Wheelock and Minnehaha Parkways – Similarities and Differences

I see a lot of similarities between Minnehaha Parkway in Minneapolis and Wheelock Parkway in Saint Paul. I thought it would be fun to compare the two corridors. Here we go.

Minnehaha Parkway is 5.3 miles stretching from Lake Harriet to Minnehaha Falls through South Minneapolis. Wheelock Parkway is 5.4 miles stretching from Lake Como to Lake Phalen through northern Saint Paul. In both cities, the parkways wind back and forth along the way, mocking the otherwise traditional rectangular street grid. Shorter, straighter routes exist end to end in both cities. Both of these routes were envisioned over a century ago to be something other than just another city street. They are parkways, a designation that holds unique meaning in both cities.

Minnehaha Parkway

Minnehaha Parkway

Wheelock Parkway

Wheelock Parkway

THE CREEK

The first obvious difference between the two is that Minnehaha Parkway follows Minnehaha Creek, while there is no creek along Wheelock. This is a big difference, and sets Minnehaha Parkway at an initial clear advantage over Wheelock Parkway in terms of being park-like. Minnehaha Creek is a bucolic gem winding through the urban neighborhoods in South Minneapolis. It is nearly universally loved, other than when it is flooding everyone’s basements. The creek on it’s own (without any other amenities that exist within the Minnehaha Parkway right-of-way) is enough to attract people to enjoy the creek banks, play in the water, float along in tubes, and do whatever else people like to do near creeks. It attracts birds and critters, which is generally a good thing, though I once saw a deer walking down Portland Avenue near the Parkway, and I didn’t think it was great.

wheelock

Wheelock Parkway, Saint Paul

THE LAKES

One of the most obvious similarities between the two is that both parkways are anchored on both ends by substantial lakes and recreation areas. Minnehaha connects Lake Harriet (and the larger chain of lakes) with Minnehaha Falls. Wheelock connects Lake Como with Lake Phalen. Each of these parks and recreation areas attract tons of people and the parkways serve the function of providing recreational corridors connecting the two. In both cases, the parkways were envisioned to be linear parks connecting the larger regional parks, and as a result, both corridors feature extra-wide rights of way, providing plenty of space for trees and green space (and creeks). In Minneapolis, Lake Nokomis is an additional aquatic bonus that Saint Paul doesn’t have. Both parkways feature an adjacent golf course (Hiawatha in Minneapolis, Phalen in Saint Paul).

minnehaha

Minnehaha Parkway, Minneapolis

TRAFFIC

Traffic volumes vary substantially along both Parkways. Minnehaha Parkway carries 2,000-4,000 vehicles per day west of Portland Avenue, about 8,000 vehicles per day near Lake Nokomis, and about 13,000 between Lake Nokomis and Minnehaha Falls. Wheelock Parkway carries 2,500-6,000 vehicles per day west of I-35E, 5,000-6,000 vehicles per day east of I-35E, and about 9,500 vehicles per day east of Arcade Street. In both cities, portions of the parkway serve an important function for motorized traffic, while other portions are decidedly less critical.

Both roadways are a single traffic lane in each direction. Minnehaha Parkway prohibits on-street parking except for where parking bays are intentionally provided. Wheelock isn’t as straight forward. On-street parking is permitted in some places, prohibited in others, and a bit ambiguous in yet other places.

Both parkways have traffic signals every so often (8 signals along Minnehaha, 4 along Wheelock). Minnehaha has an existing roundabout at Minnehaha Avenue, while Wheelock should maybe have a roundabout at Edgerton or Victoria. Since both parkways are pretty curvy, snaking through what is otherwise a typical grid street network, both Parkways end up with some pretty goofy geometry at a few intersections. Both parkways feature generous landscaped medians in places.

GRAND ROUNDS

Both cities have established visions for completing a recreational Grand Rounds around the city, a series of trails and motorways that create a giant loop around each city. Minnehaha and Wheelock play a critical role in the Grand Rounds in each city. The Minneapolis Grand Rounds is pretty well established along Minnehaha Parkway, and includes both roadway and trail alignments. While Minneapolis is struggling to identify a corridor for the Grand Rounds in other parts of the city, the parts that exist already are pretty great. Saint Paul doesn’t have the same problem of identifying an appropriate corridor for the Grand Rounds, but the system is generally less developed than in Minneapolis. In particular, Saint Paul hasn’t yet invested in a similar level of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as Minneapolis for the Grand Rounds, including along Wheelock Parkway.

BIKE & PEDESTRIAN INFRASTRUCTURE

The sidewalks and trails along Minnehaha Parkway are pretty well established, and wildly popular. Minneapolis estimates that somewhere on the order of 1,000 bikes and 200-500 pedestrians use the trail on an average day, and my hunch is that these counts don’t accurately reflect weekend peak usage. Generally, sidewalks exist in front of homes along both sides of Minnehaha Parkway the full length of the corridor. In addition to the sidewalks, the Parkway generally features both a bicycle path as well as a pedestrian path adjacent to the creek. They aren’t perfect. There are bottlenecks where the bike path narrows and areas where the bike paths and pedestrian paths weave across each other in nonsensical ways, but they’re still phenomenal, and I’m confident many of these kinks will get worked out over time. It’s worth noting that east of Lake Nokomis, Minnehaha Parkway (the roadway) and the bike/ped paths follow separate alignments – the paths meander adjacent to the creek while the roadway and sidewalks make a straight shot east to Minnehaha Falls. There are no on-street bike facilities along Minnehaha Parkway.

Meanwhile, sidewalks along Wheelock Parkway are spotty. There are sidewalks along much of the corridor, though sometimes only on one side of the street, and in some cases there are no sidewalks. Most notably, the gap between Mackubin Street and Rice Street, as well as the gap between Westminster Street and Edgerton Street leave pedestrians walking in the street, or in the grass (or snow). East of Arcade Street, an attractive off-street path exists along Wheelock all the way to Maryland Avenue – separate bike/ped paths in some places, combined paths in others. For in-street bicyclists, signs designate most of Wheelock Parkway as a BIKE ROUTE, though most cyclists and motorists will agree that these signs aren’t particularly meaningful. The shoulders on the roadway east of Arcade Street are not marked as bike lanes, though they more or less serve that function. Essentially, no bicycle facilities exist west of Arcade Street.

1997-plan

City of Saint Paul 1997 Comprehensive Plan – Recommendation for Wheelock Parkway includes development of both on-street bike lanes as well as an off-street path. This recommendation is not included in the current Comprehensive Plan, which identifies Wheelock Parkway as a “Bike Route”.

REGIONAL BIKEWAY CONNECTIONS

Both parkways provide connections to other bike facilities in addition to the Grand Round(s). Minnehaha Parkway connects to the Portland Avenue bike lanes, the Hiawatha Avenue trail, and the Minnehaha Avenue bike lanes in addition to other more local bikeways. In Saint Paul, improved bike facilities along Wheelock Parkway would provide opportunities for connections to the Gateway State Trail, Trout Brook Regional Trail, and the Bruce Vento Regional Trail.

TOPOGRAPHY

Minneahaha Parkway is relatively flat. Wheelock Parkway is too, other than the pretty large hill west of Rice Street. For bicyclists and pedestrians, is this hill a deal-breaker?

Wheelock Parkway hill west of Rice Street.

Wheelock Parkway hill west of Rice Street.

LAND USE

Land use along both parkways is predominantly single-family homes, though this is more true in Minneapolis than in Saint Paul. In both cities, I think the attractiveness of the parkways has historically buoyed property values relative to surrounding neighborhoods, though I suspect this impact is greater in Minneapolis than in Saint Paul.

Both parkways connect with elementary schools (Burroughs Elementary in Minneapolis, Como Park Elementary in Saint Paul). In both cities, the parkways come awfully close to several high schools. Both parkways provide direct access to neighborhood commercial nodes (Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis, Rice Street and Arcade Street in Saint Paul). Wheelock Parkway has a bit more multi-family housing that isn’t as prevalent along Minnehaha Parkway. Most notably, Wheelock Parkway provides a direct connection to the McDonough Homes development near Jackson Street, which is managed by the Saint Paul Public Housing Agency.

THE POINT

I see a lot of similarities between the two parkways. Both are beautiful corridors. Both have strengths and weaknesses. But the primary difference between the two (other than the creek) is that Minneapolis has invested substantially in the bicycle and pedestrian elements along the corridor, while Saint Paul hasn’t. As a result, Minnehaha Parkway has become a substantial amenity to the surrounding neighborhoods, has become a destination in and of itself, has boosted property values, and has effectively connected two of it’s largest recreational areas with a linear park in ways that Wheelock Parkway hasn’t.

What do you think? What other similarities or differences exist between the two corridors? Do you think Wheelock Parkway has untapped potential, or is it fine the way it is?

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18 Responses to Wheelock and Minnehaha Parkways – Similarities and Differences

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke July 29, 2014 at 8:19 am #

    I’m kind of into that hill. It’s almost “invisible” on my mental map of Saint Paul, so when I actually get up onto that ridge I’m kind of amazed by how great the view is. Saint Paul’s topography is an asset, not a curse, and maybe if there were a few spots to sit and enjoy the vista along the parkway, people would willingly work to get up to the top?

  2. Brian Moen July 29, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    To me the biggest difference is at the ends of both Parkways. Seems like Como and Phalen are dead ends, even though Johnson Parkway connecting Phalen to Indian Mounds Park is pretty decent. Minnehaha Parkway is just a small piece of the full Mpls puzzle

  3. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary July 29, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    I feel like you brush off the more likely conclusion in your statement that bike/ped facilities are what create this neighborhood amenity. While I definitely think those contribute to the appeal, the difference of a natural feature is more significant. A good control subject might be the many Minneapolis parkways that have some sort of bike/ped feature but no compelling natural feature (like Stinson Pkwy or St. Anthony Pkwy). I am sure there is some property value benefit in being adjacent to these parkways, but I doubt they compare to the benefit of being adjacent to a parkway + natural feature.

    Also interesting that Minneapolis/Park Board has quite a few border parkways. Victory Memorial Drive is mostly located in Robbinsdale, Theodore Wirth Parkway almost entirely in Golden Valley, and Stinson Pkwy on the line with St. Anthony Village. Minnehaha Creek is a historical border between Minneapolis and Richfield, although I’m not sure how the age of the parkway corresponds to annexation farther south. Other than E River Rd/Mississippi River Blvd in St Paul, I’m not sure any follow this trend.

    • Reuben Collins
      Reuben Collins July 29, 2014 at 11:42 am #

      Well, I definitely agree that the Creek is a huge asset that can’t be recreated anywhere else. You’re right in terms of right-of-way that Saint Anthony Parkway might have been a better comparison to Wheelock. However, a key difference is that Saint Anthony Parkway isn’t anchored on either end by anything in particular. I thought that the similarities in terms of being anchored on both ends by regional parks really made for a striking comparison between Minnehaha and Wheelock.

      I feel like the lakes and destinations along Minnehaha Parkway are a substantial source of a lot of the volume of people using the trails. A lot of people are jogging/biking to/from the lakes, and I think there’s a compelling reason to think that Wheelock could serve a similar function. Saint Anthony Parkway isn’t really doing this.

      However, I do think Saint Anthony Parkway provides a pretty good example of what Wheelock could look like. Saint Anthony Parkway is generally 100′ ROW, and Wheelock is generally 120′ ROW.

  4. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele July 29, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    Since I also live by Minnehaha Parkway, I’ve noticed that the straighter sections form a sort of commuter-shed, especially the section east of Cedar. This is probably due to the fact that Lakes Nokomis and Hiawatha make this the only good east-west street between 42nd Street and Hwy 62 (2.5 miles) but I think it also has something to do with how relatively straight it is.

    West of Cedar, Minnehaha Parkway curves slightly south, and has an S curve between Chicago and Portland. But west of Portland it splits to 50th Street, which is a popular connection to 35W (via Stevens/2nd), Nicollet, and the Southwest neighborhoods. Yet the stretch of parkway west of this wye sees much less traffic, probably because of how curvy it is. The little jog to one-way operation at Stevens and the bubble around southern Tangletown add to this effect, making 50th Street a much better alternative to the creek parkway for getting across town.

    I’m hoping we can learn from that and implement greater traffic calming on Minnehaha Parkway, especially from Cedar to the Minnehaha Ave roundabout.

    • Brian Moen July 29, 2014 at 9:41 am #

      A lot of that area is also where the Parkway is removed from the Creek, which would have allowed for more of those S curves

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele July 29, 2014 at 9:46 am #

        It’s interesting – we bike that way at least a few times a week. And east of 28th Ave, it’s significantly faster (though less scenic) to bike along side streets. We do this especially at night since the creek trail is dark and hidden from streets east of 28th Ave in addition to being curvy and slow. It is much faster (and feels much safer) to bike back home along 50th Street or 43rd Street depending on how north or south we are).

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele July 29, 2014 at 9:43 am #

      Conversely, Wheelock Parkway (which I’ve never used) appears to wind through a rather in-tact grid with collector streets running at every half mile east-west (Maryland, Arlington, Larpenteur) and nearly every mile north-south (Victoria, Dale, Rice). So I bet it sees significantly less motor traffic.

  5. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD July 29, 2014 at 9:51 am #

    The biggest difference (besides the creek) is the mood. Minnehaha Parkway feels private. Not in an exclusionary way, but more in a secluded, separated way. When I bike down Minnehaha Parkway I feel separate from the busy city. The trees overhang much of the trail, the sound of the creek helps to cover traffic noise, it feels more wild.

    Wheelock is sunny, with little tree cover. There is no trail or creek so I’m in the road with traffic. Much of it is a residential street so there are no natural places to sit down and share a drink from a flask like Minnehaha. It is part of the city rather than apart from.

    • Reuben Collins
      Reuben Collins July 29, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

      Dana, I totally agree about the mood. I guess my question is how much of that can be changed, if we decided that was something we wanted? Trees can be planted, trails can be built. The City owns significant additional ROW along portions, in addition to the 120′ ROW that exists throughout. In particular, above Bill mentioned the views from the top of the hill. The city owns significant ROW between roughly Mackubin and the large curve that goes down the hill. Can you imagine the Bronze Bunny (“Cotton Tail on the Trail“) sitting in that open space surrounded by benches with a view opened up to overlook the city?

      • Dana DeMaster
        DanaD July 30, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

        I don’t think that Wheelock could totally match the private nature of Minnehaha, if only because water lends itself physically to privacy, but also emotionally. One’s attention is drawn to the creek and away from the city and what other people might be doing.

        Wheelock does have some great vistas, however, that could be capitalized on. A few great scenic overlooks with trees and gardens would make for a cozy spot.

        Even if the city did use its ROW for a bike/ped trail, it would still be going through people’s yards, right? Even with the path it wouldn’t be a place to stop and contemplate life.

  6. Matt Steele
    Matt Steele July 29, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    Looking at it more, is Wheelock Parkway a joke? A street with little tree canopy, many driveway curb cuts, and no sidewalks? It also features many “phantom sidewalks” ending where people’s front yards hit the city right of way, connecting to nothing. That seems to be a common thing on the east side of the river (I’ve also seen them in “downtown” North St. Paul) and something I’ve never seen in Minneapolis. http://goo.gl/maps/pfI7I

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary July 29, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      Those are very common in Richfield, too. A symptom of homes built before curbs or sidewalk were in place. I always like to think those front walks are just waiting patiently for their sidewalk to be installed…

  7. Evan Roberts
    Evan Roberts July 29, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    Untapped potential. Or less charitably, somewhat ignored and under-invested.

    Anecdata: I’ve biked Wheelock a few times and it’s a nice ride. Totally agree that one of the reasons to do it is to end up at Lake Phalen (or Como). But I’ve never fulfilled the urge to do it as a long run because the combination of strange gaps in tree cover, lacking fountains, and consistent pedestrian paths makes it desirable only in fall when it’s not too hot and the grass boulevard is firm enough to make a good running surface.

    Minnehaha by contrast is great year round for running. Tree covered in the summer and fountains if you need a drink. In the winter the ped/bike paths are cleared well.

    I’ve seen few walkers and runners on Wheelock when I’ve biked it, even near Como where the demographics seem more similar to (say) Minnehaha near Nokomis.

    The street view you posted there on the Rice St hill perfectly illustrates that they have room to put in a 12 ft shared use trail and more foliage if they want to. But instead there’s a median strip for cars on a road that’s already forcing you to slow down because it’s on a sharp corner!

  8. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary July 29, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    One other feature that I thinks makes MInneapolis parkways distinctive is the roadway style that’s unique to the parkways. Nearly all have very narrow travel lanes, post lighting (at a slightly lower lighting standard than surrounding areas), no visible utility poles, and curbing that is unique to the parkway system. (Older parkways have lower, wider curbs; the newer ones have rolled curbs.) When roads are seal-coated, they’re seal-coated red rather than gray/black. Even the sign posts are unique to the parkways, brown and square rather than the round galvanized metal used elsewhere in the city.

    On the other hand, there doesn’t seem to be anything particular parkway-esque about St. Paul parkways. In a similar vein, the term is more watered-down in St. Paul. To my knowledge, there is nothing with the suffix “Pkwy” that is not a parkway. On the other hand, St Paul has Ford Parkway, Highland Parkway, and Lexington Parkway that are really just big streets more than they are parkways. Minneapolis has gone to particular lengths in establishing what a “parkway” is by half-renaming parkways with historical names that do not end in “Pkwy” (e.g., Kings Highway “Parkway”, Victory Memorial “Parkway”, West River “Parkway”).

    • Reuben Collins
      Reuben Collins July 29, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

      Yes, saint paul also uses the Modified B612 curb that minneapolis uses, though it’s not in-place on many roads, including wheelock (it is used on Mississippi River Boulevard and Lexington Pkwy). Some of Saint Paul’s parkways are also county roadways.

  9. Eric Saathoff
    Eric S August 5, 2014 at 7:46 am #

    I’ve turned around when just exploring Wheelock because of that Hill. If I were with my 5 year old son I think he would be able to take it slowly. When my knee was killing me last year on the St. Paul Classic I walked it. It’s not horrible but it’s not a pleasant part of what is a recreational path – taken for pleasure.
    With little to no investment right now, I find no reason to use it – especially with the very difficult intersection at Arcade – there’s no clear way to get from the bike path across the street. It certainly has a lot of potential to improve, but it will never be a Minnehaha Pkwy. I think this is primarily due to the Creek drawing people.

  10. Kele August 5, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    Wheelock Parkway is my preferred route when driving from North St. Paul/Roseville to the East Side just because the drive is so pleasant when compared to Maryland Ave.

    Also, the Gateway Trail brings you to Phalen after it intersects with Wheelock, so perhaps improving the trail access would help. On the other hand, taking the trail prevents access to the streets between those two points.

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