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North Side greenway proposal at last gets a road test on Irving Avenue

A temporary installation of the much-debated North Minneapolis Greenway is back on track this spring following a postponement last fall.

The installation is scheduled for June 1-10 on five blocks of Irving Avenue N. that lie between Jordan and Folwell parks. The temporary installation will contrast three alternate designs for the greenway, installed with pavement marking and other temporary materials. It’s intended to be in place for up to a year.

The three designs are intended to calm traffic, designate space for foot and bike traffic, and create gathering spaces for residents. Street furniture such as benches and tables that are intended to encourage interaction among residents will be installed. Play areas also will be added, such as a wood chip pile.

The northernmost block will be closed to all motor vehicles except emergency and service vehicles. The three middle blocks will allow two-way traffic and parking on both sides of the street, but drivers will need to navigate through chicanes, which are offset bumpouts or throats designed to slow speeds. The southernmost block will be a hybrid design in which only northbound traffic and east side parking are allowed, but the west side of the street is reserved for foot and bike traffic only. In addition, 34th Avenue N. will be closed to east-west traffic.

The greenway test is part of a proposal for a much longer north-south greenway project that would bisect the North Side running between Shingle Creek Trail in the north and south of Plymouth Ave N on the south. That proposed greenway, first conceived in 2009, would primarily follow Irving or Humboldt avenues. It would connect three schools, four parks and Crystal Lake Cemetery.

The proposal has been debated in part by some residents who fear a loss of traffic access to their homes, and by others who questioned whether adequate feedback had been obtained from residents. The city has pledged that access to alleys will be maintained, and that it will continue snow plowing on remaining traffic lanes.

The city said last fall October it was postponing implementation that month of the temporary plan then because bids topped the $130,000 pilot budget. Council Member Blong Yang, who represents the southernmost block, said then he met with several dozen Hmong families who wanted their street to remain as is. The new design reduces the number of blocks closed to traffic from two to one.

The city said that alley lighting will be beefed up with two additional lights per alley, although the cost of lighting would need to be absorbed by residents if they remain after the test.

Area residents may participate in three events. On June 7, street furniture will be assembled at Folwell Park at 5 p.m. Base paint for street designs will be applied on June 11 at 10 a.m., to be followed by the painting of stenciled designs on June 25 from 1-5 p.m.

Feedback on the design can we submitted to the city via 311, e-mailing healthyliving@minneapolismn.gov, completing a survey at: www.minneapolismn.gov/health/living/northminneapolisgreenway,filling out a comment card at kiosks along the route, or by answering door knockers who will canvass the route.

(Illustration above: One view of how the greenway might appear.)

2 activists back Park Board's Miller against racism charges

Two prominent black leaders have come to the defense of the Minneapolis park superintendent after repeated attacks on her handling of issues involving the hiring, promotion and discipline of park employees of color.

“The accusations against Superintendent Jayne Miller in regards to her being a racist are absurd and off base,” wrote former Minneapolis NAACP President Booker Hodges “The attacks against her are personal and they don’t reflect the view of the vast majority of the community.”

Hodges preceded Nekima Levy-Pounds as NAACP branch chief. Last week she called for both Miller and Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President Liz Wielinski to resign. She has alleged that the Park Board has lagged in hiring and promoting minority employees and disciplined them more harshly than white employees.

Meanwhile, Steven Belton, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Urban League, on whose board Miller serves, wrote that Miller has been “unfairly maligned.”

“Jayne is compassionate about serving underserved and marginalized populations in our community, including African Americans, African immigrants and other people of color,” Belton wrote.

Both letters are dated May 4, a week before a well-publicized blowup between Levy-Pounds and Park Board President Liz Wielinski, when Levy-Pounds interrupted a board budget retreat to press for more action against what she described as racist practices. Both letters were appended to the Park Board’s Wednesday agenda, but Wielinski said they were not solicited by park officials. Belton didn’t return a Star Tribune inquiry.

Hodges said that in 2012 as NAACP president the organization was investigating over 160 allegations of racial bias involving park visitors and employees. He said Miller acknowledged “some serious room for improvement” on workforce bias and was willing to work to address that. He said she personally conducted hearings for employees who felt unfairly disciplined due to their race, an action he called unprecedented.

“Superintendent Miller is not a racist and attempts to cast her as such [are] very disturbing and counterproductive,” Hodges wrote.

However, one Park Board employee who has been disciplined, Cynthia Wilson, said the hearings lacked a neutral party. According to the Park Board, 78 disciplined present or former employees of all races were eligible for rehearings that Miller held voluntarily, 16 had their discipline reheard, and four had their discipline reduced. Wilson said the discipline modifications were not significant.

Wilson also suggested that Hodges had divided loyalties between the employees who felt aggrieved by the alleged park system bias and his pursuit of the job of park police chief. The Park Board confirmed that he was one of four finalists for the job, but the position wasn't filled until the year after Miller reviewed the employee disciplinsry cases. Hodges called the claim of divided loyalties "baseless" and said he took considerable time from his family to pursue the issues raised by employees.