Squaring a Triangle: Rethinking Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha in Seward

For decades, the Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha area of northwest Seward has been a thorny area, confusing for cars, unsafe for pedestrians, and generally lacking in the urban amenities residents of most Minneapolis neighborhoods desire. Though the area has had an LRT station on the blue line for 10 years now, little has changed where the three streets come together, with only one redevelopment (Seward Common) just now being built. A long-term vision from the Seward neighborhood aims to address this, but largely leaves the the root transportation problems of the Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha area intact.

Much of the transportation problem stems from a 1940s decision, completed in 1950, to grade separate Franklin Avenue and Cedar Avenue from both Hiawatha Avenue and the old Milwaukee Road rail tracks (where the Blue Line currently is). This caused Cedar Avenue to be relocated east of its old alignment, resulting in the triangle that exists today between Franklin, Cedar, and Minnehaha and focusing a lot of traffic into a relatively small jumble of intersections.

An idea posted on UrbanMSP by “Eluko” a couple of years ago suggested a more aggressive approach than that promoted in the Seward neighborhood plan: restoring the old street grid. I used that idea as the baseline for my proposal below:

Image from the author.

Idea to remake the Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha area.  Image from the author.

The basic gist of this idea, much like Eluko’s idea on UrbanMSP, is to restore the street grid in the area to eliminate the confusing and unsafe jumble of intersections that currently exists. Cedar Ave is restored mostly along its original, pre-1950 alignment, from just north of Hiawatha Avenue north to I-94. Both 9th Street and 22nd Street are fully restored east of Cedar Avenue, albeit with a turn prohibition from 22nd Street onto southbound Cedar Avenue.  Snelling Avenue ties directly into a reimagined 19th Avenue South, while Minnehaha Avenue ties directly into 20th Avenue South to enable another north-south inter-neighborhood link.

Realigning the Blue Line (Hiawatha LRT) is what makes restoring the original Cedar Avenue possible, but has other benefits of its own. Aligning it in the median of 19th Avenue South enables a better interaction between a Franklin Avenue LRT station and the neighborhood, as well as putting it a block closer to the southern fringes of the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on the north side of I-94. There is adequate distance between Franklin Avenue and 9th Street to build a 3-car or even a 4-car LRT station, should the latter be needed in the future.

Theoretical cross-section of 19th Ave with a Franklin Ave LRT station.  Image by the author.

Theoretical cross-section of 19th Avenue with a Franklin Avenue LRT station. Image by the author.

Bicycle travel is also enhanced under this idea. The Hiawatha Greenway is kept continuous by constructing it along the east side of the realigned Blue Line, and bike lanes along 20th Avenue South through Cedar-Riverside are extended west along the reconstituted 9th Street to connect to the Greenway. The extra-wide right-of-way along Franklin Avenue in the area enables reconstruction that could retain left turn lanes and on-street parking, replace landscaping, and add bike lanes from 16th Avenue South to 20th Avenue South, as seen below:

Theoretical cross-section of Franklin Ave near Cedar Ave.  Image by the author.

Theoretical cross-section of Franklin Avenue near Cedar Avenue. Image by the author.

Restoring the street grid and realigning the LRT line have the potential to create a significant redevelopment zone, improving upon that which the Seward neighborhood already proposes. Approximately 3.5 acres of existing development is required to restore the suggested street grid, but this is balanced by opening up 5 acres of existing public street/space for new development or to tie into redevelopment of adjacent land parcels, for a net gain of 1.5 acres. There are over 13 acres of existing development on seven blocks in the immediate vicinity. Combined with the five acres opened up by restoring the street grid, this results in over 18 acres of potential redevelopment, all within a 1,000 foot (less than one-fifth of a mile) walk of a relocated LRT station.

The Seward plan noted at the beginning is a pretty good plan to start with, but it doesn’t do enough to address the jumble of intersections where Franklin, Cedar, and Minnehaha Avenues come together. It’s not too late for the neighborhood and the city to develop a more robust, long-term plan that does more to build upon the urban fabric of the area.

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9 Responses to Squaring a Triangle: Rethinking Franklin/Cedar/Minnehaha in Seward

  1. Mike Hicks August 15, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    Which LRT crossings do you plan to have grade-separated versus at-grade? I think the queues to reach I-94 would conflict with the tracks by the Cedar/I-94 interchange — that would probably need a bridge, but maybe we can just move the freeway ramps to 20th Ave instead? (Then again, that would put them too close to the ramps for 26th/Riverside).

    The ramps for Cedar Ave are partly there because the I-94/I-35W interchange is incomplete. It’s worthwhile to look at making it a full interchange so folks don’t have to drop onto local streets for that, though there are disadvantages to that idea too. Hiawatha Avenue also adds complexity to that interchange — should it really be a freeway between 26th Street and downtown? I know that there are some plans to reconfigure the ramps on 5th through 8th Streets in downtown, but can’t remember the details at the moment.

    I’d like to see the part-cloverleaf interchange at Hiawatha and Cedar reconfigured to take up less space — a normal tight diamond would have left more room available, though it’s certainly tough to have stop lights that close together. I’d like to see someone draw up some ideas of how to do that with a diverging diamond or dumbbell/dogbone interchange.

    In general, I’m not a huge fan of realigning train lines to add curves and make them take a longer route, but it’s worthwhile in this case since it adds room for (re)development which would otherwise be blocked by the maintenance facility and yard tracks.

  2. Froggie August 15, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    All LRT crossings would be at-grade. It’s hard to see in the graphic, but if you notice, I took the I-94 ramps out at Cedar. Even if the ramps were to remain, that on-ramp intersection is currently unsignalized and probably could remain such with minimal issue. Plus, given the long-term nature of my proposal, we may well have the “missing movements” at 94/35W by then.

    Another possibility would be to build a new ramp from northbound Hiawatha to eastbound 94 along the west edge of the LRT yards.

    The problem with rearranging Hiawatha/Cedar into a tight diamond is that it would impact the ramp from northbound Hiawatha to westbound 94. The existing loop ramp is needed in order to retain some minimal spacing between that on-ramp and the off-ramp to 94.

  3. Alex August 15, 2014 at 1:15 pm #

    What impact do you think this plan would have on Blue Line travel times?

    What is the advantage of retaining the current curve/width of the Franklin underpass rather than straightening and narrowing the right of way?

    • Froggie August 15, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

      A rough guess on Blue Line travel times is no more than 30 seconds. My idea would add 5 at-grade LRT crossings, but only adds about 300ft of linear distance.

      Keeping the existing curves/overpasses on Hiawatha at Franklin and Cedar is a cost-saving move. There is no clear need I can see to straighten them out, and keeping the overpasses as-is saves tens of millions of dollars. Regarding the right-of-way, this idea already narrows the Franklin right-of-way.

      • BoredAgain August 15, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

        I find it hard to believe that adding 5 at grade crossings would only add 30 seconds to the total travel time. Keeping the line elevated through this corridor would minimize any impact to travel time, though it would mean keeping the vertical circulation requirement that already exists. Elevating over the new Cedar crossing should be considered as a minimum, unless other changes are made to decrease traffic flow. I can see an at grade crossing for Franklin and 9th.

        Also, I would not extend Snelling past Franklin. It is a very short street right now and making it 3 blocks long isn’t that much of a gain. Extending it running it on either side of the LRT tracks on 19th would only cause traffic congestion around the platform and dangerous pedestrian conditions. This reconnection of the street grid is unnecessary. Businesses fronting that side of the block would be oriented to the LRT stop/ pedestrian zone.

  4. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 15, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    for more history of this corner, check out this blast from the past (3 years back): http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.se/2011/03/planning-blunder-8-franklin-hiawatha.html

  5. Cameron Conway
    Cameron Conway August 16, 2014 at 10:49 am #

    I first just want to point out how goofy it is that 9th street and 22nd street are two blocks apart in this part of town. (Dear Downtown/South Minneapolis grids, please get along).

    I bike this LRT trail every day and subsequently think about this every day. I really like a lot of these ideas, but my favorite is honestly the introduction of a northbound Hiawatha to eastbound I-94 ramp across the light rail yard. I mean, why not consolidate your station area-killing factors? Otherwise I think you have a tough political case for reducing capacity on these monster roads in the triangle, as well as all the road re-connections you mention.

    The biggest factor that I don’t see solved in this proposal is Franklin Ave, which would still be a massive dividing factor for the neighborhood. I really like the idea of re-creating a great station area for the Franklin Ave, but the option that I’ve always thought of would be capping Franklin and developing on top of it. Here’s an example of a similar situation in DC. http://www.burnhamplace.com/ You could do all sorts of pedestrian mall style fun stuff, especially when anchored by redevelopments from the north and south.

    It would only be a block long, true. But let’s just say that you’ve got that Hiawatha to I-94 ramp soaking highway traffic off local streets, you could basically do all the road re-routings that you talk about while also extending the retail and pedestrian inertia of Franklin east of 20th all the way to the LRT station! In any case, I think Franklin needs an epic road diet.

    I don’t know whether re-routing LRT or capping Franklin would be cheaper, but the latter does solve the Franklin issue. Thoughts?

  6. Peter August 17, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

    I live in the apartment building current wedged between Cedar Ave, 20th Ave, and I94. I’ve noticed a number of times how 9th st lines up perfectly with the front parking lot, makes me wonder if it was built with the idea that the street would be reconnected.

    However I’m not sure if moving the LRT station is necessary. Moving it east brings it even farther from the communities west of Hiawatha. Part of the problem this is trying to solve is to bring the LRT closer to actual activity, but this brings a lot of development closer to the current station location.

    Capping Franklin sounds like a great idea, especially if done West of the current station, which helps activate the area between the LRT and the communities west of Hiawatha.

  7. Keith Morris August 18, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

    There are some simple small changes that could be made already: bike lanes beginning right next to the station rather than a block out east for example. It would also be nice for LRT users wanting to use the bike share not to have to walk east across massive Cedar Ave and a couple more blocks before reaching the Nice Ride station too.

    I agree with the cap idea and while back in Columbus I traversed the The Cap (at Union Station, but every just calls it The Cap) done several years ago over the I-670 bridge and it’s still lookin good. Should’ve snapped a pic myself, but here are plenty:

    https://www.google.com/search?q=the+cap+columbus&rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS586US586&es_sm=93&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=z57yU_3JLYqkyATZroCgCg&ved=0CAgQ_AUoAQ&biw=1355&bih=679

    The only issue here is that approaching Cedar, Franklin ascends east, unlike in Columbus where an extended eastern and western cap could all be built at the same level without issue because the highway is all along a trench down below. Not so with Franklin Station where a level cap eastward would end toward Cedar to allow however much height traffic below needs, unless it’s done like a hill that continues further east and forms an elongated tunnel with street retail, maybe even housing on top. Sounds pretty good to me. Bypassing Cedar and Minnehaha with a capo would be ideal, but even just out to Cedar would be a big though heavily compromised improvement.

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