Minneapolis should do 'the Bottleneck' right

  • Article by: SAM ROCKWELL
  • Updated: July 30, 2014 - 6:04 PM

Instead of fixing the Hennepin-Lyndale tangle cheaply, make it grand.

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Morning rush hour traffic backed up near Loring Park and the Walker Art Center, near the entrances to 35W-I94, Lyndale Ave South and Hennepin Ave South.

Photo: BRUCE BISPING • Star Tribune file,

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The intersection of Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues S. in Minneapolis, known as “the Bottleneck,” has so many problems it is hard to keep track.

The Bottleneck is inhospitable to pedestrians and cyclists. This is particularly unfortunate because it severs the two most walkable areas of the city: downtown and Uptown.

The Bottleneck also detracts from one of our region’s great cultural institutions, the Walker Art Center, by filling one of the museum’s main entrances with the exhaust and cacophony of nine (and a few feet south, 11!) lanes of traffic.

Finally, it is a blown opportunity for a grand gateway into downtown Minneapolis.

The city is currently planning small-scale redesigns of the Bottleneck — the city will present initial proposals at an Aug. 4 public meeting at the Walker. According to the project’s Web page, the city is proposing using about $9 million to “improve pedestrian and bicycle crossing[s] … rebuild traffic signal[s]” and reconstruct curbs, striping, and the like.

Small-scale and on-the-cheap fixes are a bad idea. They end up as excuses for inaction later. After a small fix, logic holds that area problems have been solved and that other projects now deserve attention. It is like buying a mediocre vacuum cleaner: Your couch may retain some dog hair after cleaning, but you keep using the vacuum because, well, you just purchased a new vacuum and you want to spend your remaining money on something else (or maybe you don’t want to own up to making a bad purchase).

If Minneapolis spends $9 million now on mediocre fixes to the Bottleneck, it is unlikely to further improve the area for a long, long time. Calls to action from concerned community members label this a “once-in-50-year opportunity.”

The city should hold off on any significant work on the Bottleneck until it can secure funds to do it right. Yes, the area is in desperate need of some resurfacing, but the city should use this as impetus to secure requisite funding quickly, not as an excuse to do a partial job.

With significant work, the Bottleneck could be a monument to our city. Imagine a Champs-Elysees-style roundabout with the Spoonbridge and Cherry framing downtown. Imagine eliminating or shrinking the spaghetti bowl of bridges and underpasses that darken the walk along Lyndale. Imagine opening up space for development and parkland.

These suggestions, and many more, are being explored in online forums like the blog streets.mn; on the Public Comments section of the project website hosted by the city, and noted in the Star Tribune’s pages. Some of these ideas may not be realistic from an engineering point of view, but they all represent big dreams for the city instead of just a few buffed up curbs and repainted lines.

The Bottleneck should not be a place people prefer to avoid. It should not be a place people tolerate. It should be a memorable connection between downtown and Uptown, and it should augment, not detract, from the Walker, Loring Park, the Sculpture Garden and the city as a whole.

Mayor Betsy Hodges recently wrapped up her first “Bragging about Minneapolis” week. Let’s turn the Bottleneck into something worth bragging about in future years.

Sam Rockwell lives in Minneapolis.

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