The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will continue to keep more than 20 miles of parkways closed off to vehicles so pedestrians have more room to spread apart at popular lakes and trails during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday night, the Park Board voted to allocate $250,000 to keep the parkways closed for the foreseeable future, with parks officials estimating the money will last at least through June.
“We all know what the next step in the dance is,” Commissioner Brad Bourn said. “Let’s get this as far as the $250,000 will go, which sounds like it could probably get us to the end of June.”
Seven commissioners voted in favor of the extension. Commissioners Kale Severson and Londel French, who said opening parkways was only creating more space for people to gather in public, abstained from the vote.
The Park Board was initially voting to extend the closures until June 7 and spend up to $250,000 to do so. Instead, Bourn offered an amendment to keep parkways closed for as long as that amount of money allows.
“As long as there is guidance for social distancing, I think that there is need for additional space,” President Jono Cowgill said during the meeting.
The Park Board has barricaded 21 miles of parkways for pedestrians since late March. This includes roads around the Chain of Lakes, Lake Nokomis Parkway and significant stretches of E. and W. River Parkway typically used by vehicles.
It is now renting hundreds of tube delineators and dozens of barricades from a contractor, said Michael Schroeder, the board’s assistant superintendent for planning services. It was paying a daily rental rate for the materials, he said, as officials thought they would only need them until the beginning of May, when the statewide stay-at-home order was expected to end.
The board now intends to put out a public bid for the materials, Schroeder said. It is considering applying for grants and contacting organizations that sponsor events on the parkways to help pay for the closures, according to documents.
It is also considering expanding some closures, where cars are still allowed on one side of the road, into full closures. Those roads would be Cedar Lake and E. Bde Maka Ska parkways, along with a nearly full closure of W. River Parkway.
Park Board leaders said most feedback about the parkway closures has been positive.
Gerry Tyrrell, a social worker with Hennepin County, has walked with his husband and dog along the river parkways for the last few weeks to wind down at the end of the day. “It serves a real function and has been a real positive step,” he said.
He said the Park Board should extend the closures as long as experts continue to urge social distancing. He also said it would make more sense for the board to direct pedestrians to the bike paths and the cyclists to the parkways, where there is more space.
An online petition he and another resident are circulating supporting the closures had gathered more than 500 signatures by Wednesday.
“We’re in this for the long run,” he said. The closure “needs to be thought of as a public health issue and needs to be on that time frame.”