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A call for cars on mall clashes with Minneapolis' plan

  • Article by: Steve Brandt
  • Star Tribune
  • November 8, 2007 - 7:18 PM

A proposal to restore cars to the Nicollet Mall is colliding head-on with the new downtown transportation plan for Minneapolis.

A consultant to the Downtown Council raised the proposal on Wednesday. Council President Sam Grabarski had floated it last summer to the City Council.

But to some key figures in the city's transportation planning, cars on the mall is a non-starter.

"I don't see cars going back on the mall," said City Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy, who chairs the council's transportation panel.

The city's plan gives primacy to riding buses, biking and walking to handle an expected increase in workers and residents downtown.

A key part of the plan is to shift express buses off the mall after double lanes for them are built in 2009 on Marquette and 2nd Avenues.

Once only local buses serve the mall -- most of them expected to be hybrid gas-electric vehicles -- many of them also will serve as downtown circulators. They're intended to link Hiawatha light-rail transit, hotels and the Minneapolis Convention Center along the mall.

Fill the mall with cars, and buses will get delayed instead of providing carefully timed circulator service, said Charlene Zimmer, a consultant for the city plan.

Also, the city intends to let bikers use the mall any time, rather than just before 6 a.m. and after 6 p.m., once express buses are shifted. Adding cars would complicate that. "It's a safety issue for cyclists," Zimmer said.

Grabarski said he recognizes that the traffic plan compromises a number of interests but said retailers eventually want buses off the mall. He said allowing cars on the mall would allow drivers to gather information about which stores are open or where to park, and give pedestrians a sense of security once bus traffic ebbs in the evening. Circulator service is fine for convention- goers but not for retailers, he said.

Richard Anderson disagrees. He's a downtown resident, biker and a member of the transportation plan's steering committee. He said the Downtown Council is stuck on solutions of the past by advocating cars on the mall. "It just doesn't make sense," he said.

Grabarski warned that the future of department stores on the mall is at stake.

But others want the city to remain true to the mall's origins. "They seem to have a short memory of the spirit and intent of the mall, which is heralded worldwide as a node for pedestrian traffic," said Minneapolis resident Steve Kotvis. "They seem to be ignoring most every spring, summer and autumn day where there are thousands upon thousands of pedestrians who stroll, eat, drink and sometimes even shop at the retailers along Nicollet Mall."

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438

Steve Brandt • sbrandt@startribune.com

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