Open Letter to Minneapolis Park Board Commissioners and Lynnhurst Members of Citizens Advisory Council (CAC)
We are not only your constituents in Lynnhurst neighborhood but are also impacted stakeholders from all parts of Minneapolis and beyond. We are all ages, races, religions, creeds, economic and education levels. We love our bikes and running and walking but we also drive cars and park on city streets. We are diverse!
Some of us are neighbors on a three-block stretch of West 51st Street and W. Minnehaha Parkway/Irving Ave./James Ave. South. Others of us drive Minnehaha Parkway and city streets many times per day or week. We drive and park on 51st Street to kayak the creek or bike the trail. Every weekday, we park on 50th/51st and James Ave.to drop off/pick up preschoolers at Mt Olivet Nursery School or young children at Burroughs Elementary. We park on 51st and James so our young children can participate in Lynnhurst youth sports.
There are also thousands who drive and park on 51st and James Ave daily and year-round to attend Mt Olivet’s Sunday church services or take music lessons, attend youth groups, weddings, funerals and many other community-focused groups. Do you know Mt Olivet church is the largest ELCA congregation in the US with more than 13,000 members and 900 staff? If there is any doubt to its size and accompanying traffic congestion, try driving and parking on James or Irving Ave and 51st Streets on Easter, Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or talk to the team of Mpls police officers directing traffic at 50th and James every Sunday morning year-round.
The point is this: 51st St. and James Ave S. is a very busy street filled with children coming and going every single day, year round. Add winter conditions, and it is very challenging to navigate safely.
Given all of our different backgrounds and our different reasons for driving and parking near Burroughs and Mt Olivet, it is unusual for us to unite behind a single cause. But you've managed to make it happen. Because when it comes to your preferred concept for W. Minnehaha Parkway at Lynnhurst, we bring you one clear message:
THE PREFERRED CONCEPT FOR LYNNHURST IS AN INJURY OR FATALITY WAITING TO HAPPEN!!
That's right. We strongly oppose your plan and it should be stopped. Leave the existing northbound W. Minnehaha Parkway “as-is” from W.51st St to W. 50th St. The volume of all modes of traffic adjacent to Mt Olivet Church and Burroughs School, on both sides of the creek, is too high to support additional traffic.
Besides traffic volume and parking issues, there is a significant elevation issue between the James Ave. bridge and the corner of James Ave and 51st St. that impairs the visibility of drivers, pedestrians and bikers who cross at the corner.
Adding 1,900 more cars per day onto W. 51st St to James Ave. will increase odds significantly of the most unfortunate scenario: a walker, most likely a child, or a biker crossing the intersection just south of the creek's James Ave. bridge is killed by a driver who cannot see the person crossing before cresting the highest elevation point of the bridge.
Minneapolis Park Board is developing a Master Parkway Regional Plan for the parkland running along Minnehaha Creek from Minnehaha Regional Park to the western city limit.
A Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) is responsible for recommending changes for all parks and road infrastructure, including Lynnhurst. CAC members are not elected, they are appointees selected by Park Commissioners, City Council representatives or neighborhood associations of unknown origin.
The CAC’s preferred concept for Lynnhurst to redirect cars from the corner of W. Minnehaha Parkway and W. 51st St a block west along 51st Street and Irving /James Ave. to 50th Street makes an undesirable traffic situation much worse and is intolerably reckless.
One would presume the preferred concept is focused on improving the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists or drivers over the current condition. Or maybe making it easier to drive around our neighborhood. However, according to the Master Parkway Regional Plan’s own project manager, Adam Arvidson, the only reason they are looking to close the road to car traffic is because there is anecdotal feedback the existing intersection at Lynnhurst Community Center is too congested and "awkward". Yet there have been zero reported accidents or fatalities with the existing traffic configuration. In fact, there are none reported within the entire parkway system.
Then how is moving traffic congestion one or two blocks west on 51st and James Ave any better in terms of perceived feelings or actual risk potential for accidents?
Park Board Power Grab
Even though there is no data to back up claims of injuries or accidents at the existing Lynnhurst intersection, the Park Board is looking to engineer a solution where there is no real problem other than "awkward" design and traffic congestion. And we agree - it is awkward driving around Lynnhurst Community Center. We also accept the awkward bottleneck is the price we pay for living in a popular, high-density corridor along Minnehaha Creek where thousands must share the roads and trails. We also expect these congested intersections will become the “norm” in Lynnhurst once more high-density housing is built up along W. 50th St. per zoning code changes adopted with Mpls 2040 Plan.
So what is Mpls Park Board striving toward by “lifting and shifting” traffic a block or two west from the current roadway? From what we understand, the CAC is an unelected body charged with making recommendations for fulfilling the Park Board's Regional Master Plan that aligns our streets and parkway infrastructure with utopian ideals of Mpls 2040 plan, specifically implementing design goals that prioritize bicycles over cars. Can we even begin to speculate the astronomical cost of building and maintaining new infrastructure as proposed in the Master Plan? Why are you proposing such massive infrastructure changes to which the majority of your constituents are opposed?
In pursuing these design goals, the CAC and Park Board seem to have lost sight of the forest for the trees. The people charged with making decisions about our tax-funded infrastructure do not appreciate how we tax-payers will suffer for these changes and the risks involved with rerouting 1,900 cars per day in Lynnhurst as forecasted by a two-day traffic study.
Residents on 51st Street Specific Concerns
We who own homes on W. 51st St and Irving/James Ave are impacted especially unfairly. Unlike our neighbors' homes on Minnehaha Parkway which were built with long, front yard set-backs to minimize noise and pollution from cars, ours do not enjoy the same long set-back. This means our homes are too close to 51st St. for us to be so exposed to the constant noise and pollution of an extra 1,900 cars a day driving by our houses. Also, parkway homes were designed with access to garages off an alley. Some of us on 51st St have driveways that back into 51st St. which adds more risk of accidents.
General Concerns on Breaking Up the Parkway
People from around the world who visit Minneapolis are AMAZED at our beautiful parks and miles and miles of parkway for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Being able to drive the Grand Rounds parkway is the ideal way to showcase the "jewels" of the City - our Chain of Lakes and Minnehaha Creek running from the Minneapolis/Edina border to Minnehaha Falls. We are proud to drive the parkway showing off our beautiful city and what makes Minneapolis unlike any other place: an urban forest dotted with water and parks around every bend in the road. These features are why the Twin Cities Marathon course is on the parkway and billed "The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon In the Country".
Park Board Commissioners, how can you rationalize breaking up the historic Grand Rounds, as they were designed, including at Lynnhurst? Besides creating unbearable traffic burdens on our city streets, and for no good reason and which threaten public safety, what a shame to lose forever this unique asset and pleasurable driving experience on this National Scenic Byway. And the vast majority of people don't want it! In particular, 86% of 610 people polled on neighborhood app NextDoor do not want the parkway changed at Nicollet Ave. We want to be able to enjoy the city's natural beauty by driving the parkway without stressful detours onto already busy city streets.
We have been sharing concerns for months! Do you hear us?
Since at least spring 2019, residents and other stakeholders have consistently shared concerns at CAC meetings, on Mpls Park Board surveys, and in person with Park Board Commissioners and the Project Manager. And we still see no changes to the proposal. We are told: Contact the CAC. Go to a Park Board Meeting. Take the Survey. Or dismissed with “Your concerns about increased traffic are your own value judgments” For residents this translates to: “OK Boomer, you’re in the big city not Mayberry.”
From our experience, the Park Board’s process of communicating recommendations and collecting and responding to stakeholder feedback has been generally LOUSY for these reasons:
· Communication - By the time we hear about a plan, it feels like a “done deal” that was sprung on us. We go to Park Board presentations and only the CAC members are allowed to speak, not the general public.
· Accountability - There is little or no transparency for how CAC members are appointed and to whom they are accountable or who they represent.
· Process - The review/revise/approve process of proposed concepts is a mystery, and we don’t know how our city leaders stand on Park Board proposals.
· Problem Solving- Why isn't there a phased approach so we can easily implement some easy-to- fix and cheap solutions to real problems with our existing design? (i. e. fill the pot holes on the bike paths so bikers don't need to ride on the street. Add a speed bump on the James Ave. bridge)
· Stakeholders - Not enough stakeholder analysis. Why haven’t you valued input from neighbors, both residents and school or church leaders who have first-hand knowledge of what to expect? (Sorry, but a two-day traffic study counting cars from a lawn chair does not begin to capture the real implications of this poor design.)
· Rushed Decision Making - Why the rush to make a decision on a massive infrastructure overhaul? Put this on a ballot and let us vote.
· Budget - We ask about a budget and there is no number shared. We are to be mollified with "Don't worry, we'll find the funds from County and State taxes too!" That is not a satisfactory answer to give to the people already paying very high City taxes plus to County, State, and Fed. We want to know the bottom line cost with any proposal and then vote on it during an election year.
What’s coming next?
The CAC will vote on a plan in January 2020. After the CAC adopts a plan, the Park Board will make a final vote.
We urge you to STOP this insane plan NOW!
Elizabeth & Steve Ashbrook, on behalf of our Lynnhurst Neighbors, Mt Olivet Members, Burroughs School Parents, Consituents City-wide who drive Minnehaha Parkway for work and life activities.