Minneapolis is a great city. We have a thriving food scene, some of the best biking trails in the country and a park system envied by all. However, we do not have a bustling Pedestrian Mall.
On trips to New Orleans, Louisiana, and Boulder, Colorado, I’ve been impressed by their Pedestrian Malls: Bourbon Street and Pearl Street, respectively. These malls are filled with bars, restaurants, small businesses and people from across the country and the world. Both are often among the biggest tourist attractions in a city and are beloved by locals. Other cities of comparable size to Minneapolis like Madison (State Street), Austin (6th Street), and Seattle (Pioneer Square) have vibrant nightlife scenes along their Pedestrian Malls. Recent outings to Art-A-Whirl, where many streets are closed for the weekend, and Open Streets Lyndale, where Lyndale Avenue South is closed for a few hours on a Saturday, have shown the viability of this idea for Minneapolis. Other streets around Minneapolis like Nicolet Avenue, Minnehaha Avenue, East Lake Street and West Broadway Avenue participate in Open Streets Minneapolis as well. These events draw tens of thousands of people to their respective areas of the city and showcase the best their neighborhoods have to offer. It’s clear Minneapolis residents love these events and are hungry to attend when the opportunity presents itself. Imagine the vibrancy and excitement if there was an area where cars were permanently excluded.
Readers might be quick to point out that Minneapolis technically already has a Pedestrian Mall, Nicollet Mall in downtown. However, there are a couple of key problems with Nicollet Mall. First, the street still allows bus traffic. I am a huge supporter and advocate for public transit but allowing vehicles of any kind on a Pedestrian Mall defeats the purpose. Next are the skyways. Others have already pointed out how skyways move traffic from street level to the skyway level, decreasing street level pedestrian traffic. With the abundance of skyways in downtown, it’s difficult to encourage people to use a Pedestrian Mall, no matter how nice it is.
Other areas of the city that already have a vibrant nightlife and people-centered businesses would be a better fit for a Pedestrian Mall. Year after year I see Art-A-Whirl as a great success that highlights a vibrant and unique area of Minneapolis. I would propose the NE Arts District as an area for a new Pedestrian Mall. More specifically, Quincy Street NE from Broadway Street NE to NE 15th Avenue. This stretch of Quincy already has two thriving breweries, a popular restaurant, new event space, galleries and several small businesses. This street, even with cars, is much more inviting than Nicollet Mall downtown. A street like this with already thriving businesses and nightlife would likely find immediate success as a Pedestrian Mall.
Minneapolis has a lot going for it. It seems new restaurants and cafes are popping up every weekend. For Minneapolis to compete against cities of similar size it’s time to develop a vibrant and bustling Pedestrian Mall that showcases the best Minneapolis has to offer.