Bottleneck Fix: Turn (Don’t Merge)

One highly trafficked intersection in Minneapolis was layered with interstate lanes in 1971. Although the freeway was buried below, ramps and merging lanes complicate the streets above. This historically influential neighborhood was transformed into a transitory space for the automotive world.

Potential Redevelopment at Lyndale and Hennepin (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)

Potential Redevelopment at Lyndale and Hennepin (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)


Minneapolis can regain this missing district with one driving modification: ‘turn, instead of merge.‘

General Concept: Intersect Freeway. Grey = City Streets, Tan = Interstate (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)

General Concept: Intersect Freeway. Grey = City Streets, Tan = Interstate (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)


Merging lanes suggest that drivers can speed off the interstate and onto city streets. This damages conditions on the roads and leaves little space for cyclists and pedestrians. Creating a tighter intersection between street and interstate will show drivers that the roads are separate and that conditions may be different. This allows for streets to be compatible with diverse modes of transportation.

Real-Estate Acquired: Green Boxes = Space for Development (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)

Real-Estate Acquired: Green Boxes = Space for Development (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)


The removal of merging lanes will also create valuable real estate. By defining intersections, we clear land that was previously lost to wide turns. In Minneapolis, this will allow for massive growth on highly valuable land. The city will regain hundreds of thousands of square feet, ideal for dense construction of residential, commercial and industrial space.

Comprehensive View: Two-Way Streets, Turns to/from Freeways (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)

Comprehensive View: Two-Way Streets, Turns to/from Freeways (Left: Current. Right: Proposed)


The ‘bottleneck effect’ occurs not when entering this area, but when exiting onto the surrounding streets. Added lanes here doesn’t serve anybody, but tricks drivers into thinking they can speed through the city. Create a consistent Hennepin from Uptown to Downtown, and traffic will flow smoothly between. With that simple street-grid, we can build durable structures that last for centuries.


Joe Polacek

About Joe Polacek

Minneapolis is the greatest city in the world. Saint Paul is a close second. For a strong, sustainable future we need dense, diverse and durable growth. @jplck

28 thoughts on “Bottleneck Fix: Turn (Don’t Merge)

  1. Steven Prince


    This connects uptown to Loring Park and transforms the freeway feel (and speed differences) of Lyndale and Hennepin North of Franklin to city streets. It also provides opportunities for alternative N-S bicycle connections for those who are not well served by the Bryant Avenue flyover bridge.

  2. Jeff Klein

    Wonderful. I assume this is way, way beyond what they’re looking at in the near-term future, unfortunately.

  3. Michael RodenMichael Roden

    This is incredible. I hope these renderings get seen by policy-makers that can only imagine a small change for this area. It’s much easier to imagine a better environment with clear images of what it would look like. I wonder what a grand roundabout would look like in the middle where the crossings get dicey.

  4. Froggie

    Mentioned this already on UrbanMSP, but the fatal flaw in your proposal is the westbound ramp off of I-94 (that ties into Summit Ave). There just isn’t enough room to have it bridge over Lyndale then meet Hennepin at-grade. The way you designed it would require a minimum 10% downhill grade from the Lyndale bridge down to Hennepin on that ramp. The eastbound on-ramp to 94 (that comes from Lincoln Ave) works a little better because the angle of Hennepin offers more room, but that one would still either require a 7% uphill grade, or cut off access to his extended Aldrich Ave. There DEFINITELY isn’t enough room to have the eastbound ramp bridge over Aldrich Ave.

    The only way your configuration would work is if the ramps meet Lyndale at-grade. In which case, it’s fundamentally similar to my own proposal except that you keep Hennepin and Lyndale completely separate. And my proposal works better in that regard because it doesn’t require turn lanes or multi-phase signals.

    1. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer

      I live a few hundred feet from the bottleneck on Douglas Ave. I walk by it every day.

      Minneapolis needs to do the right thing for historical preservation, local business, the environment, and everything else that’s worth fighting for, and reclaim this land for people.

      I bet developers would rather build on empty lots than demolish old buildings. Building space where pedestrians and cyclists are welcome, not prohibited, would decrease car-use and carbon emissions. Rye would’ve had more customers if they’d had residents and businesses across the street instead of a “MNDOT: NO TRESPASSING” sign. A greater supply of housing will slow climbing rents.

      It’s dumb to keep this expensive infrastructure that impedes important goals.

        1. Froggie

          Saw your proposal earlier and, to be honest, I don’t see roundabouts working, especially where you would have Lyndale and Hennepin come together. Between very large streams of traffic, tunnel-prohibited trucks, and a high directional split during peak hours, even a multi-lane roundabout would be overwhelmed.

          MnDOT suggested a traffic circle at the current ramp mess during their 2007 study, but determined that it would have to be signalized (as do most of the DC-area traffic circles). At that point, might as well go with something closer to a regular grid like what I proposed. Joe’s idea in principle would work too in this regard though others have cited the issues with traffic backing up on the ramps and I’ve already noted the flaws with his overpasses.

          1. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer

            Makes sense. I just thought if it worked in Brooklyn, it might work well enough here. But Grand Army Plaza looks like it takes up more space than we have, so oh well.

            I just want more buildings in the center of the city. Doesn’t matter how.

    2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      May be possible to raise Hennepin’s grade a bit, high enough some where the apartments aren’t descending as many stairs for instance, where the retaining wall is not needed as much.

      Though I think another flaw of the westbound exit to southbound Hennepin flaw is that it would cause back ups out to the Interstate. Even if you builds 2 left turn lanes plus a third lane to go straight to Summit, you would risk back ups.

  5. brad

    This idea makes way too much sense (and what a way to grow the city)! You should send this idea around (Mayor Hodges, Lisa Bender, Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Assoc.)

  6. David Baur

    I think this is a fantastic vision. I’m also willing to accept Froggie’s critique regarding the connections from the ramps to Hennepin, though I haven’t seen the specific counterproposal. Assuming those flyovers aren’t feasible, it makes me question why we even need an I-94 connection at Hennepin with Lyndale so close. Couldn’t we restore the grid as shown while making Summit and Lincoln at-grade connections to Lyndale, where you can then access the ramps to 94? It seems like this could make the newly-accessible land more pedestrian friendly and generally more pleasant if you eliminated the extra flyovers to make the Hennepin route work.

    1. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

      Agreed. And if we eliminated the Hennepin flyover maybe that would reduce congestion at the Hennepin/Lyndale exit by reducing the demand for the exit in the first place.

      This is a great idea!

    2. Doug TrummDoug Trumm

      This plot is surrounded by Minneapolis’s densest neighborhoods. It would be extremely valuable land and I think we need to hear a lot better reason to keep the current system than ‘it might back up the off ramp a bit.’

      If Minneapolis is serious about density and complete streets converting this plot to developable land like you proposed is a must!

      1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

        How about the state and the Feds won’t let you alter ramps to the Interstate highways if you are going to deliberately back up city traffic onto congested freeways.

        Maybe a solution could be something between a deep bore a new tunnel, and this type of ramp elimination. Kind of a MinneDig. Eliminate highway ramp access at Hennepin/Lyndale completely by capping 94 from the current tunnel all the way to 3rd. Construct a new city arterial atop the cap from Hennepin/Lyndale. Construct ramps to 94 from and to 3rd, don’t try to build ramps to 35W.

        1. Nathanael

          So de-Interstate it. Re-sign I-694 as I-94. Then it’s not an Interstate any more and you can do what you like with it.

          This is a serious proposal.

    3. Nathanael

      It makes sense to *only* have Lyndale ramps. And it makes sense to run Summit and Lincoln through to Lyndale.

      It *also* makes sense to close grid-breaking Hennepin to through traffic from here to 26th, as David Levinson has suggested. Like the way NY closed Broadway to through traffic. (Several roads would be reconnected north-south: Emerson, Dupont, Colfax.)

      The trouble is, once you really start looking at this, you realize that the problems continue further north, with the disastrous mess made of Lyndale when it was turned into a “frontage road” north of here.

      I have a very radical proposal; run I-94 from the “tunnel” onto I-394 west, rip out the eastern stub of I-394, rip out I-94 from I-394 to Plymouth Ave, and restore Lyndale Avenue as an actual avenue. (You’d renumber I-694 as the new I-94.)

  7. Jon

    I live a block from this horrible bottleneck and have to deal with it (take my life in my hands) on a daily basis. Joe’s proposal makes me so happy and would completely transform not only this historic wedge neighborhood, but would change the feel of the city. It could be agrued that this is the most important intersection in the city and it is currently being so underutilized, is dangerous and not to metion very unsightly.

    Joe I beg that you do whatever is in your power to get this proposal in front of the eyes of our policy makers!

  8. Jon

    I would also say that at the tip of the wedge we could put a small park and move the Thomas Lowry statue back to its rightfull place in a new Virginia Triangle park.

  9. Jeremy B

    This is really, really awesome. Great graphics, great ideas.

    Maybe a solution to the bridge problem here would be to have the streets at-grade. Ari Anderson proposed a redo of this area that sort of reinstates the grid, and his ideas for on- and off-ramps is really good.

    It’s in the comments of this post:

    But here it is too:

    1. Nathanael

      The Ari Anderson version is the best I’ve seen.

      Except that I think Lyndale should run through to Lyndale, not to Hennepin.

      It does what needs to be done for “The Bottleneck”.

      Further north, I think hunks of I-94 immediately north of I-394 need to be removed in order to restore Lyndale Avenue, but that’s another matter. (I-694 could be renamed I-94 for through traffic.)

  10. Truth

    Minneapolis would do a disservice to the majority of CAR owners that use these streets to get through to their destination. It’s bad enough there isn’t enough parking in the area, now we have to waste more time slowing down and stopping? Please do not drive away (pun intended) the folks that keep this city afloat with their entertainment dollars and sales taxes.

  11. Joe PolacekJoe Polacek Post author

    We don’t run through crowds. We definitely don’t race through them.

    Let’s make a better environment for people: walking, driving and biking. Apartment renters and business owners will benefit as a result.

  12. Edward

    This is an excellent idea, and I encourage the removal of more of these freeway ramps.

    We have to remember that since the construction of this freeway mess, there has been nothing but a devaluation of this area. There are fewer buildings, less people, and lower property values. The great highway experiment just did not work here.

    Return back to the original grid. The cost to reconstruct the exisiting system will exceed the cost of its removal. The surrounding area has no where to go but up.

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