Update: Previous versions of this article stated that there will be a new fence separating the new 31st Street from the Calhoun Towers. This was not in fact accurate. According to Sophia Ginis: “Calhoun Towers currently has fencing around their property. It would be up to the property owner to decide if they wanted a fence in the future.”
The West Calhoun Neighborhood Council in conjunction with the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association held a Southwest Light Rail station area meeting on November 15th, 2014. This meeting was informational in nature and aimed to get out the facts to area residents ahead of this massive infrastructure project that will begin construction in 2016 (see here for more information about where the project as a whole stands). In attendance were a few local government officials, who were on hand to answer questions from residents. This included the community liaison with the Metropolitan Council Sophia Ginis, several individuals from the City of Minneapolis traffic departments, and recently elected Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene. Close to thirty neighborhood residents gathered near the Midtown Greenway to ask questions and get a sense of where the Southwest Light Rail station will go in this area.
Ms. Ginis spoke first and gave a rough overview of the project. She stated that the project had entered the “30% engineering” stage with construction to begin by 2016. She handed out some packets of information including station area design and the construction of a new street (31st) that will connect this area with Excelsior Boulevard and allow buses to route through the area. This street will effectively cut off and push past the wooded area to the south of the Greenway near the Calhoun Towers (currently owned by Hennepin County). Ryan Fox, board member with CIDNA, told this reporter that while the association hasn’t taken a stand on the addition of 31st Street he thinks “the station platform and redevelopment opportunities would be served by a different road alignment.”
Ms. Ginis also stated that the sidewalks in this area will separate the station platform from the trails. The packet of information included some information about “projects with community involvement.” The “station design” element of this will begin at the end of this year leading into next, with “Kenilworth landscaping design” and “public art” continuing into 2015. The packet had some example pictures of current station design, furnishings, bike storage, landscape/streetscape design at the Blue and Green lines.
The traffic engineers with the city stated that they are aware of the parking difficulties in this area, and a multi-modal traffic study is planned for the entire neighborhood. The Met Council reps also described an elevated platform that will be on the Lake Street bridge that will be used to take people down to the station.
While the group was congenial, there was an undercurrent of tension from the residents, many of whom felt that their community’s views were not being represented by the Met Council or Hennepin County. The main issues raised by CIDNA were a demand for pedestrian access to the station platform from the north side. The Met Council representatives countered that people crossing the freight rail tracks here were doing so illegally and they did not want to encourage such behavior. This did not salve the crowd, who kept asking the representatives to negotiate with the freight rail companies to work on a solution. There was also grumbling over the freight rail’s continued existence in this corridor, despite the city of Minneapolis’ best efforts to remove it through negotiation in the summer months. Residents questioned why the Met Council couldn’t just take this land through eminent domain, which is again not a legal option. The view from many residents was that they do not like the stresses this project may put on the neighborhood, given its many parking and safety challenges. There was also some concern over money the city of Minneapolis negotiated with the Met Council in order to produce some betterments for the station area. Ms. Ginis described these funds (which total $30 million) as “already spent” on things such as corridor and architectural designs and safety improvements around the station.
In an interview with this reporter, West Calhoun Neighborhood Council member Richard Logan said he was satisfied with the meeting but shared many of his fellow resident’s concerns. Mr. Logan said he “worries about a crush of people from the lake crossing rails walking to the platform at the end of a summer day.” Regarding the elevator platform on the bridge, he said his “main concern is winter cold, wind, snow, ice on the sidewalks.” Asked about the new 31st Street implementation, he stated that “more street parking will be lost. If Chowen and West 32nd also become one-side-only parking there will have to be some arrangement for parking ramps.” He was also concerned that this project “will surely be a magnet for more vehicle traffic that will have to use our extremely limited streets and…the very tight geography here. No matter what rules are in place and no matter what other parking options might be available, I see a lot of problems.”
John Abraham-Watne is a published author and freelance journalist located in the Twin Cities, where he lives with his wife Mary and their two cats. He is the author of two novels published by North Star Press. John conducts freelance journalism on local government issues for the news/entertainment website MinnyApple. His work has also appeared in the Southwest Journal and the Hill & Lake Press.