Friday, July 13, 2012

Improving north-south connectivity around Campus

First of all, you shouldn't be driving around the U's campus. Any half-brained moron who has lived around the area or has attended classes there for more than the first couple weeks of Football Centrism in September should know that having a car on campus is dumb. (And actually, I'm personally guilty, even though I only use it to go to places like this.)

But for those of you who do drive, you probably know how difficult it is to navigate within the campus. With Washington now closed, the two main arteries into the campus are Huron from I-94 and University/4th from I-35W. (Univeristy from MN-280 would be the other, but I think you might want to avoid that for now.) Driving access from these two segments are relatively easy from the freeway, but once on campus, navigation is near impossible nowadays. In reality, this is a great effort by the University to make the area much denser, more multi-modal and more pedestrian and biking-friendly. Still, vehicles take up a large quantity of trips, and should be accounted as such.

Through campus, the mainly East-West routes of University/4th is sufficient enough to handle traffic in those directions. Hennepin Avenue and Como Avenue serve this function on the north end of campus, as well as I-94 and Franklin to the south. Since the reconfiguring of the intersection and the removal of the parking lane, Fulton St/East River Road does a nice job connecting the Huron freeway ramp to the garages near Comstock as well (Even though I hate the new 4-lane feel... Bikers, beware), and Elm/Kasota Avenue does a nice job sneaking though an industrial park to be a vital artery too. A map showing these routes can be seen here.

However, the north-south connectivity is truly lagging, both within campus and near it. MN-280 is too far to the east to make a significant impact. 15th Avenue, probably the main north-south arterial into campus, makes an abrupt end at Como Avenue. I-35W does a sufficient job initially, but curves east toward Roseville north of Hennepin. The only real north-south route that stays true is 10th Ave (19th Ave on the West Bank), and even this weaves awkwardly through I-35W until it turns into Johnson near the Quarry. Harvard is the only vehicluar street through campus, and it truly is a pain - with Washington now out of the picture, it is now a very inefficient street. I'm sure the University Hotel and the Washington Ramp feel the same way.

So, how do we fix it? If I had all the money in the world and doing-power in MNDOT or MPLSDOT of GOPHERDOT or whatever, here are some of my proposals:

1) Make Harvard go somewhere.

Background: If we were able to connect Harvard to University / 4th, cars could be diverted off of 17th / Church and create an even more pedestrian friendly feeling closer to the heart of the Northrop Mall. Still part of the original street grid at Washington, the road was connected back in 2010 when the segment around the new Rec Center was connected to Pillsbury, as the now irrelevant Union Street was closed off. This helped, but it still awkwardly loops around Civil Engineering and the Armory before ending at Church.

From 2009 Update to U of MN Campus Master Plan.

How to build it: The University's most recent Campus Master Plan (caution: large PDF), compiled in 2009, calls for the demolition of several buildings to improve efficiency. One of these buildings is the aging Fieldhouse, where Barack Obama spoke in 2010. If demolished, this would instantly open up the opportunity for Harvard to grow directly north to University, and if properly connected to 18th Avenue, it would also connect to 4th Street. Although on-street parking would be taken off of 18th, this would free up some traffic from Church / 17th, and would allow for a much more pedestrian-friendly feel on Church, and a bike lane or widened sidewalk could be put in place. With more traffic allowed along Harvard, this would relieve frustrated out-of-towners from accessing the University Hotel, East Bank LRT Station, or Stadium Village Businesses. The only problem with this fix would be a feeling of divide between the Rec Center/Alumni Center to the rest of campus, although those rec center athletes can just dodge traffic if need be, right?

Unless the Obama speech automatically puts the Fieldhouse in Historic designation...

2) Connect East River Road with 2nd Street SE over the Dinky Ditch.

Background: This connection has been on the talking table for some time, as it would be the last link of connecting the East River Road segment of the Grand Rounds to Old St Anthony and Historic Main Street (Home of my favorite movie theater). Currently, East River makes an about-face turn near Education Sciences and snakes to connect to 14th Ave just outside Dinkytown. 2nd Avenue SE ends at 11th Street, where it connects to University near Sanford Hall.

How to fix it: Build a bridge from the Education Sciences Building into the Dinky Ditch, and either connect to 2nd Avenue SE or to the frontage road which evenutally becomes the brick-lined Main Street. If somehow connected to I-35W or the 10th Street Bridge, this would allow for more traffic to be diverted away from University Ave and along the riverfront. Most of this traffic would probably be heading to the Art Museum or East River Garages. This connection would also allow the continuation of Horace Cleveland's masterpiece that is the Grand Rounds, and would allow bikers and pedestrians from Main Street to head straight to the campus without walking down busy University Avenue. I think all those Nice Riders would be pleased.

I can't think of a clever caption for this one, I just think it's cool. That's all.
3) Make Oak Street go somewhere: Connect it to 18th Ave / Stinson in Como.

Since Minneapolis seems to be in the mood to build controversial bridges over old rail routes, why not give the University Area a chance too?

Background: The original Minneapolis street grid in this area did not originally have the large train yard north of campus, and in fact had plans to build a larger Como neighborhood. A 1912 Real Estate map of the area shows that Oak was originally supposed to connect with 18th Avenue south of Como Avenue, and continue northward until it turned into Stinson Boulevard. When I realized this, it made complete sense: Oak is perfectly lined up with 18th. Right now, 18th Ave ends anticlimactically at Elm Street, and Oak ends north of Mariucci Arena at 5th Street.

How to build it: Simply garner support for a bridge to connect Oak with 18th Avenue like originally planned. This would solve the terrible ineffiency of north-south routes in Como by forming a direct line from campus to the Quarry. It could also divert traffic from 15th Avenue - This could let 15th Avenue become a sort of transit mall, with wider bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and less frustrating bus movements. The Oak Bridge could help drain traffic after Gopher Games, and could also be built wide enough for transit and biker potential. This bridge would, in reality, finally connect the Grand Rounds too. Several problems arise from this, the biggest one being the homes along 18th south of Como Avenue needing to handle much more traffic disruption. Since most of those tenants are students, however, I think they have handled dirtier and louder situations.

Alternative 3b) Connect Huron / 23rd Ave with 18th Ave in Como. This would connotate the same pros and cons as the Oak Bridge, but Huron's direct connection with I-94 would be great. This version would probably be more vehicle-oriented, though, and would have to allow for a more oddly-built and probably more expensive bridge construction.

Let's put a nice overlook parking area on the bridge too. There would probably be killer views of the skyline.

4) Connect Cedar Avenue with the 10th Ave Bridge.

Background: Probably one of the most famous pre-Interstate roads in Minneapolis, Cedar Avenue starts way the heck down south of Apple Valley, goes past the Mall of America, the Juicy Lucy, the Jucy Lucy, and Riverside Plaza before ending in the Seven Corners area. A block east of Grand Marc lies 19th Avenue, which then moves north to the 10th Avenue Bridge. This area, probably one of my favorite pedestrian areas around campus, still has an awkward pass for all types of traffic, as one moving north along Cedar needs to take a right turn on Washington, go a block, and then turn left on 19th to gain access to the bridge. On the other hand, 19th moving south ends abruptly at Riverside Avenue, where one needs to take a larger-than-90-degree turn onto Riverside to gain access to Cedar.

How to build it: This one is tricky. Without using eminent domain, my first suggestion would be to build another bridge over the Washington Avenue ditch connecting the two, but the West Bank LRT Station shoots a hole in that plan. The new Washington Avenue connects to Cedar by stoplight and then heads under 19th, so that connection is probably not feasible, either. The only way I see this connection happening is tearing down the parking garage by Hanson Hall, or tearing down Grand Marc and connecting it that way. Unfortunately, I don't think this one works. Still though, cars can figure out that I-35W has exits at Washington and Univeristy across the river from each other, and can access places using that route.

Sorry, Grand Marc, but the improving of roads for a few dumb drivers is more important than your housing of hundreds of students.
5) Create a system of making MN-280 more relevant to campus commuting/connectivity.

So, what do you think? Do you have any ideas how to make the north-south movements more efficient? Or maybe, does campus even need more routes to be efficient? Should vehicles be banned completely? (I kinda like the latter... at least inside campus.) Let's hear you!