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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