bike on the two streets with his three boys in a trailer and child seat. He said the proposed designs make the streets safer and promote biking among the area’s minority residents.

Why does 26th get the two-way bike lanes in that proposal?  Wertjes said one factor is that 26th serves some major destinations, including a medical complex and Wells Fargo’s operations in the old Honeywell campus. Another is that 26th is farther than 28th from another major biking facility, the Midtown Greenway.The city is also studying the feasibility of adding protected bike lanes on E. 24th St. or Franklin Avenue.

But the proposed design that installs two-way bike lanes on 26th was found lacking by Ethan Fawley executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, who said 28th should get at least a bike lane. Some bikers attending the open house said they’d like to see a more substantial barrier between cars and bikes than the lightweight plastic tubes the city has used in some spots. Wertjes said that the type of separation haven't been determined.

In the project's web site, comments favoring protecting bike lanes appeared to draw substantially more support than those from people opposing a lane reduction.

(Photos: Above -- the city's first protected bike lane on 1st Avenue N used parked cars to shield bikers; Right -- Another protected lane on the Plymouth Avenue Bridge uses liught plastic pipes to separate bike and driving lanes.  No decision on type of separation has been made for 26th and 28th streets.

Police investigate shots fired at HCMC

Posted by: Updated: August 26, 2014 - 4:01 PM

By Matt McKinney

Star Tribune Staff Writer

Minneapolis police were investigating shots that were fired at Hennepin County Medical Center in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday afternoon.

The shooting happened outside the "red" entrance to HCMC, at 730 S. 8th St.

Police had this entrance to the hospital blocked off with yellow crime scene tape around 3:40 p.m. The street was closed between Park Avenue and Chicago Avenue.

There are bullet casings in street near 8th and Chicago Avenues. 

Police believe it was possibly connected to a shooting earlier Tuesday near 38th Street and Portland Avenue S. in Minneapolis. Two people were injured just before noon with what police called "non-life-threatening injuries."

Check back for more details.

 

Lights coming this fall to LRT bike trail

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 5, 2014 - 3:23 PM

The lights should be on along the Hiawatha LRT Trail by the end of the year, some six years after a series of robberies on the bike trail and the connecting Midtown Greenway.

That's what city specs call for in a bid up for City Council approval this month. The $600,000 project funded by the city and Hennepin County will install lights every 95 feet in the remaining unlit areas of the trail, which parallels the Blue Line. The area to be filled in lies between 11th Av. S. on the eastern edge of downtown and E. 26th Street in the Seward neighborhood.

According to a city memo, the lights will cost some 33 percent less than the engineer's estimate.  That partly reflects the presence of several lights already installed near the Metro Transit operations center, and the earlier installation of lights south of 26th when the Sabo bridge for the greenway was built.

The new lights will be higher-efficiency LED lights, which use 50 percent less energy than high-pressure sodium lights. Existing lights on the trail will be retrofitted to LED as part of the project. They'll be designed to spill light in an oval-shaped pattern along the LRT trail, according to Allan Klugman, a city engineer.

The two trails were the site of at least 10 attacks in late 2008, including one armed robbery of a Star Tribune videographer. That prompted the formation of a Trail Watch patrol of the trails organized by the Midtown Greenway Coalition that continues six years later.

There have been muggings maybe once or twice a year since then on both trails, according to Soren Jensen, the coalition's executive director. But he said that the coalition has tested light levels on the greenway with meters, finding dim spots in about a dozen areas.  Three lights were added last year and three more are coming this year, he said. Jensen said priority is being given to lighting trail areas near stairways that can provide quick getaways for groups of youth that in a typical attack surround a lone biker. He said security cameras on the greenway are being improved, and he's hoping for signs that warn potential muggers that they're being filmed. 

Jensen offers these safety tips 1) Bike with a companion after dark. 2) Call in suspicious activity to 911 even if you are able to speed past a group of youths since they may prey on the next biker. 3) Keep using the greenway because there's safety in numbers.  

(Photo: Paul Caspersen and Mark Ambroe on night patrol on the Midtown Greenway in 2009.)  

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