A plan to stitch up the freeway gash that divides Cedar-Riverside from downtown Minneapolis by converting an old exit ramp into a pedestrian friendly crossing has been delayed amid a debate over cars.
The idea, called “Samatar Crossing” in tribute to the city’s first Somali politician, was a parting priority for former Mayor R.T. Rybak, who touted it in his final news conference as mayor three years ago. He said the former 5th Street exit ramp from Interstate 94 would be transformed into a “grand pedestrian walkway” between downtown and the neighborhood known for its large immigrant population.
But designs that have emerged combine vehicle traffic with walking and bicycling space. And they have not gone over well with some residents concerned about more cars in an already congested neighborhood bustling with playing children and adults on foot.
The city is now developing a second option for the community that is restricted to nonmotorized traffic over the freeway, delaying the project’s start until next year.
“The original idea was to have a pedestrian-only area so residents of the West Bank could feel more a part of downtown,” Rybak, who now leads the Minneapolis Foundation, wrote in an e-mail. “I know there were some adjacent property owners who wanted car traffic but I never thought that was as important as having a rare oasis in a car-dominated city where people wouldn’t have to watch out for cars.”
Named after former school board member Hussein Samatar, who died in 2013, the project is a unique example of reconnecting the street grid torn apart by 1960s freeway construction. The roadway that would become Samatar Crossing served as the Interstate 94 5th Street exit ramp until the Minnesota Department of Transportation constructed a new bridge and ramp at 7th Street in conjunction with U.S. Bank Stadium.
Following an informational meeting about the project in February, the local neighborhood association, the West Bank Community Coalition, urged residents to sign a petition demanding that the space be limited to bicycles and pedestrians.
Council Member Abdi Warsame, who represents the area, said some in the community misinterpreted how much car traffic the connection would add to the neighborhood. He favors developing two options — with and without cars — and presenting it for community members to decide.
“People are already wary that there’s too many cars,” Warsame said. “And some of these cars speed, especially on 6th Street. There’s a lot of concern from the community.”
Warsame also noted that the project is directly beside Currie Park, which is the only green space in the dense, urban neighborhood.
City Transportation Planner Steven Hay said public works is developing another option, but staff members still favor an option combining bikes, walkers and cars.
“I think there’s a lot of concern that we’re going dump all this extra traffic into the neighborhood,” Hay said. “But that’s not really what our traffic studies are showing.”
A traffic study forecast that 1,000 to 3,000 cars a day may use the new connection — about four cars per minute during peak hours, Hay said. That would mean slight traffic increases on two nearby streets as well.
But Hay added that the crossing may allow traffic to flow better, since it would provide a third point to enter and exit the neighborhood. The existing entry points are 4th Street and 6th Street, which do not connect directly to downtown.
The city also hopes to alleviate pedestrian safety concerns by installing mid-block crosswalks with raised islands that provide more designated areas to cross.
The project was originally expected to cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, with construction starting this year and finishing in 2017. Construction now won’t begin until 2017.