Driving on Water

Jan. 1, 2006

Lake Street in Minneapolis is a major east-west thoroughfare that crosses the city from the Lakes area on the city’s west edge to the Mississippi River and on to the city of Saint Paul on the east. It has a long history as an important local and regional transportation connection and was previously one of the city’s most prominent streetcar corridors. Today, the street is among the metropolitan area’s busiest transit corridors, as well as a shopping and entertainment destination. The corridor is predominantly commercial in nature with limited residential properties and contains a number of historic buildings at key locations. Recently, this area has seen a substantial increase in reinvestment by the private sector.

Not only is Lake Street important to businesses and travelers, but it is vital for area residents. It has served the city and the region for many years by linking 13 distinct and diverse neighborhoods to the rest of the metropolitan area. Also, this area has been, and continues to be, a significant destination for the region’s immigrant population. It was a major center for the early Scandinavian settlers and now is home to immigrants from numerous locations around the world including Central America, Somalia and Asia. Automobiles, streetcars, buses, trucks and pedestrians have all shared in the history of this diverse corridor, along with the residents and unique businesses adjacent to Lake Street.

PAC backed

In 1988, the Minnesota Department of Transportation relinquished its jurisdiction over a portion of Lake Street as a state trunk highway to Hennepin County. In 1993, Hennepin County was given jurisdiction over the balance of Lake Street from the city of Minneapolis, and the roadway was designated a county state aid highway (CSAH). This move resulted in the creation of a county-owned highway within the city of Minneapolis. With the exception of an overlay project in 1997, over 50 years had passed since significant street and sidewalk repairs had been completed. The pavement had reached the end of its serviceable life, and the pedestrian realm had become compromised. Utilities in the corridor also were in need of repair or replacement.

In 1999, Hennepin County applied for federal funds to reconstruct the street and install a streetscape for approximately four miles of Lake Street. Collaboration between Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis for the design of this vital project began in earnest in 2002. SRF Consulting Group Inc. of Minneapolis has served as the lead consultant working with the county and city to complete the preliminary and final design for the street and streetscape improvements and as to assist with public involvement initiatives.

Because of the magnitude and importance of this project, an essential aspect was the public involvement process. A Project Advisory Committee (PAC) was formed consisting of local business owners, residents, elected officials and staff. This committee has met monthly since January 2003 and has advised the design team throughout the life of the project. In addition to the monthly PAC meetings, numerous public meetings have been held at various locations within the corridor to garner input from neighborhoods and business owners. Multilingual meetings were held during the design phase of the project to obtain comments from the large immigrant population in this area who are unable to speak or understand English.

A website, www.lakestreet.info, was created to allow up-to-date information on the progress and process of the project planning, and the information also was made available at local libraries. Much of the information has been published in multiple languages in order to reach the majority of citizens and business owners in this area. It was vital to maintain this information and keep it current and to secure the support of the communities and local business owners as the adjacent property owners would ultimately pay for a portion of the street and streetscape construction.

While working closely with the communities of Lake Street was a critical aspect of the project, the significance of approval from governing bodies such as the Hennepin County Board and Minneapolis City Council also was recognized. The preservation of parking spaces and the improvement of pedestrian and traffic safety, transit efficiency, storm-water quality, subsurface contamination, historic significance of the corridor and maintenance of the various project components were common themes and values. Those concerns were all taken into consideration during the design process. Stakeholders also expressed concerns regarding the ability for Lake Street to accommodate bicycle traffic. However, the county and city recently invested in the construction of the nearby and parallel Midtown Greenway Commuter Bicycle Corridor, which is a popular route for commuter and recreational cyclists. The greenway provides cyclists a safe and efficient alternative to Lake Street, while still providing access to the street via numerous designated bike routes that intersect the two corridors. Due to the close proximity of the Midtown Greenway and the limited width of the Lake Street corridor, designated bicycle lanes were not included as a part of the Lake Street reconstruction project.

Talk the walk

Throughout the planning and design phase of the project, a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met on a weekly basis. This committee consisted of Hennepin County and city of Minneapolis staff, regional transit provider representatives and members of the consultant team. In addition to the PAC and TAC, other organizations have reviewed or have been involved in various aspects of this project and include the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, the local watershed district, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Currently, Lake Street is a four-lane roadway with intersections at approximately a 350-ft spacing and alleys at mid-block. The existing roadway is 60 ft wide throughout, with the remainder of the right-of-way dedicated to sidewalk and boulevard. The right-of-way width within the corridor varies from 80 to 100 ft. With some exceptions, parking exists on both sides of the roadway, and there are numerous driveways with direct access to Lake Street. Traffic volumes on the corridor have been fairly consistent over the past 50 years, with volumes in the range of 25,000 to 30,000 vehicles per day (VPD) within the westerly segment and 15,000 to 18,000 VPD on the easterly segment of the corridor. Moderate growth of the traffic within this corridor is projected, as continued private-sector reinvestment within and surrounding the corridor is expected. Parking studies were completed to determine the availability and current usage of on-street parking as well as adjacent surface parking lots. An analysis of the crash history within the corridor and at the intersections also was a key component in the evaluation of project alternatives, as a number of locations had crash histories that exceeded critical crash rates.

From the results of the initial studies, numerous cross-section alternatives for the reconstruction of Lake Street were developed with and without left-turn lanes. Various configurations were developed during the design process and involved exhaustive operational analysis and modeling to establish appropriate street and sidewalk geometry and signal phasing to reconcile the needs of oftentimes competing interests such as traffic, transit, on-street parking and pedestrian and business accommodations.

Because the roadway is a component of a designated regional minor arterial system, established statewide geometric standards were an important aspect of the project design. Through the use of context-sensitive design principles, the ultimate roadway plan provides a slightly narrower roadway than what exists today while maintaining four lanes of traffic and parking on both sides of the street, except where left-turn lanes were needed at the intersections of three minor arterial streets.

To further encourage pedestrian traffic in the area, the sidewalks were widened slightly on each side of the street by the use of variances from the statewide geometric standards on lane width, parking-lane width and curb-reaction distance. Additional widening of the sidewalk by up to 6 ft also was incorporated at the intersections through the creation of “bump-outs.” In addition to creating up to 15% more sidewalk space, the bump-outs provide up to a 25% reduction in street crossing distance for pedestrians and define the parking areas throughout the corridor. The project also included the replacement of 27 traffic signals and multiple stages of construction of temporary signals. Coordinated signal-timing plans for 35 signals, with cross coordination on several crossing arterials, were part of the final design.

Close collaboration between the project’s engineers and landscape architects was extremely vital to the success of the project. Innovative design features have been incorporated to provide safer pedestrian crossing of the street, encourage transit use, provide room for sidewalk cafes and commercial uses, maximize the success of street tree plantings through the use of structural soils where the trees are in tree grates and improve the quality of water runoff through the use of infiltration swales and appropriate plantings.

A unique pole and fixture was selected for the streetlight that provides an even light distribution for both the roadway and the pedestrian realm throughout the corridor. This distinct pole and fixture is 18 ft tall, creating a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere while maintaining equal pole height throughout the corridor. Street furniture for the project included benches, bike loops and trash receptacles, as well as newspaper box corrals, custom transit shelters and parking lot screen fencing. A unique sidewalk scoring pattern, including stamped icons in certain areas, also was included. The innovations implemented into the streetscape create a positive image and distinct identity for the corridor. Maintenance districts were created to preserve the integrity of the streetscape into the future, as the preservation and repair of some of the streetscape items are beyond the normal maintenance provided by Minneapolis and Hennepin County. These maintenance costs will be paid by the benefiting properties adjacent to Lake Street.

Stacking 60 blocks

The Lake Street corridor was divided into three distinct segments to facilitate the renovation during the five-year construction period. The east and middle segments are currently under construction, while construction of the west segment is expected to commence in 2007. Because of the need by businesses to attract customers to the corridor, a single lane of traffic has been maintained throughout the construction zone for the length of the project. Sidewalk construction also has been staged to maintain pedestrian access to the businesses and along the corridor.

Once completed, a total of 60 city blocks will have been reconstructed. Hennepin County and the city of Minneapolis believe this project will not only contribute positively to the social and economic well-being of the Lake Street communities, but also will improve the image and safety for all users of this diverse and unique area for years to come.

About The Author: Warner and Juliff are with SRF Consulting Group Inc. Grube is with Hennepin County.

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