Minnehaha Parkway in south Minneapolis would no longer be a continuous route for motorists under a plan being considered by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety.
The plan calls for concrete medians at key intersections to force drivers to turn right off the parkway and onto city streets, cutting down on the amount of through traffic using the road that snakes along Minnehaha Creek.
“It will be impossible to essentially drive the parkway continuously from Portland Avenue to 50th and the Lake Harriet area,” said Adam Arvidson, project manager for the Minnehaha Parkway Regional Trail Master Plan released last week. “That vehicular flow would be interrupted. The primary benefit would be fewer cars on the parkway and therefore fewer intersections and conflicts with bicycles and pedestrians.”
Some residents who live along and near the scenic route aren’t so keen on the idea. They say restricting access would make it too inconvenient to get in and out of the neighborhood and funnel more traffic onto residential streets.
“Traffic [on the parkway] is not an issue,” said Amy Simso Dean, a resident who lives near Minnehaha Parkway and Nicollet Avenue, where one of the medians is proposed. “I believe they should leave well enough alone.”
Medians that would force drivers to make right turns off the parkway would be installed at Nicollet and Lyndale avenues and in both places where the parkway intersects with 50th Street, according to five concepts for the trail master plan that will guide improvements in the area along the creek for the next 20 to 30 years.
There’s no timeline for installation of the medians, and the overall plan still needs approval from the Park Board, which has set aside $1.25 million to make changes in the area.
Commuter route or park?
Discussions about the Minnehaha Creek-area plans last winter focused on the purpose the parkway should serve.
A Park Board analysis found that the parkway east of Portland Avenue is a crucial east-west commuter route and should serve that function. But to the west of Portland, the road serves more as a gateway to the creekside parkland and not a continuous driving route, Arvidson said.
“Is the parkway another city street or commuter route or not?” Arvidson said. “Where we have settled is that there are two halves. East of Portland, it does need to serve as a cross-city route, and west of Portland it does not.“
He said nearby 54th and 50th streets serve as east-west routes west of Portland, and if medians are adopted, through traffic could be diverted there.
Data from the Department of Public Safety show that from 2016 through 2018 there was one crash involving a pedestrian and two others involving a bicyclist at Minnehaha Parkway and 50th Street. There were two crashes involving bicyclists at Minnehaha and Portland, and one each at Minnehaha and Lyndale and Minnehaha and Nicollet.
Simso Dean said she loves mass transit and is supportive of initiatives to make biking and walking safer, but making it harder to drive around is not the way to do it.
“I understand their logic. They see the parkway as a park, but I don’t buy it,” she said. “I’ve always felt safe walking.”
She also said drivers “don’t want to go to 50th and 54th. Neighborhood traffic is going to increase as drivers try to get on the parkway.”
City of Minneapolis spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said the city had no comment on the Park Board’s proposed plan.
In recent years, the city has also made an effort to protect bicyclists by adding protected bike lanes — sometimes at the expense of space for vehicle traffic.
‘It is an experience’
The proposed Minnehaha Parkway plan also calls for some road realignment and conversion of some stretches from two-way traffic to one-way traffic. It includes the installation of other traffic-calming features, such as high-visibility crosswalks and curb extensions to shorten crossings for pedestrians.
One major change would be at Nicollet Avenue, where all traffic would be shifted to an at-grade intersection instead of following an existing route under the bridge.
Dave Oslund, who lives nearby, fears removal of what is called the “lower road” — where traffic bypasses Nicollet by traveling under the bridge — and the addition of new parking lot will bring more traffic to the area.
“That road is [already] dangerous; it’s like an off-ramp from a freeway,” he said. “It will be worse with more traffic.”
Al Giesen, who has lived on Minnehaha Parkway for more than 30 years, said he hopes the medians are never installed.
“Something we enjoy about where we live is being able to utilize the parkway,” he said. “It is an experience. It’s not like driving on a normal street.”