It was only a throw-away comment in a photo caption in my inaugural post, but it got me thinking. As it turns out The Great Divide is also the future home of several proposed SWLRT stations. I’ve seen a fair amount of discussion of those stops, and in particular some who argue that they will provide import access to jobs in the southwest suburbs for residents of the north side.
I don’t really have an opinion on that, as I’ve never lived on the north side and I don’t really understand the transit network there. Expanding access to transit options and jobs to north side residents is obviously a laudable goal, and if SWLRT has that effect, it will be an unmitigated good thing.
But I do have significant concerns about the viability of the only proposed stations within the borders of Minneapolis and I thought they were worth a closer look. They are all within reasonable walking and biking distance of my home, so I decided I’d go take some pictures.
You’ll have to excuse the fact that I took them on a dreary day. I don’t have the photoshop skills to make them better. I shot them on my phone, but I think you can still get a good sense of the physical settings of the proposed stations – a sense that I think is often missing from SWLRT routing discussions.
Let’s start with the Van White station. I’m not certain of the precise plans for the station, but we know that it’s supposed to be in the vicinity of the new(ish) Van White Memorial Boulevard. That short new street is relatively recently completed connection between the north side and downtown. It’s named after the city’s first African American city council member. As you can see in the photo above, it’s a pretty attractive bit of civil engineering, and it includes bike and pedestrian facilities. All of that is wonderful.
But, unfortunately, there are limits to the wonderfulness of the boulevard. For one, it doesn’t do a whole lot to connect to downtown to the south/east. That end of the bridge connects most directly to the no man’s land under 394 and, after that, to the large parking lots of Dunwoody, the Parade sports facilities and then the Walker’s Sculpture Garden. Aside from the parking lots, those are actually nice facilities. Unfortunately, they aren’t exactly lively bits of urban landscape that draw people to cross them and interact with what’s on the other side. Worse, as nice as they are, they are cut off from the urban fabric of downtown by yet another freeway no man’s land.
Okay, so that end is a well-meaning but maybe not high-impact improvement, but what about the immediate surroundings? Well, those are all potential. There’s not much going on there at the moment, but the new crossing of the Great Divide, especially if a new light rail stop is added, is ripe for redevelopment. Seriously, ripe. Like, there really can’t be anything to be “preserved” there. Like, maybe even a little too ripe. But let’s have a look, maybe just a bit to one side of the new crossing.
Hm. Well, there’s nothing there to stand in the way of putting in a new light rail stop, so that’s good. Unfortunately, the most appealing thing that’s not the bridge in the photo, at least to me, is the freight locomotive. On the one hand, there’s a lot of potential here to change things completely. On the other hand, things need to change completely for this to have value as a light rail stop. What about the other end? Well, there’s this:
Okay, so, that’s maybe a little better. There isn’t a giant heap of who-knows-what. But there’s not exactly a lot going on. There are some trailers parked over there. We can probably move those and put something there. Again, all potential; no current punch. And, of course, there’s yet another bridge, this time over the oh-so-attractive Basset Creek:
I don’t want to get too pessimistic. Basset Creek needs major help, but it has potential. Just looking the other way gives me quite a bit more optimism:
Okay, so maybe the weather and poor photography prevent the full optimism from coming through, but please take my word for it. Things looking this way really do look a lot better than the other way. And no, that isn’t faint praise. The creek and skyline views could be a good thing to build around.
But maybe where the hope for Van White really lies in in the municipal impound lot that straddles the site:
So we still have no people, no businesses, and, really, nothing. But at least its property that the city can readily choose to offer for redevelopment. I’m sure someone who is better informed than me knows exactly where we are in doing something with this space, but you can at least imagine the path from here to new mixed use development. At least as long as there is going to be a train stop nearby.
But lest I sound too pessimistic, let me offer one more glimpse of hope, just a bit further down, where Van White intersects with 2nd Ave. N:
Yeah, that’s more open space, but at least in the distance you can see the International Market Square. I don’t know if we can call the IMS redevelopment successful, I’ve only been in it on weekends, when it’s been depressingly empty. But at least it looks nice both outside and in, and seems to include some healthy businesses and housing. Even better, it too is right next to a raised urban freeway (how’d we get so many of those?), so maybe being next to 394 won’t be such a hindrance for Van White. Maybe whatever is coming for this space can connect to that space and thus be a catalyst for the surrounding area. But that’s a lot of maybes and ifs.