A recent post about multi-way boulevards by our friends at Placemakers got me thinking about Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis (I think about it a lot, especially when I’m attempting to cross it on my bike with my kids in tow, one on the tagalong and one in the Burley). As I wait for the light and watch the commuter refugees get off the train and try to cross Hiawatha, I think “there must be a better way.” So what about a multi-way boulevard?
The multi-way boulevard is like Superman compared to the standard suburban arterial that we’ll call Lex Luthor. As the Placeshakers post describes, the multi-way boulevard allows fast moving through traffic to use the center lanes, whereas a slip lane at the side of the roadway allows for slower traffic and parking. It is this slip lane area that could be so beneficial to Hiawatha, as it would create a more pedestrian-friendly environment buffered from fast moving traffic, and the on-street parking would help attract retailers. The added benefit is the islands between the slip lane and through traffic lanes allow for easier street crossing as the distance across the primary roadway is much less.
So why not a multi-way boulevard for Hiawatha Avenue? A key aspect of the multi-way boulevard is it can be created in sections. In other words, a two or four block section can be built near light rail stations for example. How much of an improvement would it be for apartment and retail leasing efforts at the proposed Longfellow Station if, instead of looking at a poorly functioning highway and right turn lane, this is what the street in front of the building looked like?
This example is from Washington D.C. where there is a multi-way boulevard for a short stretch of K Street. It makes imminent sense to build a demonstration section on the blocks surrounding 38th Street in conjunction with pedestrian crosswalk improvements and the rebuilding of 38th Street between Minnehaha and Hiawatha, scheduled by the city in the next couple years. And there is no need for a slip lane southbound, since the light rail line and bike path exist there (just plant better trees).
To date, with all the transit-oriented development along the Hiawatha Line, not one project actually fronts on Hiawatha Avenue. To me, the reason is the functionality of the street itself. Why would you want to develop a pedestrian-friendly Superman of a building along this Lex Luthor of a roadway? If Longfellow Station rises out of the ground, it will be the first to front Hiawatha, and it would benefit immensely from fronting on a multi-way boulevard. If the City and County are serious about transit-oriented development, it is time to work with MnDOT to consider solutions like the multi-way boulevard.
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