Lake Calhoun & Harriet Master Planning and Bikes

The Minneapolis Park Board is developing a new master plan for Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet, and virtually everything about the uses and spaces around the lakes is up for discussion. The park land around the lakes is already some of the most important public space in the City and, for people on bikes, the trails there are some of our most important infrastructure. But we all know it could be better, and this planning process provides an opportunity to address some of the park’s biggest limitations head on.

Here's what that means for biking and how you can participate.

Picture from Minneapolis Park Board

Open House Thursday

There is an open house this Thursday to collect feedback. Please go if you have thoughts on how Calhoun and Harriet can be improved:

8/20/2015

6:30-8:30 pm

Lake Calhoun Executive Center, Board Room

3033 Excelsior Blvd.

This Open House is the last chance to weigh in before Park Board staff start putting forward specific master plan proposals, so don’t wait to get involved! If you can't make the meeting, you can send thoughts to the staff lead: Deb Bartels, dbartels@minneapolisparks.org

The Big Picture

The Park Board has convened a Community Advisory Committee to work on this new master plan. So far, the meetings have been exclusively visioning and informational, but key issues are rising to the forefront. 

Now is an exciting time for Minneapolis. City leaders, citizens, and organizations like the Bicycle Coalition are united to advance a future where our city is a more sustainable place, a place that’s less divided along racial lines, and a place that is growing, both economically and by population. This planning process provides us an opportunity to bring those values to bear in a microcosm. This post focuses on a few issues that relate rather directly to the work of the bike coalition, but the discussion is already going much further, to questions of water quality, cultural and historical issues such as whether restore Lake Calhoun’s prior name – Mde Maka Ska, and many other critical concerns. With that in mind, here are three specific topics to highlight:

Crossing West Lake Street

If you’re heading west, Lake Street rather abruptly turns from a city street into a suburban-style highway at East Lake Calhoun Parkway, precisely the point where it runs between Lake of Isles and Lake Calhoun. In doing so, it forms a substantial barrier between the paths around the two Lakes, as well as between Lake Calhoun and the other bike infrastructure north of Lake Street: the Greenway, Dean Parkway, and, ultimately, the Kenilworth Corridor and Cedar Lake trails.

Lake_Street_at_Calhoun.jpgFor years, the Park Board has talked about how to reduce this barrier. In 2012, a planning process for this area proposed a land bridge over West Lake Street here. This solution would solve all of these problems, but money, of course, has remained the obstacle. This planning process provides an opportunity to push for this solution again and also to propose other interim changes to make the street safer, more friendly to people on foot and on bike, and more well-suited to its location in our state’s biggest city and that city’s most popular park.

Quality and Usability of Bike Paths

For those of us who get around by bike, the importance of the Calhoun and Harriet bike paths as transportation infrastructure is obvious. As our city becomes increasingly bike-friendly and the number of bikers increases, this importance grows. If you want to go basically anywhere west from my house in Kingfield, for example, you’re going to take these trails. In fact, I take these trails to get from my house to the Community Advisory Committee meetings.

But the usability of the trails around the lakes is inadequate for the need. For one thing, the trails only go one direction. We need some kind of bike infrastructure going counterclockwise around the Lakes. There are also places where the bike paths get mixed up with the pedestrian paths in a way that feels awkward and uncomfortable for everyone involved. The worst place is probably along West Lake Street, where bikes and pedestrians share a narrow strip next to speeding cars. As we make other fixes to West Lake Street, we should fix this, too. And the Park Board has already identified key places where the trail surface needs repair.

Transit Access

Making a place friendly for bikes isn’t just about bikes. It’s also about the other infrastructure used by those of us seeking to use our cars less. Right now, transit access to Lake Calhoun isn’t very good from many parts of the city, and no bus goes to Lake Harriet at all. The planned Southwest Light Rail line provide one significant opportunity to improve transit access to the lakes.

The West Lake Street station will be just blocks from the northwest corner of Lake Calhoun, and will link the Lakes directly to diverse communities in North Minneapolis, downtown, the West Bank, and beyond. But right now, that station location feels far from the lake. A shopping center, Excelsior Boulevard, an underutilized parking lot, and some potentially underutilized park land all stand between the two. This planning process provides an opportunity to link the station to the lake and thereby increase transit access to one of our city’s most important assets.

Will any of this happen?

I don’t know. For one thing, many of the same struggles related to parking, density, and anxiety about cultural change that we routinely see in other planning processes will play out here. So far, the range of perspectives shared in public meetings has been robust, but the participants have been overwhelmingly white and middle-aged-to-older. Younger and more diverse voices are needed to ensure a plan that will serve our City into the future.

In addition, no plan is worth anything without the will and resources to implement it. Currently allocated implementation funds – roughly $3 million – are inadequate for even modest changes. Getting a good plan is important, but we will then need to push our leaders for money to make it a reality.

What happens next?

Bicycle Coalition members who care about bike issues around the lakes need to speak up. Come to the Open House on August 20th. Email the staff lead with your thoughts: Deb Bartels, dbartels@minneapolisparks.org. Or you can send me thoughts as I am on the Community Advisory Committee: benedictschweigert@gmail.com. Or comment here on your thoughts.

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