Walking Lyndale: Photographing the Transformation of a Minneapolis Corridor

Editor’s note: Join Move Minnesota, alongside state and local co-hosts, at Painter Park for a Livable Lyndale Bike Rally & Ride on Wednesday, May 29 (tomorrow!) at 6 p.m.

Whenever I walk into the Wedge, I feel a small wave of nostalgia from my time living in Minneapolis back in 2002-2004. At that time, I was living in the 3000 block of South Emerson Avenue. I mostly got around by car back then but would get out on weekends to walk around the lakes and occasionally along Hennepin and Lyndale.

My memories from spending time in public spaces during that period have faded. I think if I had been walking with the same intent I have now, I would probably have a few more vivid memories of these locations. Even now, a few of the corners give me the feeling that I’ve been there before. I wish I better understood those vibes and how they correlate to memory-making. The nexus between location, time and photography is one of the themes I’m working on with my projects these days, so these topics are frequently on my mind.

The Loring Greenway makes its way through grassy patches and the concrete jungle of highway overpasses.
Entering the Wedge, Loring Greenway at the I-94 Interchange, May 25, 2024

Back then, I hadn’t started exploring photography, so I have almost no visual artifacts from that period in my life. It’s a strange feeling because from the time I left Minneapolis for Los Angeles until now, I have an archive of every year since 2006, and when I look at those photos, I can, in some ways, return to that specific year.

When I moved to Downtown Minneapolis last August, I was curious what I’d remember when I returned to the Wedge, but for the first few months, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was too busy focusing on Downtown and the greenspaces around the river and lakes.

That all changed this winter when I learned about the Move Minnesota Livable Lyndale initiative. Here’s a refresher from the campaign’s webpage for those new to the project:

“Lyndale Avenue South is a crucial corridor in South Minneapolis, where many people live, work, eat, and play. However, Lyndale is too often dangerous, unwelcoming, and inaccessible because the infrastructure for walking, rolling, busing, and biking is so inadequate. Speeding traffic, narrow sidewalks, and hectic crossings make it difficult to get around and discourage enjoying all the area has to offer.

Hennepin County is reconstructing Lyndale from Franklin Avenue to Lake Street in 2026 — a process where the entire road is rebuilt from scratch. This presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign this section of Lyndale in a way that better reflects the community’s priorities.”

Back in August on Streets.mn, Jeremy Winter covered the initiative in wonderful detail, providing a good editorial primer. You can also listen to an episode of the podcast Wedge Live featuring guest Julie Johnson, senior community organizer for Move Minnesota, and current Minnesota House Candidate for District 34 (and occasional Streets.mn contributor) Katie Jones. They provide excellent context around the initiative along with some details on the feedback process with local businesses.

The initiative sparked an immediate interest in me because it felt like a great opportunity to learn more about a community-driven effort to improve the transportation infrastructure for a major corridor.

Walking Lyndale Avenue

From a creative perspective, I was intrigued by the idea of working on a project that would document the transformation of a major commercial corridor in a city. Additionally, from a subject matter perspective, the Livable Lyndale initiative aligned with my overall objectives of documenting pedestrian infrastructure and green spaces.

Intersection with ghost bike memorial.
Ghost Bike Triangle, Ridgewood Avenue & Lyndale Avenue South, May 25, 2024

Numerous photographers have used one street as the basis for a documentary project over the years. It’s an intuitive formula that provides the conceptual bones to build on with different ideas and approaches.

For me, one of the main sources of inspiration for this project is Ed Ruscha’s “Every Building on the Sunset Strip from 1966. It’s a great example of a conceptual approach to photography that also acts as an important historical document for a city. Over the years, I’ve encountered several other projects focused on specific public spaces where photographers would go back repeatedly to document the changes.

This practice even has a name: diachronic photography. Consumers of urbanism content have certainly seen their fair share of “then and now” photographs. It’s a meme that’s often used to illustrate how cars have taken over streets through the decades.

For my project, I started with a simple objective. I’ll walk from Franklin and Lyndale several times this year and begin to build an archive of locations and photographs. As the archive grows, I’ll start to accumulate different views of locations and show how the landscape at these locations changes over the seasons.

I’ve made four walks since late March, and with each one I’ve learned something new about the corridor and how I want to approach this project. 

I made the first walk on March 23. It was a dreary, cold day, and I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired, so I used it as a scouting trip. Having a purpose behind a walk focuses your attention on the subject matter, which elevates my creative energy.

A desire path through a large patch of grass and a parking lot, avoiding the intersection.

After I crossed Lake Street, I kept going for a few more blocks, and as I approached West 31st Street, I spotted an amazing desire path and knew immediately it would serve as an anchor for the project, both literally and metaphorically.

When I photographed it for the first time, I knew the connection to the bus stop would be interesting as well. We can’t know for sure if the path is primarily used by people taking a shortcut to the stop or if it’s more of a path for cyclists. More than likely, it has multiple uses due to the dense nature of the corridor. At some point, it could disappear if the land and adjoining parking lot are ever developed.

Bus stop in front of the brick facades of Lyndale.
Encore Music bus stop, West 24th Street & Lyndale Avenue South, April 27, 2024

The second walk was on April 27, another cloudy day. I started to get a better sense of what I wanted to photograph. I could feel more momentum. I made the third walk on May 11, a bright, sunny day. The light always impacts the vibes, and often my perception of the landscape changes because of the way the light illuminates the scenes and colors.

The Pedestrian Experience

After these two walks, a few themes started to emerge. I was intrigued by photographing the intersections from multiple perspectives and found myself drawn to how the bus stops are integrated into the scenes. Part of the reason I’m hooked on photography is that it helps me think about my experiences as a pedestrian in more detail.

Intersection featuring a liquor store and gas station, among other businesses.
Hum’s Corner, West 22nd Street & Lyndale Avenue South. Top & Lower Right: May 25, 2024; Lower Left: May 11, 2024
A taco truck parked in a lot adjacent to Lyndale.
Taco Taxi Garden, West 22nd Street & Lyndale Avenue South L: May 11, 2024; R: May 25, 2024

I made the fourth walk last Saturday, May 25, on a bright, sunny morning. It was an inspiring walk, and I started to feel more confident in my approach to documenting the bus stops and intersections. I also experimented with making some videos to create a short Instagram Reel about catching the bus from the Stop 110 Desire Path.

I’m not sure if I’ll photograph every building on Lyndale. The street has a lot of residential buildings, and with those, I’m more interested in how the vegetation and green spaces impact the pedestrian experience. I’ll probably start to look at the trees more closely in future walks and begin adding them to the map.

Baba's Hummus House, a large, sky-blue box with a wall of windows along the street-facing side.
Baba’s Trees, West 22nd Street & Lyndale Avenue South, May 25, 2024

This is the interesting part of these projects: Through repeated walks and observations, you start to make your own visual map of the street. At some point, I’d like to incorporate maps into the project, but I’m not sure how just yet.

Here are a few more locations I’ve documented on my first walks.

A vacant lot through the months, as the snow recedes and greenery begins to dominate.
Tree Stump Vacant Lot, West 24th Street & Lyndale Avenue South. Clockwise from top left: April 27, 2024, March 23, 2024, May 11, 2024, May 25, 2024
An older brick building along Lyndale through the months.
Hi Flora, West 26th Street & Lyndale Avenue South Top left to right: April 27, 2024, May 11, 2024; bottom: May 25, 2024
Bus stop next to the Smoke Shop.
Smoke Shop bus stop, West 24th Street & Lyndale Avenue South. Top: April 27, 2024; bottom: May 25, 2024
The alley next to the Jungle Theater, with an entrance and reserved spots.
Jungle Theater alley, West Lake Street & Lyndale Avenue South, May 11, 2024
A larger hub along Lyndale, with multi-story buildings, businesses and billboards.
LynLake, West Lake Street & Lyndale Avenue South, May 11, 2024
Stop 110 Desire Path, West 31st Street & Lyndale Avenue South
Dates left to right: March 23, 2024, April 27, 2024, May 11, 2024, May 25, 2024

Next Steps for Lyndale

There’s a long way to go yet before we know how Lyndale will change during the upcoming reconstruction.

Hennepin County will release the first designs this week and host a public meeting on June 11, so everyone will get an idea of the first visions. Those will stir up interesting debate and conversations.

Livable Lyndale Bike Rally and Ride. Wednesday, May 29, 6 to 8 p.m. meet at Painter Park (620 West 34th Street, Minneapolis). Organized by Move Minnesota and co-hosted with BikeMN, Slow Roll and the Joyful Riders Club.

On Wednesday, May 29 (tomorrow!), Move Minnesota is co-hosting a bike rally along with the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota (BikeMN) and some great bike organizations from Minneapolis. There will be speakers, music and then a ride along the Lyndale Avenue reconstruction route followed by a meet-up at LynLake Brewery. I’ll be there on foot, finding my spots and continuing to build on the project.

Photos by Bryan Formhals

About Bryan Formhals

Bryan Formhals is a marketing strategist and photographer based in Minneapolis. Living car-free since 2007, his photography projects focus on long city walks, pedestrian infrastructure and idiosyncratic green spaces.