What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Olson Hwy. redesign "essential" for light rail, mayor's office says

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: March 3, 2015 - 1:19 PM

Above: Screenshot from Met Council flyover of Bottineau route

Updated at 1:20 p.m.

The success of Bottineau light rail in north Minneapolis will rely heavily on redesigning Olson Highway, a mayoral aide told the City Council Tuesday.

The proposed rail line from Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park would follow the seven-lane state highway west through the bottom half of the North Side – stopping twice. But members of a City Council committee expressed concern Tuesday about how the road would be revamped to ensure adequate walking and biking access to the stations.

The mayor’s policy director, Peter Wagenius, called the Olson issue “absolutely essential.” The mayor’s office is open to all possibilities to help separate traffic, he said.

“But the mayor’s fear is that having that conversation about, for example, pedestrian bridges over Olson Memorial Highway, might have the effect of declaring surrender that Olson is always going to be as hostile to pedestrians as it is today,” Wagenius said. “And that’s not just acceptable.”

Unlike other previous light rail corridors, Wagenius said, Bottineau is surrounded by land owned by the public sector that is ripe for development. The train would stop at Van White and Penn Avenues. along the highway.

“If people feel from the front door of that development, jobs, housing, retail, whatever it is, that they’ve got to cross a football field and a football field length with 7 lanes of traffic… that’s going to significantly impede development,” he said.

Wagenius added that the road is designed for “maximum throughput of vehicles” during rush hour traffic and is otherwise overbuilt 22 hours of the day.

The city has reached out to the city of Plymouth about a potential bus rapid transit down Olson in the future, he said, “to pave the way for a productive conversation so we can look at Olson in an entirely new light.” Minneapolis shares Olson Memorial Highway with Plymouth, but the Bottineau line turns north before reaching the suburb.

“There will be tradeoffs,” Wagenius said. “There isn’t going to be a scenario where we maintain seven lanes of traffic exactly as it is today and we dramatically improve the pedestrian experience.”

Similar conclusions arose in a recent study of that Olson bus rapid transit route. The study found that pedestrian environments around Olson Memorial Highway were "challenging or non-existent" and the roadway would need major changes to accomodate bus shoulders.

The route, featuring bus-only shoulders and special stations, would run from downtown Minneapolis to Medina (taking about 52 minutes in rush hour traffic). The corridor otherwise scored well among several highways analyzed for better transit.

Minimum wage backers stage Target protest

Posted by: Erin Golden under Local business, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government Updated: March 3, 2015 - 11:55 AM

Demonstrators gathered at a December rally in Minneapolis, where they advocated for a higher minimum wage for fast food workers.

Supporters of a $15 citywide minimum wage in Minneapolis are taking their campaign to the headquarters of one of the city's biggest companies: Target.

Organizers of the 15 Now campaign say they'll protest outside Target's downtown headquarters at 5 p.m. Tuesday. They're urging the company's leaders to raise workers' wages, following a recent move by competitor Walmart, which upped its minimum wage to $9 and will increase it to $10 next year. Walmart's announcement was followed by a similar one from the company that operates T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods stores.

Supporters of the wage campaign in Minnesota hope a raise for Target employees could prompt other companies to follow. Similarly, they say a citywide wage hike for Minneapolis could spur surrounding cities to boost pay.

In a news release, the 15 Now organization responded to Mayor Betsy Hodges' position on the issue; the mayor recently told the Star Tribune that while she supports higher wages for workers, she does not back a citywide increase.

"A serious regional strategy, which the mayor says she wants, means building a powerful grassroots movement for $15 across the Twin Cities, and Minneapolis is best positioned to lead the way," said organizer Ginger Jentzen.

Deal allows bridge, not tunnel, at Kenilworth for SW light-rail line

Posted by: under Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Urban living Updated: February 27, 2015 - 1:37 PM

Minneapolis park officials struck a deal with the Metropolitan Council on Friday that will allow for a bridge over the Kenilworth channel in Minneapolis for light-rail trains, a significant development in what had been a polarizing fight.

The deal between the Metro Council and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board removes one of two major remaining obstacles to the project. The other is a lawsuit brought by area residents.

“Thanks to the diligent work of the Park Board and project engineers, we now have a path forward for this critically important transit investment, which is a vital link in the 21st century transit system we will build here in the greater Twin Cities metro,” Council Chairman Adam Duininck said. “The Council is pleased to have the Park Board’s support for bridging the channel.”

The deal also reimburses the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board up to $750,000 for its already incurred costs for studying the alternative of a tunnel under the channel, other costs related to the project, and for costs involved with the future Bottineau rail line, which also crosses parkland the board controls.

In return, the deal to be acted on Wednesday by the Park Board drops the tunnel alternative that its engineering consultants determined to be a feasible alternative to a bridge that which park commissioners argued would be more intrusive on recreational users of the area.

"The Park Board is very optimistic about the new, more collaborative efforts for the ongoing work on the Southwest Light Rail, the Bottineau Line and any future mass transit that may impact parkland in the metro area," said Park Board President Liz Wielinski.

The resolution park board members will vote on declares that despite that feasibility, insisting on a tunnel wouldn’t be prudent because it would delay the Southwest line and drive up costs.

Feasibility and prudence are the two key factors under federal law that governs when transportation projects may disrupt parkland or must find alternatives.


26th, 28th each likely to get protected bike lanes

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Local business, Parks and recreation, People and neighborhoods, Politics and government, Public safety, Bikes and cars, Urban living Updated: February 26, 2015 - 2:03 PM

Two major cross-city arteries on the South Side will get one-way protected bike lanes this year under a plan that’s being recommended by city transportation planners.

Adding one-way lanes to E. 26th and 28th streets won out over an alternative that would have installed a two-way protected lane on 26th. They’re part of a street resurfacing planned this year.

The protected bike lanes will offer a seven-foot-wide biking lane plus a seven-foot space lined with flexible plastic posts buffering the lane from motor traffic. The two streets now have no dedicated bike space.

The proposal covers 32 blocks on the two streets lying between Portland and Cedar avenues. That stretch such includes major businesses as Wells Fargo and the Chicago Avenue medical complex.  Additional planning will flesh out the design between Cedar and Hiawatha avenues.

The proposal stops at Portland in part because of a scheduled replacement of Interstate 35W bridges on the two streets. A draft city plan for protected bike lanes recommends continuing the protected lanes west to Hennepin Avenue by 2020.

The bike lanes will be accommodated by removing a lane or travel or by removing parking during peak travel periods.

The resurfacing project has already asked area residents in open houses what other changes they’d like to see on the two streets from the project  The proposed design would add six medians at intersections – four on 28th and two on 26th – so that pedestrians have a refuge partway across.

Simon Blenski, a city bike planner, said the proposed design goes back to major institutions, neighborhoods and pedestrian and biking representatives for a final review. Some who attended earlier sessions with the city opposed removing parking or traffic lanes, but others advocated for making it reach major employers, schools and parks by bike.   

MAP: Shrinking list of problem rental properties

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: February 26, 2015 - 12:23 PM

Above: Landlord Mahmood Khan walks out of 2123 Oliver Ave. North, one of the properties that made the city's list (Jeff Wheeler).

The list of the city's worst rental properties is gradually shrinking.

We wrote in November about a new effort at City Hall to track the city's most problematic rental properties using data about poor conditions, police calls, unpermitted work and other metrics. Click here to see the full criteria behind the scoring system.

Property owners with properties on the list must meet with inspections staff and develop a plan to fix the problems before they can obtain additional licenses.

In the third quarter of 2014, the list featured about 124 properties. The latest list, from the last quarter of 2014, features just 75 properties.

Regulatory Services chief Nuria Rivera-Vanderymde, who spearheaded the list's creation, says she is cautiously optimistic about the trend downward. "I’d like to think it’s having an impact," she wrote in an e-mail.

Since some buildings are owned through seperate LLCs or individuals, Regulatory Services also seperates them by owner and management groupings. The groups with the most properties late last year were Bashir Moghul, Nam Nguyen Management and Mahmood Khan. The city is in the process of revoking Khan's licenses.

Below is a map of the properties. The yellow houses indicate properties with more than four units.

Here is a full spreadsheet of the fourth quarter "Good Cause" list.


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