We Deserve Better

We moved to the Hale neighborhood in South Minneapolis just over a year ago, after looking around at houses for almost two years. The search took awhile because we were generally happy with our downtown condo and needed to find something that ticked all of the right boxes to tempt us away. It needed to be in the right price range (not wanting to wind up house poor), I needed a few options to be able to get to work downtown without having to drive, and, importantly, it needed to be close to stuff.

Our new neighborhood ticked enough of those boxes to make the switch. There was a grocery store, a place to eat in a brand new location, a recently expanded neighborhood liquor store, a coffee place and ice cream shop in easy walking distance. Even better, a really good Italian restaurant opened up not too long after we arrived. The area isn’t directly served by transit, but you can catch a bus a few blocks over on Bloomington Avenue or a bit farther north on Cedar Avenue. Cedar itself is not terribly appealing (this is one of several issues still unresolved), but overall, being near Cedar and Minnehaha Parkway means you can walk or bike for many of your daily needs.

There was one glaring missed opportunity. At the corner of 47th Street and Cedar, there’s an aging little strip mall. The north end used to be a gas station that’s been closed and empty for awhile. Tom’s Popcorn Shop and what seems to be a food prep for catering of some sort are the remaining tenants. There’s also a building that I’ve never seen inhabited on the parcel immediately to the south. Overall, it’s a depressing little spot amidst a bunch that’s recently changed for the better.

I go by every so often to peer through the windows in hopes that something that makes the neighborhood better will happen with the spot. They took out the old gas pumps last fall and there’s occasional activity cleaning up inside the gas station. Recently, I’d heard rumors that these properties were being consolidated and something proposed for the combined lot, which sounded like great news. The neighborhood could really use a pharmacy (the closest one is about a mile from here), another place to eat and/or some more apartments.

Now a Master Land Use Application has been filed, and it’s hard to imagine a more disappointing proposal:

Proposed renovation/expansion of the strip mall

Rendering from the application for a proposed renovation/expansion of the strip mall

In a nutshell, the proposal is to renovate and expand the existing strip mall. The old part would be the future home to two businesses, while the new expansion would house one more, with a drive through! And more parking.

Honestly, the drive-through alone is reason enough for me to dislike this proposal. Sure, this area isn’t super-dense city (and Cedar carries a ton of cars), but drive-throughs are terrible. They’re dangerous and they’re hostile to pedestrians and bikes. And this spot is just over a block away from Minnehaha Creek paths that carry a ton of bikes and pedestrians.

But I think this drive through is even worse for cars. It’s already difficult to get out of the grocery store parking lot (in a car or on a bike) and turn left to head south. There are steady streams of cars from both directions, and no stoplight at 47th to provide a break. Either you wait quite some time or you turn right (maybe it should be right-in-right-out anyway). Extra volume alone will make things worse.

But that’s not all. Let’s look at how traffic is supposed to flow through this new drive-through:

Proposed traffic flow

Proposed traffic flow

If I’m reading this right (and I may not be), this is a mess. Consider how a car traveling southbound (top to bottom on the image) on Cedar gets to the drive-through.

One option is to turn right off Cedar into the left hand lane of the parking lot entrance (bottom of the image). Perhaps the hope is that these customers will have experience abroad driving on the other side of the road. Alternatively, a driver can turn right on 47th and immediately left into the parking lot. Doing that means passing cars leaving the drive through window and hopefully not having to line up in front of them.

But northbound looks even worse. Either you turn left through that heavy traffic and hope that once you do, there’s enough room for you to wait without blocking the sidewalk or southbound traffic (there are regular queues at the Caribou on the other side of the street in the morning already). Or you turn left at 47th, where there is no light to aid you. Either way you’re going to be blocking traffic and drivers are going to be in a hurry to get around you (we may need more than the painted bumpout that everyone already ignores).

And everyone remember to drive on the left as you leave! Or, well, at least until you get out on the street again.

Moving beyond the realm of what’s wrong with this proposal, let’s think a little about what else is possible. First, I have to acknowledge that I’m talking about someone else’s property and giving no consideration to costs or potential returns. But still, let’s fantasize just a tiny bit.

Let’s take a look at something that’s recently been proposed in Richfield, at 66th Street and 1st Avenue:

Mixed use proposal in Richfield

Mixed use proposal in Richfield

This drawing shows roughly 10,000 square feet of first floor retail with 5-10 units of housing upstairs and, importantly, no drive-through. The building meets the sidewalk and all of the parking is in the back. This is how you design for people, not cars.

Obviously, doing something like this would mean starting over rather than re-using the existing structure, which would certainly add to the cost. But if they can do it right (or better at least) in the suburbs, why can’t we in the city?


Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.

15 thoughts on “We Deserve Better

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I share your disappointment, as do nearly all of the dozens of neighbors I’ve spoken with on this issue. Unfortunately, this land use is allowed by right in our zoning code… That’s more of an indictment of our zoning code than the developer. Again, it’s ridiculous that a CUP is not needed for such a drive-through. Since this is allowed by right, I’ve determined that my efforts are far more effective in moving towards rezoning and an updated comp plan that would help avoid these issues in the first place.

    I’ve seen other suburban developers follow a “value”-add model where they land a national chain who wishes for a drive-through. They get a 10-15 year lease, and then their exit plan is to sell a rehabbed building with lease to a REIT in year 0 to 5, sometimes before the tenant even opens. The value is in the lease.

    Regarding traffic, the Field Regina Northrop board adopted this resolution at their October 19, 2016 board meeting:

    “The Field Regina Northrop Neighborhood Group (FRNNG) requests that Minneapolis
    Public Works perform a traffic analysis as part of the site plan review for the development of 4700 Cedar Ave. Of primary concern is the impact on vehicle and pedestrian traffic of the newly proposed drive-through operating mid block. This change in business use may apply new pressures to site access, particularly from vehicles performing left turns while traveling northbound on Cedar Ave. FRNNG would like these potential pressures to be analyzed to preserve the safety of pedestrians and drivers in this busy area.”

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    That looks like a planned traffic mess. The Paninoes in Vadnais Heights has a similar though reverse mess. The worst part is the fumes that collect in this area from all of the cars either waiting in line or stuck in the congestion that the drive-thru causes. The outside patio is largely unusable because of the fumes. The Richfield option is better in a number of ways.

    Oh, and that proposed building is ugly.

  3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    The building looks very similar to the arrangement just built for Starbucks at Edina Industrial Blvd and Metro Blvd. (Ironically that building, in an industrial park, has much better street presence and walkable access than this, half a block from Minnehaha Pkwy.) Given the proximity to Caribou, I’d assume that’s what’s going in here. (Starbucks seems to be doing a lot more drive-throughs in the last five years… even as a regular Starbucks customer, I wonder why they assume their customers have lost the ability to get out of their car to get their heavily caloric coffee drinks.)

    I absolutely agree that the 66th/1st Richfield project is a better example — and still perfectly accessible to cars. I believe that the east side has potential to do something like that (or larger — like Kensington Park) if redeveloped. However, I think it’s worth remembering that they’re working with an existing building here, and so the options to do something fundamentally better are limited. It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect the developer to fully demolish what’s there and start over, when they have the capacity to use what’s there for less money to serve their needs. They need to just make the best of what they have.

    To that end, I think the easiest thing to address would be not having a drive-through, and using the additional parking that would free up to create more of a prominent pedestrian plaza to connect the sidewalk to the storefronts. However, I don’t know that there is any basis to ask them to do either of those things. During the Hennepin Walgreens discussion, my opinion was that if drive-throughs are so objectionable, they should be banned and allowed only in certain “highway-oriented” corridors. I am still of that opinion… when they are nearly universally objected to, why do we continue to allow them as a matter of right?

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell


      I also wonder how many crashes, injuries, and fatalities have someone eating or drinking while driving as a contributing cause? Besides being unpleasant, do drive-thru’s contribute to our highest in the developed world road fatalities?

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        This is something that rarely gets talked about, but I agree. Drinking a coffee while driving isn’t as dangerous as texting, of course, but mishaps happen — especially when people are consuming more elaborate/messy meals while driving. Why do we implicitly encourage distracted driving with drive-throughs?

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

      To Melissa’s point, for this project specifically, contact Lisa Steiner (see above).

      To Matt’s point, if this is an indictment of the zoning code (which it is), start by participating in the Minneapolis 2040 process – the comp plan update. Go to: https://www.minneapolis2040.com. Right now they city is soliciting input on big picture items like jobs, housing, transportation and the environment, but it’s never too early to raise the zoning code as an issue.

  4. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    Allow me to prove a point. I can’t recall setting foot inside that Caribou across the street from the site in question in this post since it opened. The few times I’ve visited, it is exclusively via drive-thru. Don’t get me wrong, I visit Keen Eye coffee far more often and do so on foot, but that Caribou drive-thru is pretty convenient. My point? We should outlaw drive-thrus across the city (except at the Quarry).

    This one-block stretch of Cedar has always baffled me, as it is wider than the rest of Cedar in Minneapolis, encouraging speeding, and is full of curb cuts. A massive road diet, combined with a ban on drive-thrus and stronger zoning overall, with more attention to urban form, would help.

    Also, how Carbones and Cork Dork were approved to move to their new location on this stretch of Cedar without the city requiring any bicycle parking is beyond me.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      Cork Dork has bicycle parking right out front now! (Since maybe mid-summer?)

      I think there’s a couple of those upside down U style things out behind the Carbone’s patio, but I’ not certain and it’s poorly located.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        The Carbone’s owners own the whole building. They have about 10 lockable spaces in the rocky area by Cedar, which is heavily used. I’ve taken a picture of 9 bikes on that one rack system.

        1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

          Sorry, spoke out of turn, shoulda done my homework. They OPENED without bike racks – I’m surprised the city didn’t require them to begin with. Must be lack of a pedestrian overlay or because the building was renovated not new construction. Glad the owners recognized the market for bicycle parking!

  5. Matt Brillhart

    Prohibiting vehicles from exiting via the driveway onto Cedar Avenue would seem to be a solution to the interior traffic flow problem. Inbound cars could turn into the parking lot / drive-thru without competition from exiting vehicles…there’s no way cars will use that driveway as shown above (essentially driving on the left).

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      True. That leads to a second concern, however. It’s virtually impossible for 50% of the day to turn left onto Cedar in either direction at 47th St or any of the other uncontrolled intersections created by driveways here (speeding traffic southbound on the hill, and a non-stop stream of traffic in both directions). So, traffic exiting this parcel are bound to use 47th St to Bloomington Ave or 18th Ave to 46th St to continue north or westbound to their final destinations by way of left turns at controlled intersections.

      Also, I think it’s funny that we’re ripping on the obvious problems with this site plan. Because according to city staff, this plan was actually the REVISION! There was a plan that was worse than this. Amazing, eh?

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