For Bde Maka Ska, a New Bridge to Honor a New Name

In an effort to boost accessibility and equity, Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board has announced plans to bridge Lake Street across the north end of Lake Bde Maka Ska (also known as Lake Calhoun). The eight lane bridge is expected to be complete by summer of 2018, and is expected to save tens of thousands of motorists countless hours of commute time over the coming decades.

Cedar Avenue over Lake Nokomis

Cedar Avenue over Lake Nokomis

Officials cite the bridge over Lake Nokomis, near the city’s southern border, as an exemplary model of lake accessibility and the inspiration for the project. “Just as the Cedar Avenue Bridge has connected diverse communities and brought lake access to the motoring masses for a century, the Bde Maka Ska Causeway will bring more traffic and motoring enjoyment to our city’s most popular lake for years to come,” said MPRB Superintendent Jayne Miller.

Local historians noted that former Lake Amelia was renamed Lake Nokomis in 1910, and the first Cedar Avenue Bridge was built as an honorary mobility edifice to mark the change of the name to a character of Ojibwe folklore. Precedence therefore requires a new bridge is built to acknowledge the renaming of Lake Calhoun to its traditional Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska.

Elders in the Dakota community also expressed excitement that the bridge will enable their community to have faster drive times between isolated reservations and the shores of the lake from which their ancestors were exiled. “This project will echo the successes of the 2003 MnDOT project that gave us excellent freeway access to our sacred site, Camp Coldwater Spring.”

Bridge details

Proposed Alignment

Proposed Alignment

The planned bridge will have eight lanes, necessary for the projected 110,000 vehicles which will use the corridor each day in 2040. The current roadway carries 39,500 vehicles per day, but planners expect that number to dramatically rise upon the completion of the 28th Avenue Freeway between the western suburbs and St. Paul.


Lake Street and Excelsior Boulevard Interchange

The west end of the lake will feature a full system interchange between Excelsior Boulevard and Lake Street, as shown to the right. Planners note that Lake Nokomis’ proximity to the freeway-to-freeway cloverleaf at MN-62 and MN-77 is a desired amenity. “We know that beach goers like to be as close as possible to high speed freeways to get wherever they are going, so a full system interchange is the prime choice to replace the blighted neighborhood immediately to the west of the lake,” said the lead project engineer.


Rendering of North Beach Improvements

The bridge has also been designed with beach goers in mind. “Trees have proven to have a shorter lifespan than poured concrete, and foliage doesn’t provide as consistent a shade coefficient. Therefore the bridge is designed to shade beachgoers at Lake Bde Maka Ska North Beach sufficient to meet our exacting requirements,” noted MPRB’s top landscape architect. “We can also realize cost efficiencies by affixing lifeguard stands to the side of the superstructure.”

Travel benefits

Hennepin County transportation officials note that this $700 million project will result in significant time savings for people getting to and from Minneapolis’ western suburbs, primarily St. Louis Park. “This bridge will save commuters an average of 22 seconds compared to today’s inefficient routing of C.S.A.H. 3 around the north side of the lake,” noted Hennepin County’s transportation chief. A report by SURF Consulting estimates the project will save motorists $758 million, part of a total public benefit of nearly $900 million.

Lake Calhoun Causeway

Original plan. Cost cutting has since resulted in an eight lane proposal.

“It would be fiscally irresponsible not to build this bridge,” said Minnesota Transportation Alliance director Margaret Donohoe citing the report’s estimated 6 to 1 return on investment.

The causeway will ensure a straight driving path across the lake along the plane of Lake Street, inspired by the efficiency of the Cedar Avenue alignment over Lake Nokomis. This will result in less tire wear for motorists, and will reduce the amount of effort motorists must make to stay in their lane. With the mental focus previously required to navigate the curving lanes around the lake now freed, motorists can enjoy the quintessential postcard view of the Minneapolis skyline on their daily commute between the suburbs and a downtown parking garage.

Not just for motorists

Even pedestrians and bicyclists will enjoy the new bridge, said Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition director Ethan Fawley. “Our research has shown that the Lake Nokomis walking and bicycling experience is enhanced by the need to cross Cedar Avenue two times. It provides an opportunity for people to take a break from their physical exertion. Fast-paced walkers and bikers need life to slow down a little, and the opportunity to press a button, stand and wait for a minute or two as traffic speeds by, and proceed with extreme caution is a good way to break up the wholly unnatural monotony of going in circles around the lake.”

A cyclist enjoys a relaxing break during their ride. Lake Bde Maka Ska will soon offer this feature.

A cyclist enjoys a relaxing break during their ride. Lake Bde Maka Ska will soon offer this feature.

MnDOT APS with caption“Having ADA-compliant pedestrian actuated signals at two points along the lakeshore also helps the visually impaired locate themselves along an otherwise infinite lakeshore,” noted Alex Cecchini of the Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “People know where they are when they hear, ‘Wait. Wait. Wait.’ That’s placemaking.”

Neighbors have also been excited over the opportunity to move traffic onto the lake itself. “We’ve seen how great the Cedar Avenue Bridge has been in adding value to the Nokomis Knoll Residential District, so we have high expectations for our property once this bridge is complete,” said a statement issued by Calhoun Beach Club management. “We also realize that driving is the mode of choice for Uptown clientele who come to our club for drinks, so we expect this bridge will enable more Uptown dwellers to make the arduous drive to our corner of the lake. What’s good for driving is good for business.”

A model for equity

Promoters are quick to point out that the benefits aren’t just about getting people from Point A to Point B without a lake getting in their way. The project will also be a metaphorical bridge bringing communities together and creating a more equitable future for the city. “Whether you’re rich or poor, we all struggle side-by-side when waiting for a green light at Dean Parkway,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges. “We cannot tolerate some lakes having bridges while others are left behind. This moves us closer to One Minneapolis.”

Hodges notes that citizens in racially concentrated areas of poverty will have faster highway commutes to jobs in the southwest suburbs once the bridge is complete. Transit for Livable Communities has also been making a ceaseless, determined case for how the bridge will be a huge win for the North Minneapolis community miles to the north, though their director appeared to be mumbling “3A” at the press conference and couldn’t be reached for follow up.

Matt Steele

About Matt Steele

Matt's passion is fostering resiliency in local transportation and land use decisions. He's at @matthewsteele.