A Tree Proposal Kenilworth Should Love

Hey, do you remember a couple of years ago when that budget-Pixar animation company made a feature-length adaptation of The Lorax? Only it watered down the message of one of Dr. Seuss’ most depressing and dire tales about the inevitable result of unadulterated greed into “You can still consume things, but make sure they’re #green!” The one that came complete with product tie-ins for IHOP and a “Truffula Tree friendly” Mazda CX-5?

Mazda Cx 5 Lorax.jpg.653x0 Q80 Crop Smart

(Photo: Universal Promotional Material for The Lorax)

Because that’s what I immediately think of when I hear of the latest angle that the Kenilworth crowd is trying in order to stop the Southwest Light Rail. A Hail Mary appeal to “think of the trees” and postpone preliminary construction in case the federal funding doesn’t arrive. Lip service to an environmental cause to benefit themselves.

But wait! I’m not just going to drop an opinion and leave, I’m actually here to offer a solution. You see, I can’t make the assumption that the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association is acting in bad faith. Kenilworth is a neat example of taking an area that was once a rail yard and turning it into an urban oasis. The fact that we’re running the SWLRT through it is a decision that, while we’re stuck with it now, could have gone a different way if FTA transit requirements for funding had counted existing transit riders when considering projects for funding. So losing 1300 trees and a quiet respite in our city is something we shouldn’t take lightly.

Having said that, if we are going to take our commitments to stop climate change seriously, we need to expand our light rail system as soon as possible. Better and faster transit to our suburbs is especially important, given they developed in a post-streetcar reality, and the sort of dense transit-oriented developments we want to see in the future require a high-quality transit system in order to work. Stopping Southwest Light Rail over Kenilworth at this point is literally missing the forest for the trees.

So, here’s my solution – let’s close the Cedar Lake Parkway to vehicle traffic.

Here’s what we’re working with:

Cedar Lake Parkway Today (2)

Current corridor usage on a wide section of Cedar Lake Parkway

And here’s what could (dare I say, should) be.

Cedar Lake Parkway Tomorrow

Proposed corridor usage on a wide section of Cedar Lake Parkway

I mean, it’s staring us right in the face. If we reclaim that roadway space, we’d have more than enough room to plant replacements for 1300 trees. Probably far more, even. It would turn that section of the Grand Rounds into a tranquil forest trail along Cedar Lake, especially once all those Land Rovers and Beamers aren’t able to use it as a substitute for the freeway anymore. It would be an incredible reclamation of natural space in our city, all for the cost of ripping up one road.

As far as I can tell, the road is entirely superfluous to the neighborhood. Traffic can be rerouted down Cedar Lake Road to France via Ewing. Given the size of Ewing and France, and that their exit onto Minnetonka is far more suitable for the traffic than Dean Parkway, it almost seems like this was the plan all along, and that drivers never should have been using Cedar Lake Parkway as a bypass in the first place. Of course, this route would be all but useless to Kenilworth residents, since they’d have to venture almost to St. Louis Park and backtrack through a busy part of Lake Street in order to use the Grand Rounds system as a traffic cheat code. But without traffic lanes, the trail should revert to a quieter area in general, adding to the atmosphere of the reforested North Cedar Lake Trail, which I’m sure they’d agree is way more beneficial to their community.

From my Google Maps surveying of the area, most of the homes that connect to Cedar Lake Road only do so as a secondary approach, either as a walkout to the lake or alternate driveway. In other words, a majority of those who have homes adjacent to the parkway wouldn’t be negatively affected. And if I missed a few… well, Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association is willing to sacrifice the benefits Southwest Light Rail would bring to thousands of area residents, so I’m comfortable sacrificing the convenience of a handful of this area’s residents in order to make this a reality. If Kenilworth’s residents love trees and quiet spaces as much as I think they might, they would also agree this is a noble tradeoff.

In conclusion, I think we can have our cake and eat it too. In order to replace the loss of the sanctity of the Kenilworth wooded area and the trees that called the corridor home, let’s close Cedar Lake Parkway to vehicle traffic, rip up the road, and start planting trees for a future natural respite from our city. Without the automobile traffic spoiling the corridor in order to save a few minutes on their commute, I think we could set the stage for a wonderful new Minneapolis amenity in the next few decades, and provide a way for Kenilworth to productively promote rewilding in their area without it coming at the cost of regional transit improvements.

And if this article appears like a Swiftian modest proposal, let me assure you that I fully believe what I’m writing here. It would be an unironic net win for Minneapolis if this proposal became a reality. So I look forward to hearing from the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association about my idea, and how they plan to use their influence in order to help make it a reality.

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31 Responses to A Tree Proposal Kenilworth Should Love

  1. Kasia McMahon
    Kasia April 30, 2019 at 11:01 am #

    I like this idea Matt! I think a lot of streets in Minneapolis should be converted to bike/ped only. But I also want to push back on some of the assumptions you are making about both the Kenilworth neighborhood and the SWLRT project. Disclaimer, I was a volunteer working with LRT Done Right which was the neighborhood advocacy grouped that formed to oppose the current alignment of SWLRT through Kenilworth. None of the people I worked with in that neighborhood were disingenuous about environment protections–in fact most, if not all were pretty radically supportive of environmental protections, and very pro-transit. They are people that have chosen to live in Minneapolis rather than the suburbs, and are fighting to preserve the assets that distinguish our city from any other city on earth–our award winning system of parks and trails. One thing I notices was almost all of the members in LRT Done Right were transplants to Minneapolis from other cities (including myself). I think that says a lot. Most of the locals don’t understand how unique this city is and are too easily willing to throw away an asset in exchange for giving suburban riders a smooth ride into downtown. My second issue with your article is that you assume that SWLRT is good for the environment. Do you have any data to support that assumption? According to the Met Council’s own documentation, green house gas emissions will be greater (due to the construction) in 2040 than if the line was not built. This will not be offset by the projected 6500 cars that the line anticipates will be removed from the road (which is a pretty generous number to assume). For over $2 billion dollars in upfront costs and high annual operating costs after that, I think we can do a lot more to prevent climate change than breaking even on green house gas emissions. The line was designed and supported as a pork barrel project for construction firms and developers. Construction firms and developers hitched a ride on the backs of a few dew eyed urban planners that think they are building Utopia, making the city and state look like fools. The lobbyists smartly even used the “equity” movement as a tank to plow through the opposition when the line itself doesn’t even go through any dense or low income neighborhoods and may not even include stops outside of downtown. It’s a major boondoggle and it’s costing our city one of the finest neighborhoods–not just in Minneapolis, but in the world.

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson April 30, 2019 at 11:13 am #

      Rather than a LRT tunnel through Kenilworth the neighborhood had the option of elevating the trail above the rail (like High Line) but they opted to play a game of policy chicken to raise costs, destroy trees, and increase construction time.
      The Park Board followed neighborhood request to demand the tunnel.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke April 30, 2019 at 11:20 am #

      Most urban planners I know are dew eyed on SWLRT only because they cry about the fact it does not go through uptown.

      • Wilj May 1, 2019 at 5:15 am #

        Well, the whole tunneling debate really cast a bright light on just how poorly the path-dependent process has worked out for the citizens of the Twin Cities.

        Think about it – why would we tunnel a train under a parkway instead of tunneling it under the densest corridor in the city (Nicollet), if the whole reason for not tunneling to begin with (this was the reason the “Uptown” alignment was scrapped) was that it was cost-prohibitive? Not to mention that the average Joe can see that the existing shared LRT lines downtown along 5th St. also should be tunneled on multiple tracks as future increased frequency is already bottlenecked, and there’s already plenty of surface traffic..

        Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that the Average Joe and Joeanne Sixpack has quite put all of this together, but the lingering suspicion of a lack of coherent planning consistency that they can’t quite put their fingers on is quite spot-on.. And the fact that we got some boondoggle that no one actually wants definitely hasn’t escaped their notice..

        I would honestly be pleased if Trump killed it and sent the whole thing back to the drawing board. Then at least it wouldn’t be anyone’s fault (that silly unpredictable president), and we could all sit back down at the table and start over. As a Minneapolis resident I feel like the project is a total screw-job on every front, and as a MN tax-payer I definitely do not feel like we’re getting our money’s worth.

        • Adam Miller
          Adam Miller May 1, 2019 at 10:08 am #

          It should be going through Uptown but we should probably avoid suggesting that the amount or cost of tunneling between the two is anywhere near the same.

          Starting over sounds like a terrible idea, especially as I’m not confident we’d get a better result.

    • Xandra Coe May 9, 2019 at 10:07 am #

      Thank you for this articulate and accurate response.

  2. Jonathan Foster April 30, 2019 at 11:02 am #

    This would be great. It is true that every home west of Burnham road has access from another street. There is no parking along Cedar Lake Parkway, anyway, so that wouldn’t matter. While it would be great to fill in the few parking lots along Cedar Lake Parkway with trees, if we didn’t, they could still be accessed by existing streets, or in the case of the parking lots on 25th street, letting the road continue through the median to the parking lot.

  3. Jonathan Foster April 30, 2019 at 11:06 am #

    Kasia, do you have any data to support the following ” The line was designed and supported as a pork barrel project for construction firms and developers. Construction firms and developers hitched a ride on the backs of a few dew eyed urban planners that think they are building Utopia, making the city and state look like fools. The lobbyists smartly even used the “equity” movement as a tank to plow through the opposition when the line itself doesn’t even go through any dense or low income neighborhoods and may not even include stops outside of downtown. It’s a major boondoggle and it’s costing our city one of the finest neighborhoods–not just in Minneapolis, but in the world.”

  4. Eric Anondson
    Eric Anondson April 30, 2019 at 11:07 am #

    Fascinating thing is how much of Cedar Lake Parkway is parallel to a separated residential street. Then there are homes with alley access. Those homes would get reduced first responder access with only alley access.

    At least as much as between Cedar Lake Ave to 22nd is redundant.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller April 30, 2019 at 11:58 am #

      Just looking at Google maps/images, I’m seeing two houses between 22nd and 21st that would be reduced to alley only access. Perhaps a woonerf along that stretch?

      Farther north there are a number of houses that already seem to be unapproachable from the Parkway, in that there’s overgrowth on the hill and no obviously way up it (occasionally some stairs the don’t look like the primary approach to the house) and then the house on the corner of the Park Way Cedar Lake Road, which could maybe realign its driveway.

      • Jonathan Foster April 30, 2019 at 12:08 pm #

        I think those two houses still have access off Cedar Lake Boulevard (wow there are lots of redundant streets over there).

        • Steve May 3, 2019 at 1:52 am #

          C.L.Boulevard is the next block south of 22nd. Simple suggestion: shut off the map, get on your bicycle, and check it out in person.

  5. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke April 30, 2019 at 11:07 am #

    Oh my. That Lorax car commercial…

  6. Jonathan Foster April 30, 2019 at 11:17 am #

    Eric, unless I am missing something, which is entirely possible, there is only one home, just before the bridge over the railroad tracks where Cedar Lake Road and Cedar Lake Parkway join, that would lose access to their drive way, and I think it would be pretty easy to maintain access for them. Everyone else who doesn’t have street access only has alley access right now, so they wouldn’t lose anything. Most of the houses are up a steep hill, and first responders wouldn’t park on Cedar Lake Parkway anyway. Also, first responders could always drive on the bike or walking path if they needed to for some reason.

    • Steve May 3, 2019 at 1:55 am #

      There are a few between 21st Street and 24th street that would be left with only alley access. Alleys are the last thing to be plowed.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller May 3, 2019 at 10:28 am #

        Looking at the Google images, it looks like there is exactly one (right at the corner with Cedar Lake road) that uses uses Cedar Lake Parkway as their primary entrance, two that could (i.e., there’s parking there) but it’s well uphill so maybe don’t, and that’s it.

        Every other house either does not have parking on the Parkway in front of it and/or doesn’t even have a path/steps up the hill to their house, which likely means they’re already relying on the alley.

  7. Monte Castleman April 30, 2019 at 11:34 am #

    Auto touring (whether in an Land Rover or a Toyota Corolla or a ’57 Chevy) is a legitimate ways to enjoy our natural spaces, we have 22 scenic byways in the state of which the Grand Rounds are the only one really close for the people of the Twin Cities. We haven’t even completed it yet through the northeast and we’re already talking about denying access to parts of it for people in cars? There’s already a perfectly good bicycle trail there (that I use all the time). If you start chopping it up it into isolated sections it loses it’s cohesiveness.

    It’s even less convincing considering the tree removal is just a red herring for people that don’t want to be offended at the possibility of seeing a train in a railroad corridor?

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson April 30, 2019 at 11:36 am #

      Would it even be an easy thing to permanently close a national scenic road? There may be process steps to high to close the stretch.

    • Andrew Evans April 30, 2019 at 1:26 pm #

      Agree Monte,

      Then you’re loosing some of the appeal of the area, as well as closing the enjoyment and access off to those in the neighborhood. Right now, anyone can come in from outstate, or other parts of the city, drive around and enjoy the lakes, or even park off the parkway and take a walk, get the bikes out, or launch a canoe or kayak. Take that away and less people will make the trek, and less will end up enjoying the lakes.

      Then too, it is a pretty way to drive from Uptown/South to North around rush-hour times, or at least used to be.

    • stevnim May 1, 2019 at 7:10 am #

      Just a side note. I think the Grand Rounds were planned roughly a couple decades before the Model T so they were thinking horses & buggys.

      • Monte Castleman May 1, 2019 at 8:48 am #

        Maybe I should have said “whether in a horse and buggy or a Toyota Corolla”. Or “carriages, whether horsed or horseless”.

    • Christa Moseng
      Christa Moseng May 3, 2019 at 7:00 am #

      “People in cars” is not a protected class, and there’s plenty of places for them to go. This comment is literally incredible.

      • Monte Castleman May 5, 2019 at 7:47 am #

        Imagine if we thought it was OK to permanently close down random sections of bicycle trails because there’s plenty of places for people on bicycles to go (an argument that’s actually being made be people trying to prevent the completion of the Minnesota River Valley State Trail through Bloomington. There’s a lot of trees around but there’s only one Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, and not many places for any kind of leisure motoring in the Twin Cities.

        • Christa Moseng
          Christa Moseng May 5, 2019 at 7:21 pm #

          “Leisure motoring” is a decadent concept from a bygone era that isn’t consistent with the core values of this website, and the idea that motorists have a dearth of places to go is laughable.

          In the universe where bicycle lane miles and automobiles facility miles are reversed, we can take seriously your false equivalence.

          • Bill Lindeke
            Bill Lindeke May 6, 2019 at 6:01 pm #

            I would be OK with taking entire streets and having a “leisure motoring only” policy, requiring everyone driving to be in a convertible and unable to exceed 20 mph.

        • Julie Kosbab May 6, 2019 at 4:30 pm #

          Imagine if ‘leisure motoring’ were a contributor to global warming in ways bicycles are not.

  8. Russell Booth April 30, 2019 at 12:29 pm #

    Then how would paddlers put in on Cedar Lake? The only time I ever drive a motor vehicle there, it’s to put my canoe in the water.

    • Jim Young April 30, 2019 at 3:53 pm #

      If the road was closed, there would still be lots of places to put your canoe in:
      1) Brownie Lake is close and connected via a tunnel
      2) I presume that the parking lot by the Second Point beach would continue to be accessible
      3) There are roads the parallel the current parkway (Cedar Lake Blvd., Cedar Shore Dr.) where you could park
      4) 22nd St. near the East Beach (Hidden Beach)
      One could probably assume that in the process of removing the roadway, some of the land near the South Beach (Main beach) would be repurposed into parking.

  9. Scott April 30, 2019 at 6:40 pm #

    Well, it is kind of sad that more than 1,000 trees need to b cut down for what is a pretty “meh” project. I desperately want better transit, but this route is pretty bad. It’s better than the Blue Line extension and Gold Line, though, and should be nice for suburban folks connecting to downtown and beyond.

  10. Steven May 3, 2019 at 2:05 am #

    Trees are not all equal. If I am walking through an urban desert on the east side of Cedar Lake, it is little consolation that there are lots of trees on the other side if the lake.

    As to the remark that neighbors will be alarmed at a train in a train corridor, the current freight train passes by once or twice a day. At rush hour, there will be a train every six minutes.

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