The architect of Southdale, Victor Gruen, was an ardent advocate of prioritizing pedestrians over cars. So it’s ironic that the area around Southdale grew over time into a busy vehicle corridor where walking wasn’t always easy.
Edina is trying to fix that. With more housing being built on and around the Southdale property, the city has completed a $4 million project aimed at making France Avenue S. more welcoming to pedestrians. The rebuild includes wider crosswalks; filling in gaps where no sidewalks existed; improved pedestrian crossing controls, and new medians that act as “safety refuges” for pedestrians who can’t make it across the wide street during a single light change.
The project, completed in the fall, is already having an impact, said Edina transportation planner Mark Nolan.
“We’re hearing from residents in the Cornelia neighborhood who never realized how easy it is to walk to Southdale,” Nolan said. “We’re hearing from residents that they’re able to walk to Southdale for the first time.”
Local businesses say they’ve noticed more pedestrian traffic, even during the winter. Amy Tatarek, operations coordinator of the Kinderberry Child Development Center near W. 70th Street and France, said the improvements have been helpful.
“It seems safer when the children are going on walks,” she said.
Managers at One Southdale Place, a 232-unit luxury rental that opened in the fall, is using the area’s walkability to entice prospective residents.
“Why not walk everywhere you can?” said Hillary Neary, the development’s leasing and marketing manager. “Our residents pretty much walk everywhere. We advertise that we are a pedestrian-friendly site.”
The city got a federal highway grant of more than $1 million to help pay for the project. Chad Millner, Edina’s director of engineering, said the original proposal called for a pedestrian bridge near the southern end of France, somewhere between W. 70th and W. 76th streets. But planners realized they could make a greater impact by reconfiguring the intersections at W. 66th, W. 70th and W. 76th streets.
“We realized we had the need for [improving] more than one crossing,” Millner said. “So we were able to put that money toward improving three big intersections.” Many of the property owners along France donated their easements to the project, Millner said, because they realized the benefits of improving pedestrian access in the area.
“It’s all part of the City Council’s push to make Edina more pedestrian-friendly,” he said. “We’re trying to develop a feel that when you’re coming into the Southdale district, you’re entering a pedestrian-friendly area.”