Downtown Minneapolis now has a "woonerf" — a low-speed shared passage for pedestrians, bikes and cars.
The developers of Mill City Quarter are pinning the Dutch term on the public-private space they're opening at 2 p.m. Thursday along the path of a former rail spur that bisects a shared parking area between two new apartment buildings.
The corridor is less than 500 feet long, and it lacks some of the features of a classic European woonerf, but it's likely to draw crowds once the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board links it to nearby W. River Parkway riverfront trails for foot and bike traffic. That's tentatively scheduled for 2019.
"I think you're just going to see this thing explode [in popularity]," said lawyer Brian Flakne, a partner in one of the buildings.
According to Flakne, the presence of foot and bike traffic will slow traffic on the woonerf, which lacks the textured driving surface and traffic-slowing obstacles of a typical woonerf.
There are similar projects around Minneapolis. Some would count a stretch of Milwaukee Avenue S. in the Seward neighborhood — closed to all but foot traffic and emergency vehicles since the 1970s — as a woonerf.
The city is reconstructing a two-block section of 29th Street west of Lyndale Avenue S. with a revamped streetscape and a driveway-like apron at each end, designed to slow drivers who will share the street with foot and bike traffic. And the proposed North Minneapolis Greenway, being tested on a five-block section of Irving Avenue, includes designs that exclude vehicle traffic and that allow some vehicles on narrowed streets.
The downtown woonerf happened because of the Park Board's park dedication requirement. It ordinarily requires a developer to pay a fee to finance parks near new housing or businesses. But partners Steve Minn and John Wall, developers of one of the apartment buildings, used an option that allows private land to be dedicated for public use.
That took complex negotiations involving the Park Board, the city, Minn and Wall, a separate owner of the old rail spur, and Ecumen, the nonprofit developer of the other new apartment building. Ecumen's building for residents over age 55 opens in December with 151 memory-care and independent units. The other Mill City Quarter building of 150 units uses tax credits to create rents affordable to older residents making about half of the area's median income. That's an upper income limit of $41,220 annually for two people.
Although construction continued this week along the woonerf, a couple walked their dog and a biker rolled along the curbless passage. The woonerf is flanked by parking spots for day use by business tenants in nearby office buildings. It's designed to be one-way for cars, entered from S. 2nd Street across from the former Milwaukee Road train shed and exited at 3rd Avenue S. near the Post Office.
On weekends and in the evenings, public pay parking will be available. The woonerf's path is marked by pavers designed to allow water to flow into the ground and an underground cistern. The landscaped woonerf area also will have multiple signs depicting the rails, mills and bridges that served the area. A cafe will open along the woonerf.
For now, there's a gate on the woonerf's river end. That will swing open during the park operating hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. once the river connection is established. The developers also agreed to test and evaluate leaving it open during all hours.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438