Washington Mall Extended

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Washington Avenue Mall will open in a couple of years along with the Central Corridor LRT. It will cover the space from Walnut Street to Coffman Union on what is Washington Avenue. The new Mall will prohibit private passenger cars, while allowing Buses and Bikes. Today the remnants of Washington Avenue SE to the Mall’s east are mostly devoid of cars, as motorists have found other routes and modes to avoid the closed section of Washington Avenue.

The question I have is, why should the Mall not extend four blocks east to University Avenue? I have heard two rationales.

The first is to allow access to the Washington Avenue ramp. But this can be accessed from Harvard Avenue (to Beacon Street to Union Street) (from the south), and Harvard can be accessed from Fulton Street, providing access from the South-east. From the North, it accessed via Pillsbury Drive to Beacon to Union. Only if you are coming from due East (on University) does Washington provide better access. Once the University of Minnesota blows up the Field House (which is presumably in the plans), 18th Avenue can be reconnected through Pillsbury to Harvard, providing slightly better (2 blocks shorter) access from University Ave east of campus.

The second is the desire for local retailers to have the ability to drive up to the store. But with the elimination of parking on Washington Avenue, along with the rapid elimination of local businesses as single-story taxpayer buildings get torn down and replaced with 4 story student-oriented apartments, this would seem to be moot.

Conversion of the remainder of Washington Avenue into a Bicycle/Pedestrian/Transit Mall would extend what is sure to become a valuable urban space. It will signal a change as one enters the University region from a typical auto-oriented streetscape to one more conducive to a place where the population is non-motorized and the trips are short. This transformation is one mostly of perspective. We don’t allow cars lots of places: inside buildings, shopping malls, parks, campuses, and so on. By converting to Washington Avenue into car-free mall, we will be declaring that space within rather than outside the campus. It will make distances feel shorter, removing one more barrier between places north and south of Washington Avenue.

Elimination of auto traffic on Washington Avenue will also improve driving conditions for motorists at University Avenue and those moving north-south at Huron, Ontario, Oak, and Walnut Streets, and improve conditions for buses and LRT on Washington Avenue itself.

Will this cure cancer or solve world hunger? No. But it will make life a little better for many people at a very low cost and little transportation consequence.


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6 Responses to Washington Mall Extended

  1. Alex Bauman
    Alex Bauman February 27, 2012 at 4:24 am #

    Sounds good to me. Should we call up Mark Fuhrmann? Jim Grube? Erik Kaler? R.T. Rybak?

  2. Matt February 27, 2012 at 5:11 am #

    I'm not super familiar with the east bank but I had one idea… The auto traffic will enter the bridge via Pleasant and exit the bridge via Delaware/River Road.

    Is there an opportunity to extend the pedestrian deck of the bridge straight into the mall with the exception of the portal for the LRT tracks?

    • David Levinson
      David Levinson February 27, 2012 at 5:34 am #

      @ Matt, I think it would be difficult. There are still 2 lanes in each direction, one lane is LRT and buses, the other is bike and bus passing. While the bikes can be channeled to the upper deck, the buses would lose their passing lane ability. I am sure a better transition could be achieved than is there now though.

      @ Alex, Yes, those sound good for starters.

  3. hokan February 27, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    The mail is, in part, supposed to be for bikes, but as designed it doesn't connect at the west end to anywhere that a biker will want to go. In particular, it doesn't connect to the upper deck of the Washington Avenue Bridge.

  4. Andrew February 27, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    Do it! I never could figure out a real reason to leave that last eastern chunk of Washington for car traffic. Nobody driving a car is going to try and squeeze on there anyway, or they're just going to get pissed when they turn west off of University Ave and realize the road stops for them.

  5. Xan March 2, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    That east chunk of Wash. was narrowed at some point. Look down from Stub n Herbs towards University. You will see the buildings stick out farther. I don't know why this is. The 2 story building with the chicken place had an addition tacked on to the front. The original front of the building looks like it was set back to where the front of the Stubs n Herb building is. If the street could by widened to where it used to be, I don't see why the mall couldn't be extended, even if it allowed cars on part of it.

    As for the idea that businesses need cars to be able to park right in front, that's just stupid, knee-jerk moronic, uh, non-sense.