Next year, the City of Minneapolis will create a new connection between downtown Minneapolis and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood by reconnecting 5th Street S over 35W. The connection is needed, as all roads except Washington Ave S leading between the two neighborhoods were severed by the construction of I-35W
The city will approve the project in November. Before that happens, there is one major question left to answer: Will cars be allowed to drive along the whole corridor?
At a meeting last month, staff from the City's Department of Public Works posed this question to residents, business owners, workers and students from the nearby neighborhoods of Downtown, Elliot Park and Cedar-Riverside.
What is certain
At a public forum last month, city staff met with residents, business owners, workers and students from the nearby neighborhoods of Downtown, Elliot Park and Cedar-Riverside about the project. After an earlier detailed proposal caused a great deal of controversy and led to the project being delayed by a year, staff came to the meeting with almost no details about the project.
From the little detail presented, this is what I believe to be certain about the project:
- The project will have separated bicycle and pedestrian facilities from 11th Ave S in downtown to 15th Ave S in Cedar-Riverside
- The project will also accommodate people in cars from 11th Ave S to 13th Ave S (just west of 35W)
- The bicycle and pedestrian facilities will be separated from each other
- The bicycle facility will be at least twelve feet wide
- Pedestrian-scale lighting will be included
- This connection will be closed to cars when major events take place at U.S. Bank Stadium
What is in question
In the meeting, staff asked the audience to address this question: should the auto facility continue east of 13th Ave S, over 35W, and connect to 15th Ave S in Cedar-Riverside? Or should the eastern half of the corridor be left car-free?
The lack of detail made it difficult to comment on the whether or not there should be a connection for cars or not: How wide would the auto connection be? How much greening can be included in the project with or without the auto connection?
However, audience members did their best to ask questions and comment on the merits of the two proposals. Here's what they said:
Why there should be an auto connection along the entire corridor
There were three main themes from audience members who supported allowing cars along the entire corridor:
- Pedestrian/bicycle safety (from crime)
- Prosperity of businesses in Cedar-Riverside
- Redundancy of the connection
Multiple people expressed concerns about feeling unsafe along the corridor as it currently is. It is about 1/3 of a mile long and is largely separated from active uses by the light rail tracks, the interstate, and a power substation. To them, having cars driving along the entire corridor, especially at night, would provide "eyes on the street" and make the corridor feel more safe.
Other audience members, including a developer from the nearby Five15 on the Park project, commented that opening up the connection to auto traffic would help bring customers to businesses in that corner of Cedar-Riverside. One member of the audience member also commented that having more auto connections would help Somali-run taxi companies based in Cedar-Riverside, and that not allowing cars would continue to inflict isolation on the neighborhood.
One audience member asked if this pedestrian and bicycle connection was needed, given the Hiawatha Light Rail Trail immediately to the north. Staff responded that the trails do start right next to each other in Cedar-Riverside, but diverge and end up two blocks apart once they reach downtown.
Why there should not be an auto connection along the entire corridor
Among audience members opposed to an auto connection along the entire corridor, two themes emerged:
- Pedestrian/bicycle safety (from cars)
- Adding as much greening and unique features as possible
Several audience members questioned how safe bicycles and pedestrians utilizing the new connection would be if cars were allowed along the entire stretch. Specifically, a former member of the City's Pedestrian Advisory Committee questioned if there would be enough space for adequate separated bicycle and pedestrian facilities if an auto connection was present along the entire corridor. Staff reported there would be enough room, without providing further details. Another audience member feared the corridor would be used as a cut-through route by drivers during rush hour or during special events. Staff replied that the auto connection would be designed for low speeds and that it would be closed during stadium events. Additionally, a traffic study predicted that less than 1,000 cars per day would use the new connection.
Others in the audience expressed a desire for something very special along the route. They proposed ideas such as a playground or a facility for community members to raise livestock. Many expressed a desire for a significant amount of greening. They asked how special this corridor could really be with an auto connection taking up a significant amount of space.
What is next?
This meeting seemed to serve as a listening session for city council members Abdi Warsame and Jacob Frey along with staff. During the meeting, staff indicated that there would be one more public meeting before a decision was made on the components of the corridor.
So far I have not seen any indications of when or where this meeting will take place. When it does occur, I certainly hope there will be detailed plans for all options under consideration so community members can make informed comments.