Since Minneapolis and St. Paul have closed some of its parkways to motor vehicles to assist with social distancing due to COVID-19, I have been enjoying the extra room it has been supplying to pedestrians and bicyclists. Even before the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) and the city of St. Paul implemented these measures, I thought that closing off these streets to motor vehicle traffic to allow for more space would improve our park system. However, I never imagined that these cities and MPRB would ever attempt that major of a change.
Since these closures have taken effect, it appears that there are a lot of people taking advantage of this extra space. On West River Parkway alone, walking and biking is 144% higher than the past few years. This huge increase is most likely due to residents getting outside for some exercise due to the stay at home order. However, this shows that the extra space allowed by street closures is being utilized.
If we look past this COVID-19 pandemic and make these parkway closures permanent, I can see numerous long term benefits. First, and most importantly, would be safety. If there are fewer motor vehicles on these parkway streets, it will reduce the number of accidents that occur. For a concrete example, we can look at the 2017 pedestrian crash study posted on the City of Minneapolis website. If we had the current closures that are currently in place, 12 of these crashes could have possibly been avoided.
Another important benefit would be to improve on over-crowdedness in general with these park spaces, which was an issue among respondents in the 2019 Minneapolis Parks survey. When asked “What do you like least about the park and opportunities for recreation within Minneapolis?”, 6% responded with “crowded”. While 6% is not a large number, this is the 3rd largest specific response since a majority of the respondents said “unsure” or “nothing”. It is worth mentioning that this survey is for the Minneapolis Park system overall, not specifically for parks that are affected by the temporary parkway closures. However, a majority of visitors of the Minneapolis Park system are to parks that are affected by these closures, so I would argue this complaint provided by the respondents are still valid.
I predict one of the biggest push-backs against making these closures permanent would be the removal of the on-street parking spots on these parkways. However, if that 2019 Minneapolis Parks survey is any indication, more people think crowded-ness (6%) is more of an issue than not enough parking (3%). In addition to that, more people walk as primary transportation to get to a park than drive (74% vs 58%). Also, a number of these parks have parking lots as well. For the ones that do not, such as Lake of the Isle, there is usually parking just off of the parkway streets. Because of these reasons, I feel like the removal of these on street parking spots on the parkways would not deter the majority of visitors.
Recently, Seattle announced that they are making some of their temporary street closures permanent. I believe we should follow in their footsteps to improve our park system even more. This would offer numerous long-term improvements such as safety, reducing crowded-ness of paths, and reducing noise pollution. This would be especially beneficial if Minneapolis and St. Paul agreed to keep streets on both sides of the Mississippi River closed or partially closed, creating an even more scenic route for people to enjoy. If you believe we should also follow in Seattle’s footsteps and make these closures permanent, I urge you to contact the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Mayor Frey’s office, and Mayor Carter‘s office.