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

Posts about Parks and recreation

Mayor appoints lawyer to probe Al Flowers arrest

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 8, 2014 - 5:27 PM

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said Friday that lawyer Donald Lewis, who gave the maximum amount to her 2013 election, will lead what she described as an independent investigation into a police arrest involving activist Al Flowers 

Flowers supporters said they have confidence in Lewis, but criticized the scope of his appointment. Lewis was assigned to examine whether police department policy was vioalated in the late July arrest of Flowers. His attorney, Bobby Joe Champion, said Lewis should be assigned the entire criminal investigation.

“I’m not sure how you bifurcate these things unless you’re trying to get a desired outcome,” said Champion.  "Don Lewis has always been a person of integrity," he added.

Lewis withdrew from a 2001 appointment to head an investigation into City Hall corruption after that arrangement drew criticism because of his political support for then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.

Council members questioned that appointment because of the appearance of impropriety rather than the issue of whether Lewis, an experienced investigator, was qualified.

According to campaign records, Lewis gave $500 in contributions to the Hodges campaign in 2013.  Lewis also gave $250 to mayoral candidate Jackie Cherryhomes. One lawyer in his current firm gave another $125 to Hodges, while another gave $500 to Mark Andrew.

In 2001, he held a fundraiser for Sayles Belton at his law firm, donated to her campaign and had her lawn sign at his south Minneapolis home.

There was no immediate reaction from the mayor's office on the question of whether he could be independent in a probe of the late July arrest of Flowers in an altercation at his home. Lewis deferred questions to the mayor.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kate Brickman said in response to questions about the scope of his duties that “Lewis is a private practice civil law attorney who has been asked to investigate whether the involved officers violated department policy regarding use of force in connection with the arrest.  The chief is considering next steps with respect to a criminal investigation and can provide an update on that probably sometime next week.”

"Mr. Lewis is the right person to conduct this investigaiton," Hodges said in announcing the appointment of Lewis.  "He is a respected leader in the community who I know will be thorough and fair."

Lewis is a Minneapolis lawyer who was dean of the Hamline University law school from 2008 to 2013, and worked as a federal prosecutor. He previously investigated allegations of academic fraud in the University of Minnesota men's basketball program and lead an independent investigation for St. Paul officials into the 2013 landslide at Lilydale Regional Park in which two children died.

(Photo: Attorney Donald Lewis)

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.)  

W. River Parkway could be closed all year

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 1, 2014 - 5:20 PM

With a detour on W. River Parkway diverting more than 6,000 motorists a day, Minneapolis park officials say they may not have a fix in place yet this year for an unstable slope that closed the road in June.

Park officials said Friday that they're analyzing soil borings and other data to try to determine how they will stabilize the hillside so traffic can resume.

"We all wish we had a firm answer on what the next steps will be," said Justin Long, an assistant park superintendent.

He said the Park Board expects to begin construction yet this fall on a repair that will keep the hillside stable, but that work likely will not be completed until spring. Asked if the parkway would repen by the end of the year, Long said he wasn't sure.

"We understand that this is a huge commuter route and it is a huge inconvenience to our constitutents," Long said. Besides thousands of motorists, hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians also are detoured.

Long said that the section of parkway, which lies below Fairview Health Services downriver from 4th Street S., may adjoin a quarry that was mined for limestone when walls were built for the parkway in the 1930s.  The area was then backfilled with soil.

Initially, park officials have used stakes, sandbags and concrete barriers to try to pin the soil in place with a fabric casing.  But when it rains, groundwater flowing laterally through the ground washes more soil down the slope and against barriers on the verge of the road. Sometimes the flow has been strong enough to nudge the concrete barriers lining the bottom of the hill, Long said. The Park Board has trucked the silt away, Long said.

"This is very loose material and there's still signs of movement," he said.

Given that situaiton, park officials don't feel it's safe to reopen the roadway, Long said, although the pavement itself wasn't damaged. But other damage to nearly railings and to rebuild the hillside is estimated to cost aobut $4 million and the park system is documenting what it does to address the problem to claim federal disaster reimbursement.  

W. 36th Street bikeway nears construction

Posted by: Steve Brandt Updated: August 1, 2014 - 3:51 PM

The city is nearing construction of its first protected on-street two-way bike lane, and an adjoining pedestrian lane, on the south side of W. 36th Street next to Lakewood Cemetery,

Construction should begin in the next 30 days on the planned improvement that connects two sections of parkway -- Lake Calhoun and King's Highway.

The nine-block-long segment will feature two five-foot-wide bike lanes, and a six-foot-wide walkway where no sidewalk now exists next to the cemetery.

The bike lanes will be separated from the adjacent eastbound traffic lane by a three-foot buffer strip containing lightweight plastic bollards. More conventional bikes lanes are expected to be extended from King's Highway, where the protection will end, for two additional blocks east to Bryant Avenue.  

Access between the new bike-pedestrian facility and bike and pedestrian paths at Lake Calhoun will be in two stages across 36th and E. Calhoun Parkway

The project cost of $110,900 is being split by the city and by Hennepin County, which is working to fill gaps in bike routes.

Minnehaha Park opens two new play areas, increases accessibility

Posted by: Liz Sawyer Updated: July 31, 2014 - 5:42 PM

Minnehaha Falls Regional Park held a grand opening for two new play areas Thursday, one of which marked the first universally accessible playground in the Minneapolis park system.

The universal access play area, located at the Waburn Picnic Area, includes significantly more options for disabled children to be involved, with more ramps, paths and rubberized surfacing throughout.

Every park board playground in the city meets requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but universally accessible play areas have far more features – at least 70 percent – designed for use by disabled children.

The second playground, located near the band shell at the North Plateau, underwent renovations to create a safer environment for children, while complementing existing equipment. Built in 1906, it was one of the first sites to receive swings and a merry-go-round in the park system, according to a park board press release.

Grand opening ceremonies for the play areas included a ribbon cutting at North Plateau with activities, snacks and dedication speakers to follow at Wabun. A commissioned dance is set to close the festivities.

Wabun play area was designed to mirror its Auto Tourist Camp roots, which was once located at the site. The playground boasts a 1930’s-inspired play car and camper, as well as tents and “cabin-like” spaces. Other features include sand play and a quieter space surrounded by a sensory garden.

Volunteer committee Falls 4 All helped raise more than $450,000 through grants, donations and fundraisers to help build the universal play area. Other funding for the projects was provided the Parks and Trails Fund, as well as a host of other agencies.

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