I’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.
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.
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.
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