Minneapolis park officials will spend up to $500,000 to hire engineering talent they hope will find that a Southwest light-rail tunnel is a reasonable alternative to a new bridge at the Kenilworth channel.
The Park and Recreation Board voted 5-2 Wednesday night to authorize the engineering study in hopes of challenging the project's environmental studies, potentially suing for their alternative.
The board voted after outside attorney Byron Starns told park commissioners that they need to spend more money on engineering expertise rather than lawyers for now. But he assured the board that it is is in a solid position to challenge the proposed Kenilworth bridge if it can show that a tunnel beneath the 101-year-old channel is feasible.
Under federal law, park officials hold a trump card in that they must consent that a federally funded transportation project has only a minimal impact before it can proceed. The same law authorizes taking parkland only if there's no feasible and prudent alternative.
The studies authorized Wednesday are intended to determine whether a tunnel is technically feasible and to provide a closer estimate of its cost.
The dissenting votes came from commissioners Brad Bourn and Steffanie Musich, who merely wanted the board to follow its usual process of waiting two weeks for public notice for a vote before drawing down $500,000 from its reserves. But park staff argued that haste is necessary to make detailed findings ready when a supplemental environmental impact statement for the project is released early next year.
The board has voiced objections since late 2012 to putting freight and transit rail service and recreational trails on a bridge over the channel dredged in 1913 between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles. It has an easement for the channel running under the bridge.
Jennifer Ringgold, a planning supervisor, showed the board drawings of the existing and proposed bridges that showed the width of the crossing growing from 45 to 85 feet. The proposed crossing would actually consist of two bridges, one for freight and the other shared by transit and people using bike and foot trails. There would be a narrow gap between them.
The board voted Sept. 17 to hire outside legal help for $22,000 to evaluate its options for fighting the proposed crossing. Key officials got a briefing Monday, and met Wednesday with Metro Council officials, while drafting the resolutions to hire engineering help mere hours before the meeting.
A Metro Council e-mail received by the park Superintendent Jayne Miller minutes before the meeting said that completion of the required approval process by cities along the 16-mile route and preliminary engineering set the stage for the required analysis of parkland impacts. But Miller said there was no indication that the council is prepared to do the detailed engineering analysis of the tunnel that the Park Board says is needed to determine if that option is reasonable.
The council said in a statement after the meeting: "The Southwest Project Office has been working with the Park Board for the last two years and is committed to continuing to work with them on the landscape design of the Kenilworth Corridor, the design of the bridge over the channel and the design of the Penn, 21st and West Lake Stations."
Prime parking spots outside a handful of Minneapolis business have been transformed into tiny, portable public parks -- complete with tables, chairs and plants.
The city's first three "parklets" made their official debut Tuesday, as three council members checked out purple tables and chairs parked in front of Juxtaposition Arts and Urban Homeworks at 2007 Emerson Ave. N.
Council Member Lisa Bender said the city's goal is to create places along commercial stretches where people feel comfortable gathering and chatting with their neighbors. The spaces are hosted by businesses, but open to the public. Other cities, including San Francisco and New York, have installed dozens of them.
"Parklets are a really simple, but extraordinary way to transform public space," Bender said.
Minneapolis' other parklets are located at 212 Third Ave. N., hosted by Martin Patrick 3 and Transwestern, at the Colonial Warehouse, and at 2451 Nicollet Ave. S., in front of Spyhouse Coffee. They'll remain on the streets through October, packed up for winter, and reassembled in the spring.
It looks handsome on the outside, but let developers into the onetime luxury apartment building at 628 E. Franklin Av, and they shy away from taking on this rehab project.
The job of making the gutted 1904 building habitable again for the first time in 18 years attracted only one offer when the city asked developers for proposals. That offer will likely be rejected because it doesn't meet the city's financial terms, according to Cherie Shoquist, a city project coordinator.
But she said the city hasn't given up hope for bringing the hard-luck building it owns back to life, although she was surprised there wasn't more interest.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful building that we thought the time was right for," she said.
One reason she's still optimistic is that one contractor might have bid on the project but for a cash-flow crunch caused by a delay in closing on the sale of a duplex he's selling. Charlie Browning said he's not surprised others shied away.
“There’s not a whole lot of people like myself that are ambitious about restoration work," he said. "When you walk in there and see a few dead pigeons and a dead hawk and you don’t have a vision.it's a little intimidating.”
The structure was built as luxury apartments, but has fallen since on hard times. It sits not far from the 5th Avenue S. freeway entrance, between the major commuting routes of Portland and Park avenues.
The city in essence bought the building in 2012 from the Sabri family trust after Azzam Sabri, the building’s most recent owner, died of cancer in 2011. The purchase went through the Twin Cities Community Land Bank as an intermediary. Sabri got the building after a court fight with previous owner Jason Geschwind, to whom he provided financing.
The development agency insisted that he follow through with Geschwind’s commitment to create condos. Sabri wanted to switch to commercial reuse, but ignored the city’s requests for details on financing, marketing and other specifics.
It's looking like W. 29th Street may look considerably different in Uptown if the city can find added money to make that happen.
Council Member Lisa Bender has focused attention on a potholed six-block section of the side street one block north of Lake Street, and the city has $750,000 set aside in 2016 to start work.
But the design liked best by area residents likely could cost closer to $2 million.
That's because the top option among about 30 people attending a presentation of design alternatives was a woonerf. That's a traffic-calming street, popular in parts of Europe, that uses street obstacles such as curbing, planters or throating to discourage and slow traffic. They're considered pedestrian-friendly.
Creating a one-way street without parking got almost no support, but there was more liking for a one-way with parking, especially in the westernmost blocks of 29th west of Colfax Avenue. But the woonerf option got the biggest support, especially if it encourages active street life.
Creating a woonerf will involve more curbing than other options, plus outlays for other appurtenances to slow traffic. One option discussed was flexible use of the street in which obstacles like planters could be rolled in during period when activities such as a farmers' market or street fair are planned, but also be moved to allow more car access.
But creation of more amenities will also require more money and neighborhood buy-in to help program the space, cautioned Don Pflaum, a transportation planner. That could entail seeking outside grants for alternative transportation projects. Lighting and curbs would be assessed.
Bender said the design preference of the crowd reinforces the area's interest in a flexible street. "Now we have to figure out how to make that happen," she added.
The section under discussion exempts the block between Dupont and Emerson avenues because that's been vacated for use by the Cub grocery store.
(Photo above: One example of a woonerf in Trondheim, Norway.)
Minneapolis is losing its traction among the nation's top bicycling cities, according to the latest biennial ranking from Bicycling magazine.
Minneapolis topped the magazine's list of the 50 most cycling-friendly cities in 2010, shocking the biking world by ranking ahead of biking mecca Portland, Ore. Then it slipped to second behind Portland in 2012.
The latest ranking released this week put Minneapolis at third. We're ahead of Portland (No. 4) but New York and Chicago vaulted ahead of both cities to claim Nos. 1 and 2 respectively.
St. Paul? Try No. 40.
The rankings are following after an analysis of census data and information collected about bike infrastructure by cycling advocacy groups. But there's an emphasis what's happened recently that may work against Minneapolis.
It's been late to the parade on implementing protected bike lanes, the hottest new technique for trying to persuade people to ride instead of drive. New York and Chicago jumped to the top of the list after recently adding miles of such lanes -- in which something more substantial than painted lines separate bikes from drivers.
But the city now has a goal of 30 miles of protected lanes by 2020, with plans to build them yet this fall on W. 36th Street, and possible additions next year on 26th Avenue N. and E. 26th and 28th Streets. Hennepin County will add them next year on a short stretch of Washington Avenue. Mayor Betsy Hodges recently proposed spending $750,000 next year on protected lanes.
Minneapolis has drawn bike world attention for the Midtown Greenway and Cedar Lake Trail, and was an early adopter of bike-sharing. A federal pilot project pumped millions of dollars into the Twin Cities for pedestrian and biking projects into the city, but that money has largely been spent. And in the magazine's rankings, painted bike lanes are oh so 2012.
The magazine's ratings seem intended to makes sure that biking cities don't rest on their laurels, said Hilary Reeves, spokeswoman for Transit for Livable Communities, which administered the pilot project in the Twin Cities.
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