Regional Infrastructure: Splitting Up an Urban Neighborhood Near You

Contorting existing neighborhoods to host regional infrastructure creates crazy spill-over effects. Check out the beauty it adds to our neighborhoods and cultural institutions.


Beauty! (Source: Hennepin Lyndale Reconstruction Project site)

It’s an award-winning design. The engineers who created this 50 years ago won a national award for it – shoehorning ramps, bridges, slip turns, pork chop islands, and infrastructure I can’t even name into an historic institutional corridor.


Excellence! (Image: Ethan Fawley)

I thought I understood the Hennepin/Lyndale Bottleneck, having used it from every possible direction as a driver, a bus rider, a pedestrian, and a bicyclist for the last 18 years. On we’ve blogged the area to death (see Bill’s summary here). As an interested neighbor, I participated on a neighborhood stakeholder group advising the design team last summer.

As neighbors, we all knew that in living here, we chose the benefit of proximity in exchange for the inconvenience of hosting this giant regional transportation service. As stakeholders, we were recommending this burden be mitigated by adding safety and green space for people walking and biking through the corridor. Unsurprisingly, we eyed the frontage road on the west side of Hennepin. It’s redundant! May we change it?

We totally need a bonus road next to all those other lanes!

We totally need a bonus road next to all those other lanes!

The project designers saw this, too. One of their proposed designs cut off west-bound right turns at Douglas (the “B” in the image above, top purple bit on the image below).

An early Douglas proposal - rejected since discovery of its critical nature as a cloverleaf interchange

An early Douglas proposal shrinking right turns onto frontage road (in purple at the top) – an idea immediately rejected for reasons explained below

When this was mentioned out loud, I learned I hadn’t exited it in every direction, and I’d missed an unimaginable and hilariously perverse consequence of the design. [NOTE: this idea was immediately removed from consideration.]

Residents and institutional visitors of Lowry Hill and Loring Park are forced to use neighborhood streets as a cloverleaf interchange. When I first heard this, I was perplexed, so they walked our stakeholder group through it.

When you approach Groveland from either north or south, there’s No Left Turn.

By Sugeesh at ml.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

No Left Turn! (Image: Sugeesh at ml.wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

The blue line is Groveland

The blue line is Groveland

Let’s say you’re a resident of Lowry Hill, approaching from the south on Lyndale or Hennepin, or maybe exiting 94 heading north. And let’s pretend it’s election day, and you are going to First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis on Mount Curve to vote. You need to go left on Groveland to get to your polling place. But, nope! No Left Turn. What do you do?


Accessing Lowry Hill from the South

Accessing Lowry Hill from the South

Alternatively, maybe you’re exiting 394 heading south to Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church. Again, you need to go left on Groveland. What do you do?


Accessing Loring Park from the North

Accessing Loring Park from the North

It turns out those award-winning engineers snuck in a cloverleaf interchange Easter Egg without anyone knowing. (I wonder, did even they know?)

The “No Left Turn” – forced by sandwiching regional-scale traffic infrastructure into an historic neighborhood – places yet another burden of time and traffic on the neighbors of this interchange.

As long as we’re stuck with the Spaghetti Bowl of I94 entrances and exits, we’re stuck with this crazy cloverleaf navigation through neighborhood streets and on a redundant frontage road. Maybe someday, one of the visions proposed on (#1, #2) can restore this grand corridor to it’s once grand state and address neighborhood access.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

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6 thoughts on “Regional Infrastructure: Splitting Up an Urban Neighborhood Near You

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I don’t get this image. Why wouldn’t you turn left onto Vineland and then left onto Bryant?

    Even on this image, why not turn left on Oak Grove and take Clifton down?

    I don’t think the left turn prohibitions are unreasonable in a congested urban area, regional infrastructure or not. Along Lake St and Hennepin Ave S, many intersections with no left-turn lanes prohibit left turns during rush hour. I assume people navigate around that in a similar “cloverleaf” fashion. In a sense, I consider it a triumph of the grid.

    1. Janne Flisrand Post author

      One of the big things obscured by the maps is the grade changes. Another is one-way streets.

      In the first image, Bryant is a super, duper steep hill, and I now realize I put the “B” in the wrong place — to get to the Unitarian Church you’d ALSO have to go up Dupont and then zag all the way around the park due to one-way streets.

      In the second, there are similar although less extreme grade and one-way issues.

      In both cases, they send you onto round-about, narrow, residential streets. And that the lack of a grid (due to grade) in either neighborhood means they are not obvious routes without a GPS program telling you that you can take them.

      I agree that I don’t think left turn prohibitions are unreasonable in a congested urban area. It’s also absolutely true that in these neighborhoods, the alternatives to the cloverleaf-like interchange are of limited benefit.

  2. Stuart

    It might seem apocryphal, but I sometimes use the “jug-handle” to get from southbound Lyndale (turning from Dunwoody) onto southbound Lyndale (heading toward lyn-lake).

    At rush hour in the evening, this can actually be easier than trying to merge into the southbound lyndale lanes. At least it feels faster some days.

  3. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

    I enjoyed getting the surprise of how this was written, the title made it seem like a case for resistance to regional assets because of negative externallities to nearby properties, but instead the piece was very informative in how the roadways were designed and handle current traffic. Very specific, a great case-study if I may call it that.

  4. Steve Gjerdingen

    I remember the first time I ever encountered this strip of roadway. I was biking to downtown Minneapolis for the first time in my life. I had been to downtown Minneapolis before but only by car and I had always travelled from the Northeast, so I never really saw this interchange up close. At some point, I got the idea that it would be cool to head downtown on a bicycle during a beautiful summer weekend day. I might have been trying to get to Lake Calhoun (which I had never been to before) or maybe just to Uptown.

    All I remember about this interchange is that I knew I was trying to go southwest of downtown and I kept on asking myself “does this road eventually go onto freeway”? I kept telling myself, “whatever I do, I better not end up on the freeway”. I was a bit unsettled by the spaghetti noodles of roadways, so, I headed into the Subway near Hennepin to gather my wits and eat. Eventually, I figured it out somehow and found myself biking along Hennepin Ave in Uptown. By that time I was pretty mesmerized by Uptown, the sidewalk cafes, and all of the people. This had been my first time going to Uptown as well.

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