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:
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.
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:
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.