What About Traffic and Parking

I think we can all mainly agree that the things that, correctly, cause us the most concern in the world are traffic and parking. Sure, there are other things that are minor issues (little things like war and human suffering), but none really give rise to the same level of existential dread as having to wonder whether your trip in a car will be slightly delayed or whether you may have to look somewhere other than immediately in front of your destination to park. Or worse, you could have to pay!

It is the acute and life-altering nature of these concerns that leads them to be the first response even the smallest of possible changes. Someone wants to build on an empty lot? Those with foresight immediately shout, “what about traffic and parking!”

With that sarcastic mini-rant out of the way, someone wants to build apartments over a grocery store down in our neck of South Minneapolis, on the 4700 block of Cedar Avenue. Neighbors have concerns. Can you guess what they might be?

Before we talk about what the proposal is, let’s first check out the current state of things:


Aerial shot of the 4700 block of Cedar Ave S., via Google Maps

Cedar Avenue is in the middle. The project site is proposed for the center of the block to the east on the right side of the image. What’s there right now? Mostly impervious, paved surface parking, but also a single story grocery store built in 1955. (The creamery and coffee to the south and the restaurant to the north are staying as is.)

Here’s what’s proposed to replace it:

Department Of Community Planning And Economic Development

Image from ESG Architects via the city (possibly mangled by me trying to get it in a usable format).

A new grocery store (the one that’s there will be closing) with 130 apartments over it. You can’t directly see it in the image, but behind where it says “Grocery” and on the level above the store is one indoor parking spot for each unit. The bit of the building on the left has enclosed and covered parking on the ground floor for the businesses .

So, about traffic. Cedar is pretty bad. Specifically on this block, traffic is also too fast, especially southbound, where drivers accelerate downhill from 46th street onto a roadway that is too wide and offers next to no side friction. We live quite near it and I hate it and mostly avoid it (unless I’m complaining about the pedestrian conditions over there) if I can.

It also has too many cars (thanks, freeway style connection to the south!).  Per 2016 Hennepin County traffic counts, Cedar had annual average daily traffic of 14,200 cars just a bit to the north at 43rd and 17,300 on the south side of Lake Nokomis. 35W construction has likely upped those numbers as people use our neighborhood street as an alternate route.

So, what will this project add to the traffic count? If I heard the traffic engineer correctly at a community meeting: 75 more cars. I’d wager that if the 35W construction ever ends, it will remove more cars from Cedar than that.

What sort of witchcraft is this then? How could new neighbors not lead to loads of new traffic? Well, I’m not traffic engineer and I don’t actually have much of a clue as to how traffic studies are done, but the somewhat obvious answer is that we’re talking about 130 households who will live above a grocery store, across a parking lot from a liquor store and a pizza restaurant, next door to a creamery and a coffee shop, across the street from another coffee shop, a popcorn shop, a boutique, and (still coming soon I think) dentist, a fancy Italian restaurant, a tailor, and a gas station. In short, there’s a whole lot that people who live there will be able to get without even leaving their block. That’s how you alleviate traffic. You let people live where they don’t need to drive for things.

How about parking? Let me start with an unpopular opinion: there’s way too much parking there right now. I’d wager that the available parking in the area is literally never full. Without even contemplating the evil of parking in front of someone’s house, there’s parking on the street on both sides of Cedar, which gets only sporadic use (more cars parked on Cedar would be a great help in slowing traffic). There’s parking available on both sides of Longfellow, which almost never gets any use. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a car parked on the south side of 47th Street (although Google Streetview caught some). If parking was currently an issue, the surrounding street parking would be getting a lot more use than it currently does.

It doesn’t, because, again, the block is mostly surface parking and much of it goes unused. Sure, it gets close to full on weekend evenings when the pizza place is busy, but let me use an anecdote to demonstrate what “close” means: we’ve driven there from our house 2.5 blocks away in three vehicles (six adults and two toddlers). Early evening on a Friday.

If parking was an issue, we’d have walked or consolidated vehicles. We didn’t have to. There’s way more parking than needed for the businesses and there will be plenty when this project is done too.

Oh, some neighbors are also complaining about the height of the project too. It’s 72 feet to the top of the elevator shaft, which is definitely taller than the stuff that’s immediately nearby. We will likely be able to see it from our backyard, especially in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees (we can see the Speedway sign then too).

Maybe I’m just deficient or something, because I do not get where people get their height-judging powers. I do not know what “too tall” means, unless it means that it’s blocking views, shading neighbors or, maybe, dwarfing something significant nearby. This site bounded on one side by literal open space (golf course/park/park works yard) to the east. Nothing to shade or dwarf there. It’s bounded to the north south and west by other commercial properties and their respective parking lots. Nothing to worry about there either. No one’s yard or garden will be shaded. No one’s solar panels will have their light blocked. There’s simply no reason to worry about height here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly mention climate change. We, as a society, need to drive a lot less. (Frankly, for safety and space efficiency reasons in addition to climate change too). We can’t do that if we continue with our existing patterns of land use. We need to let people live closer to stuff, so they can shop closer to home and get to work without having to drive. We need developments like this.

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.

37 thoughts on “What About Traffic and Parking

  1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Looks like a great project! Traffic and parking are issues that are never “solved”, where attempts to solve those problems only make them worse in an urban environment. Far better to change the conversation and focus on other things

  2. Monte Castleman

    If I’m understanding the concern is the reduction on the surface parking lot and spillover onto the neighborhood streets, not the overall parking capacity of the area?

    I don’t know if my thoughts justify a full article here, but there was a discussion on the forums about how people hate ramp parking, even free ramp parking, to the point they allegedly won’t go to the West End shops. Going to the Twins game or your job downtown is one thing, so they have to suck it up and deal with ramp parking, but if you’re driving to Chipotle, you’re going to choose one where you can park in front or just behind it,

    1) Since structured parking is so expensive, spaces and aisles are narrower and maneuvering is more tedious. With the shift towards more larger- ie more comfortable and capable vehicles the problem is compounded and having a roof makes everything more claustrophobic.

    2) It’s pretty simple to park in a parking lot in front of a grocery store, but a ramp you have this notion that you have to pay for it even in situations when you don’t. The signs mainly say “Public Parking” not “Free Public Parking” and even if they do the visual clue of the parking structure is greater than the sign. You might even think something like Free (*with validated receipt) or wonder if it’s valet, which would require a tip, or something.

    I don’t want to get into a conversation at this time about whether parking should be “free” or not, but I’ll leave it that it’s an enormous disadvantage to a business if they charge for parking and the store selling the same stuff a block or a mile away does not.

    3) There’s a fear (justified or not) of crime in parking ramps. Yes, one person may see all the emergency buttons and cameras, but another person might wonder if they’re actually hooked up and a third person might think the place has to be so dangerous to justify all those.

    Yes, ramp parking is covered, but it’s not fun to drive in the rain or snow in the first place.

    Of course then there’s people that can’t parallel park either, I somehow managed to pass my drivers test without hitting anything, and haven’t parallel parked in the 20 years since. T Newer lifestyle centers seem to have a trend of moving towards diagonal parking rather than parallel. Maybe some of these people that hate ramps and can’t parallel park are worried they won’t be able to find a spot in the surface lot? You could tell them to drive somewhere else instead of course, and the increase in driving might be worth the benefits of a smaller surface lot here.

      1. Monte Castleman

        So maybe we should we require a therapist’s signature before obtaining a driver’s license?

        In many cases structured parking is desirable hypothetically. But the reality is a lot of people, especially in this area, are adverse to it. What do you tell a struggling business owner that hypothetically s/he should have more customers because hypothetically customers should be willing to use a ramp.

        1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

          Honestly, I don’t think we have any businesses that are struggling because of a lack of parking.

          I do think we have businesses that struggle because of too much parking and not enough people, though.

        2. Frank Phelan

          “But the reality is a lot of people, especially in this area, are adverse to it.”

          As the self-appointed (and somewhat annoying) streets.mn grammarian, I believe a lot of people are averse (an attitude or feeling of being opposed or strongly disinclined) to ramp parking; as opposed to adverse (actively opposing or antagonistic to.)

          These two adjectives are oft confused.

          1. Frank Phelan

            Be assured I am neither averse nor adverse to Mr. Castleman’s continued contributions.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford-Oleary

      FWIW — I think the diagonal parking is mostly about volume (you can fit more cars in front of each business). It makes it like a mini-surface lot rather than just a tiny handful of spots.

      I think it’s nice for a short-term option, since it still allows a high-quality sidewalk experience and frontage, and hopefully helps retailers get over the anxiety of not having surface lots.

      But I agree with Bill: structured parking is just inherently better (less bad anyway) for society. We should be actively discouraging surface parking, and actively encouraging businesses, customers, and residential developers to prioritize structured.

      Here’s my quick list of what’s wrong with surface parking

      Discourages all modes other than driving by making it longer and more unpleasant to get to the front door
      Runoff/impervious surface
      Urban heat island
      Low tax value
      Aesthetics, especially with age — if asphalt isn’t seal-coated etc it becomes even more of an eyesore
      Takes land from more valuable uses
      Larger lots encourage reckless driving behaviors
      Encourages driving from store to store in areas perfectly walkable to each other — both because it made them farther apart and because you feel like you can’t leave your car in one retailer’s lot when you go to another

      These flaws (and I’m sure there are many others) are good reasons for us to discourage these lots.

  3. Andrew Evans

    Wouldn’t say dread, but like other transit users people usually like to know and plan around how long it’s going to take to get somewhere. Some, are better at this than others, or have more flexibility than others.

    I don’t mind walking at all, and I’d assume a lot of people are similar. However, it’s not about mostly able bodied people. I’ve had to walk with a cane a few times (foot and knee issues) and parking was a bigger deal. Put a bike lane in front of a business or apartment, that’s in a middle of a long block, and someone could really have some access issues.

    Paying is a two way street, and more of a tax for whatever activity the person is parking for. A nice dinner or event downtown and it’s not a huge deal to pay ramp rates or a meter. Change that to a “how about we go to Brits or Hells Kitchen for brunch” and that extra annoyance of $3-$6 may be the tipping point and someone may go elsewhere.

    Limit parking too much at an apartment complex and a person living there may have a harder time having out of town visitors over, or, the businesses there wouldn’t be able to pull in more customers than who live around the neighborhood.

    Why didn’t you walk 2.5 blocks rather than drive in 3 vehicles? In the last paragraph you said climate change is real and we need to adjust habits, wouldn’t walking have been a great start?

    1. Monte Castleman

      Assuming you’re talking about the three people that don’t like ramp parking for different reasons- maybe the should park in the neighborhood streets a few blocks away (especially if the grocery store has a pickup so they’re not limited to the groceries they can carry away with their hands). But maybe they won’t. Although this was more about the author’s opinion that Cedar Ave has too much traffic already. If a non-zero amount of people decide they’re going to drive on to Kowlaski’s or Target instead of using a ramp or walking a few blocks if and when the surface lot fills up that’s going to increase traffic on Cedar.

      I have no personal opinion on what should be done here. I don’t live in or shop in the neighborhood and as I rarely visit or even drive down Cedar and I don’t have any even anecdotal data of parking utilization. I’m just trying to point out some of the thought processes that might be involved.

  4. Scott

    Nice post. My understanding is that most people attending the community meeting were supportive of the project and even excited about the idea of a Lunds & Byerlys coming to the site.

    Please Hennepin County and Minneapolis do something to calm Cedar Avenue because it is not great for anyone- walkers, bikers, and motorists. Couldn’t those traffic counts justify a 4 to 3 lane conversion? Also, why isn’t there regular bus service on Cedar south of E. 35th St.?

    1. Davis Parker

      Cedar Ave is not a 4-lane road in this section. It only becomes 4 lanes after the south end of Lake Nokomis as it becomes a highway. It is just two lanes each way, with some additional turning lanes at intersections (i.e. not even a consistent 3rd lane in the middle for turning), but the lane widths are very large at the 4700 block so that sometimes people treat it like a 4-lane road and pass other vehicles through space that is technically parking.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

        This block is super wide, though. Even with cars parked on the side, the travel lanes are wider than normal. Right at the parkway, there are three southbound lanes (right turn, through lane and left turn) and 1+ northbound.

      2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Also effectively four-lane from the Minnehaha triangle to Lake St (off-peak parking allowed but seems to be rare). 4-lane during peak hour from Lake to 38th, too, but enough parked cars there that it feels less like it.

        I agree a three-lane section there would be preferable.

  5. Jack

    That looks like a wonderful project. I can’t believe there is backlash to it. Thanks for the story.

  6. Paul Nelson

    Interesting road, Cedar. There should be protected space for bike lanes and for walking, separating walk from bike, the entire length of Cedar Avenue. Is it doable from an engineering viewpoint to build protected bike lanes on Cedar the entire length of the road?

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Anything is possible, but it has not been a priority so far. Meaningful protected bike lanes would have to mean parking removal, and likely also removal of the rush hour four-lane setup north of 38th.

      Currently, I believe neither Minneapolis nor Hennepin County identify this as future bikeway.

      For the near-term, I’d be happy with just completing a connection from the Nokomis-MN River Trail (which runs along Old Cedar until the south end of Lake Nokomis) up to Minnehaha Creek, or 46th. A bit debatable if a MUP is a “protected bikeway” or not, but with limited street crossings, a wide-enough MUP can serve the function well.

      1. Monte Castleman

        I’d call a MUP more protected than a lot of other “protected” bicycle infrastructure. How are those plastic flim-flam sticks going to stop a driver from veering into the bicycle lane if they’re drunk or texting or just blow a tire? How is it going to stop a bicyclist from tipping over into a traffic lane if they hit gravel or a rock or are just not skilled?

        I tried the Washington Ave cycletracks, and while the curb is superior, it’s still the issue of being uncomfortably close to cars. The 66th cycletracks I liked a lot better with a buffer of grass and even trees.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford-Oleary

          I guess it just depends on what you’re protecting against. My beef with MUPs is that there is often little attention to intersections or driveways, so they are essentially treated as wide sidewalks. Since most crashes occur at intersections, you’re not experiencing any real protection against the most likely crashes — and depending on the design, may be more likely than in a traditional lane.

          A secondary issue is lack of predictability with pedestrians. On 66th, the separation certainly isn’t absolute, but there are some general parameters for who should be where. This is less of an issue in areas with fewer peds, of course, and also less of an issue now that much-wider MUPs are getting more popular — 8′ uncommon, and I see up to 12-14′ in greenfield exurban situations. Those are great.

          Older MUPs, like the kind that proliferated in the outer suburbs in the 80s and 90s, have horrible curb ramps, that artificially narrow the trail and make a ride very uncomfortable. That has also improved a lot, although it’s rare to see trail remain level through intersections (which would be even better).

    2. Monte Castleman

      Assuming moving the curb lines and talking out half the boulevard trees is going to be a nonstarter, and assuming by “protected” you mean those plastic flim-flam sticks, you can pick any two or three things:

      1) On-Street Parking
      2) Adequate Capacity for through traffic (two through lanes in the peak direction or a through lane plus a turn lane)
      3) Bicycle lanes / shoulders / the increased safety of a three lane section.

      Right now we’ve picked options one and two to provide. It’s possible to pick a different two options.

    3. Rosa

      they COULD just make 17th avenue actually useful to cyclists, since it’s already a “bike boulevard”, by putting stop signs or lights on the busier cross streets (26th, 28th, 35th, 36th, 42nd). It’s parallel to Cedar 2 blocks away.

    4. Paul Nelson

      Thank you all for your replies below. I was looking regionally at Cedar as a main road with an alignment that traversed from within Minneapolis all the way directly south to Northfield, MN. Historically, I think the connection was once continuous and not interrupted or broken. I looked at Google maps to refresh my memory, and indeed the name Cedar is still designated for a small part of the road leading in to Northfield near St Olaf College. If we worked to redesign Cedar first for walk and bike the entire length to Northfiled, I think this would be very well used and a very interesting road. I do not know if there is continues adequate clearance in the right-of-way the entire length of Cedar. The MUP standard by itself would not be adequate as twelve feet is not wide enough to separate walk from bike. The width of x2 MUP’s would be adequate. Protected space for walk and bike on many of our roads would be, in my view, a great benefit. Concrete median protection would be a worthwhile minimum.

  7. Mark

    You drove 3 cars 2.5 blocks yet you are completely aware there is a climate crisis? So basically do as I say, not as I do…..

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      90% or so of my trips there (and transportation overall) is non-car (mostly bike and walking), but if you’ve got two toddlers to haul there are exceptions.

  8. Rosa

    oh haha like those people are going to be able to cross Cedar to go to that fancy restaurant. They’ll have to just subsist on ice cream and pizza or hike to Lucy’s or something.

    Seriously though this is a great project, I’m so excited for it.

  9. Rosa

    PS there already is a dentist on the 4100 block of Cedar, Dr Grace Warren, she’s great.

  10. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I live a couple blocks away from this project and I am thrilled this is coming to my neighborhood.

    1. Rosa

      we went to Italian Eatery last night because of this article. They have bike racks out front! Also the food is really good, maybe the new apartments will have a skyway so they can actually get to the other side of Cedar safely.

      Also, if people are concerned about parking and traffic how did 2 coffee shops with drive throughs get approved for that same block? Don’t the drive through entrances mess with traffic?

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

        I was really dreading the Starbucks, but city staff made them redesign it with the entrance off 47th and it seems to be mostly okay. Waiting cars are in the parking lot. Left turns out should be prohibited, but I don’t think they happen all that much. More cars parked on the street actually help a bit for traffic calming too.

        1. Rosa

          That’s good to hear.

          I assume the awfulness of trying to turn left on Cedar or cross it is why there’s enough market for one coffee place on each side of the street. I know at the Holiday station more towards us drivers often just kind of lurch out into traffic, blocking the southbound lane until someone lets them into the northbound. I guess it’s the bravery of having airbags.

          1. Monte Castleman

            1) Yes, it’s a lot easier to do a right in right out than trying to cross Cedar twice. I know some people prefer one coffee shop vs another but a Caribou latte vs a Starbuck latte is probably closer for most people than a Whopper or a Big Mac. I know if there were two on opposite sides of the street I’d go to the one on the right.

            2) There’s people that are loyal to one vs another that they won’t stop at the other even if that’s the only one available.

            3) The market for drive-thru coffee is so new and thus undeserved that locations can easily support two drive-thru coffee shops across the street from each other.

  11. Frank Phelan

    I find it interesting that here on streets.mn, ramps are sometimes vilified, and sometimes seen as a positive.

    I wonder what the carbon foot print is for the typical $50K ramp parking space.

      1. Frank Phelan

        I suppose you always get some economy of scale, but forming and pouring concrete is pretty standard. As long as there are no particulars like problems with footings or the water and such, I’d be willing to bet that ramp costs are pretty consistent.

  12. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    I’ve seen a few comments asking for bicycle facilities on this block of Cedar. While that’s not probably going to happen on this block for various reasons, I want to point out another plan that will help:

    The Park Board plans a bike / multi-use-path on the east side of Longfellow Ave from 43rd St to Minnehaha Parkway as part of a perimeter bike loop around Hiawatha Lake and golf course. This was codified in the Nokomis-Hiawatha Regional Park Master Plan in 2015 and is being further planned as part of the Hiawatha GC Master Plan underway now: https://www.minneapolisparks.org/park_care__improvements/park_projects/current_projects/hiawatha_golf_course_property_master_plan/

    Please write an email to Tyler Pederson, project planner on the MPRB site, and comment that this north-south bikeway is a critical link for people bicycling to/from destinations along Cedar Avenue including this development site.

    Then also mention how it compliments the larger bicycle network in this part of Minneapolis, with these specific points:
    – The trail needs to stay close to Longfellow its entire length to Minnehaha Parkway.
    – The trail should have a safe and pleasant crossing of Minnehaha Parkway at Longfellow Ave (such as a median refuge island).
    – The eastern sidewalk of Cedar Avenue should be converted to a bikeway / multi-use path from Minnehaha Parkway to Nokomis Parkway/52nd St to extend this north-south route.
    – As previously planned in the Nokomis-Hiawatha master plan, the eastern side of the Cedar Avenue bridge should be developed as a bikeway with strong connections to the northern and southern intersections of Nokomis Parkway.
    – These existing and planned trail segments would then essentially create a single bikeway along or near Cedar Avenue from 43rd St to Richfield with only three major street intersections.
    – The Park Board should work with other units of government to ensure this corridor is added to the City and County Bicycle Master Plans.

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