The Past and Present of Bloomington’s Oxboro Neighborhood

oxboro-bloomingtonI’ve lived in the Oxboro area of Bloomington my entire life, 3/4 of a mile from the major commercial area at 98th St. and Lyndale Ave. Although most of my shopping is done at big box stores in other areas, this is where I go to the bank, get lunch at the drive-thru, drop off mail at the post office, and access the freeway. Though I’m basically happy with it, there is always room for improvement for both motorized and non-motorized traffic, as well as the general area.

In the past this area was the unincorporated town of Oxboro, dating from the 1850s. The Oxborough family from Canada built a trading post called Oxboro Heath on what is now Clover Center. Meanwhile Bloomington was a stagecoach stop at Nine Mile Creek, and there was another settlement at Old Shakopee Road and Old Cedar. These all eventually got absorbed into the city of Bloomington.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Oxboro area had a single noteworthy building, the Sunde blacksmith shop (owned by the father of Vikings great Milt Sunde). And a lot of decrepit buildings: the old Burger Brother’s store and Bloomington Drug, Kinney Shoes, and a bar at 95th. REI was in Clover Center before they moved into their newer flagship store along I-494. There are quite a few photographs on the Flashbacks of Bloomington Facebook group.


In the early 1980s the grandiose “Oxboro Redevelopment” plan was initiated, but it never lived up to it’s highbrow aspirations, eventually stalled, and is still going on in fits and starts. The city thought they were creating something much more elite than they were – after offering SuperValu a place in the new strip mall, they broke that promise when they decided they wanted Byerly’s instead.

SuperValu was full of mismatched floor tile, bare fluorescent strip lights, and stained ceilings, but it was a place to get groceries. I remember walking through Byerly’s when it was new and being awestruck by carpet, chandeliers, and lobster tanks, and also being awestruck by the prices. Aside from our initial trip, I think we shopped there twice before they closed. The owner raised their lease rate from the original 20-year sweetheart deal and their freezers needed replacing, but obviously they could have made it work if it had been a good fit for the neighborhood.

In typical 1980s fashion, we got a mix of “suburbanism” and “fake urbanism”; Some strip malls with lots of parking in front that have gone downscale over the years, and then what is now Duluth Trading Company and Fairview Oxboro clinic. These went right up to the street, but have blank walls where doors would obviously be in an urban setting.

Fairview Oxboro Clinic

Fairview Oxboro Clinic

More recently, two new housing developments have gone in. After adding two strip-malls to the area, the city said no to a fourth, but relented when the developer added senior housing.


A new set of apartments replaced the old lumber yard. Wixon Jewelers had a plan to build an elaborate jewelry store and watch museum at what is now Duluth Trading company (and wanted to buy and knock down the Bakers Square so the rich people that could actually afford their products wouldn’t have to park so far from the door) which was eventually was dropped. The trees and street furniture were plopped down centered in the sidewalk. Constricted by tree rings, the trees have never grown much and are constantly dying and being replaced.

Over time too, people like me have moved a lot of shopping elsewhere. My family quit shopping for groceries at SuperValu when the new Cub opened at Valley West. We quit shopping for toilet flappers and light bulbs at Hardware Hank when Home Depot opened along 494. It seems others have done the same. Over time the restaurants, banks, and other such staples have stayed, while some of the general retail has closed. (Although SuperValu was doing OK until the landlord kicked them out to sell to a developer to build the Holiday gasoline station.)

Few people are under the delusion that this is a cultured and sophisticated place. Yes, there are the typically derided places like Applebee’s and McDonalds. And yes I go to them. But to me it’s not “nowhere”. I personally don’t want to live in either the central cities or farther into the suburbs, so Bloomington’s Oxboro neighborhood is “somewhere” to me and quite a few other people. Yes, it’s ultimately very auto oriented, but again that’s something I like about it. It’s easy to drive down to Subway and park, it’s also easy to drive through on my way to the freeway entrance.

Still, I acknowledge that there are people that do walk or bicycle in the area and there is room for improvement without impacting motorists too much, and some things that could be improvements for all modes. Although it’s only 3/4-mile away, taking pictures for this article was the first time I’ve ridden down there in years.




Some of the problems I see:

1) Although vehicle traffic flows pretty well, there are a few operational problems. Firstly the heavy westbound through and westbound to southbound movements at 98th St and I-35W conflict with the heavy eastbound to northbound movement. Eastbound to northbound only has a single turn lane, and aggravating the problem, and there is no right turn lane from westbound to northbound. Secondly, both directions of Lyndale Ave at 98th St have very short single left turn lanes that tend to back up into the through lanes during peak hours. My attempts to complain to the county and city have gotten nowhere. Traffic signals are still mostly the inefficient, protected-only turns (red arrows), and there are no sight line problems or other unusual considerations that would preclude protected/permissive phasing allowing motorists to make a left turn if there’s a break in oncoming traffic.

2) There’s a complete lack of bicycle infrastructure in place.  The official line from the city is that bicycles are supposed to (carefully) use the sidewalks, which although having few pedestrians, are full of trees, light poles, and garbage cans. Meanwhile there are free rights, which I like as a pedestrian but not usually as a motorist, and auxiliary lanes of dubious value. And while Lyndale needs all the lanes it has right at 98th St, probably north of there and certainly south of there it could use a road diet.

3) The Orange Line has to fit in somehow, which will increase the number of people walking and bicycling in the area.

4) I think the free right from the northbound ramp to 98th St. is extremely dangerous. I have seen crashes there, including one where a car was flipped onto it’s roof. There’s simply not a good sight line to see cars coming over the bridge (due to the railing and the hump), and cars tend to speed since it’s fairly wide open.

Driver's eye view of free right

Driver’s eye view of free right

5) There are too many ramps too close together on I-35W

6) Thinking broader, Bloomington has way too many Four-lane Death Roads (even one is too many).

7) There’s no drive-through coffee shop. Seriously! I’d probably stop several times a week if there were. Maybe we can find room for a Dunkin Donuts! The only shop in the area is a Starbucks, and while I’m not too highbrow to go there, there’s no drive-thru and believe it or not it’s usually difficult to even park there.

In Part Two, I will lay out ideas for addressing these problems.


About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

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12 thoughts on “The Past and Present of Bloomington’s Oxboro Neighborhood

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Thanks for decoding the suburbs for me, Monte. Bloomington is Minnesota’s 3rd largest city, isn’t it? Yet there’s so little critical thought about how it’s developing.

    I’m curious if you’ve ever been on the bike lane on 86th Street. I’ve used it a few times on my (adventurous!) trips to Bloomington by bike. It seems like a good idea and I wonder if similar treatments are on the books for other Bloomington arterials.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      4th largest; Rochester’s population has been increasing while Bloomington has more or less remained the same.

      86th was not without controversy; the former councilmember who’s district it went through was dead-set against it. I’ve not personally used it because I rarely bicycle around Bloomington streets (normally I drive to the recreational trails various places), I’m afraid of on-street bicycle lanes, and I live a ways away.

      As I’ve posted before (in my 4-Lane death road article), Bloomington has been eager to restripe collectors, but not arterials. Many are well under 20,000 so a 3-Lane road would do just fine, so I’d support restriping them, but the city is dead set against it. Nevertheless another Streets writer told me that it’s under consideration for Portland next year. Also with how decrepit the pavement is on some of them the time will come when they need complete reconstruction.

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Having just been at a presentation from the very active Bloomington Bicycle Alliance and two engineering staff, Amy Marohn and Kirk Roberts, I can provide a little more detail here.

      Monte is right — Bloomington has a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of four-lanes that are just bizarre, that were never close to requiring that capacity. Like Normandale Road south of Old Shakopee, Auto Club Rd, etc. Many of those haven’t even gone to three, but straight to two lanes. The closest to controversial lately was reducing 106th St from 4 lanes to 3. With one four-lane section of Portland remaining to the north (61st to 67th), Bloomington is rightfully looking at doing a lane reduction there as well.

      One notable difference from Bloomington and other cities is that although they do sometimes reduce travel lanes, they do not add bike lanes. The space they create is an unmarked shoulder that prohibits parking, but has no official designation. In some cases, this is because it does not meet legal bike lane standards — like 86th, which is too narrow. In other, I’m told, it’s because it’s less politically problematic when the focus is on right-sizing the street for auto safety — rather than creating space for bikes.

      Two other notable differences about Bloomington in terms of its streets: it really, really, really loves free right turns. I’ve heard from engineering staff in other cities that this was under the leadership of a previous Public Works director, who felt that no car should ever have to make a right turn slower than 20 mph (paraphrasing wildly).

      Second would be that street trees are prohibited — including on residential streets — except by special exception granted by the city forester. Monte’s picture of Lyndale indicates that the Oxboro area has one such exception — and the result is quite beautiful. The immediate area around Lyndale and 98th has some of the healthiest urban street trees around.

      1. Monte Castleman Post author

        106th St is actually treated by motorists like an arterial as a shortcut from the western side of the city to south I-35W, so I’m not surprise that some people didn’t like the idea. The cops are eager to give out speeding tickets for violating the 30 mph speed limit but it’s been rather ineffective.

        The street trees- the ones on Lyndale I took a picture of are OK; the ones on 98th are constantly decrepit and dying and being replaced and aren’t doing much. I don’t know why, and I didn’t get a chance to get a picture before fall.

  2. Steve Nimchuk

    “Large” depends on how you count. Since the 1990 U.S. Census, Bloomington has been found to have more people working there, than living there. It has a status of Central City and has suburbs somewhere. But without a cities-wide newspaper or television station it does not get much press. Which is exactly the way Mpls & St Paul want it. After all then it would not be the Twin Cites.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    The development in this area is interesting, given that Bloomington’s current focus seems to be all about 494. In fact, the city defines three specific development districts — which do not include Oxboro. The three zones are South Loop (MOA), Penn-American, and Normandale Lakes.

    I understand big, empty parcels with regional traffic are very tantalizing to developers, so I get why they’d focus here. But it does seem like a shame that all this development effort is going to these areas that aren’t really in the community — except maybe Penn-American. It’s particularly stark to see literally billions of public and private money go into empty fields by the airport, but when you cross Cedar Avenue, you enter an area with more historical character, but also much more poverty, blight, etc. The areas of East Bloomington west of Cedar seem to have gotten little care in recent decades.

  4. GlowBoy

    Living at the very far south edge of Minneapolis, I bike (and drive) in Bloomington quite a lot: to get to the Minnesota River (I’m a mountain biker), or Hyland Park, or numerous shopping destinations including MOA, REI, Pierce Skate&Ski and the Southtown area. Bloomington is a mixed bag. I sure am glad for the 86th Ave bike lane, and have used it quite a few times. Most of the city is platted as a extension of Minneapolis’ grid, which makes it very easy to navigate the quiet residential streets by bike (except of course for the arterial crossings). For lack of better options I do quite a lot of riding on the expansive American Boulevard sidewalks, which aren’t so bad until you get to the porkchop/beg-button nightmares at basically every intersection. The worst transportation crime in Bloomington, which I’ve commented on here before, is the fact that you can’t legally walk from MOA to IKEA across the street.

    Good things are coming: I’m excited to see the Intercity trail about to connect into Bloomington from Lake Nokomis, not to mention the reopened Old Cedar Avenue bridge we’re going to get next year. But overall I’d like to see Bloomington do still more for on-road biking: Richfield is definitely doing more, and Edina may be about to. I would agree there are a lot of dangerous stroads that would do just fine on a road diet. Portland would be a good start, since it’s getting spiffed up through Richfield this year and next.

    FWIW, it looks like Bloomington only became Minnesota’s 4th-largest city in the last year or two. The 2010 Census listed Duluth as larger by 4000 people, but 2014 estimates now have Bloomington larger by a few hundred.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Re: IKEA — I agree, this was a ridiculous restriction, in place for far too long before the new bridge opened. However, since the bridge over Lindau Lane and the new Mall entrance have opened, there is now a high-quality, direct access to the mall.

      I just wish they could have waited for it to open before installing the ridiculous ped prohibitions everywhere.

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