I went to the open house last night on the most recent iteration of the project to add ramps to and from 35W on the north side of Lake St – officially and awkwardly titled I-35W Transit/Access Project, but which I’ve dubbed ARCH (Access to the Region’s Chinese/Hibachi buffet). Since Minnescraper has tragically fallen into a coma, instead of my typical obsessively researched and revised essays (not that you could tell) I’m just going to post my unvarnished thoughts here .
In the late 90s, as the internet was evolving from its primary function as a venue for competitive Happy Days trivia to a multipurpose mass media celebrity gossi pdelivery mechanism, some entrepreneurs realized that bricks-and-mortar video rental would soon become obsolete, so they approached the City about their idea of eventually replacing a Blockbuster near the 35W/Lake St interchange with the Twin Cities’ premier Chinese/Hibachi buffet. The City realized that demand for new restaurant would soon overwhelm existing infrastructure, so they teamed with the County, MnDot and a partnership of nearby benevolent corporations to brainstorm ways to accommodate the coming onslaught of buffetgoers.
They came up with a modest project that would widen Lake St to add a landscaped center median with plenty of room for turn lanes, crate a full diamond interchange at Lake and a ramp from northbound 35W to 28th St, close the ramps at 35th/36th and add a replacement with a big ole roundabout thing at 38th St, demolish the Metrodome and replace it with a retractable-roof stadium, and if there was still money left over, build a transit station at Lake. Needless to say, they couldn’t find funding, and the project died as planning efforts shifted to meet the new capacity challenges caused by an expanding chain of suburban Hibachi grill buffets.
Then the dreaded day finally came when Blockbuster closed and was replaced by the future, to which the masses thronged. Officials could no longer put off the needed upgrades to local crumbling infrastructure and planning for ARCH was rekindled. And then they had an open house yesterday.
So I guess the difference now is that the 35/36 exits have been dropped, and I don’t know if the Braid Bridge (where southbound 35W crosses over the northbound 35W exit to Downtown) was part of the old Access project, but it is now. Also, the idea of widening Lake St seems to have been dropped, which is interesting because I thought that was why they left so much of Lake St unreconstructed a few years ago. So pretty much all they’re looking at is how many ramps to add to Lake St, whether a ramp should be added to 28th, and what the transit station is going to look like. At the open house, in addition to free cookies, they had a cool model of the project area, and most portentously an enormous roll-up layout of the option that would include a full Lake St interchange and an exit from northbound 35W to 28th. I interpreted that as meaning that they will do a full build if they can.
The Transit Station
Perhaps it’s obvious, but I was most interested in the transit station component. It seems they’ve settled on a side platform configuration, which I was disappointed about because center platforms are much better from a passenger’s standpoint. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one who was disappointed – the project has an advisory committee composed of a gaggle of local interests, and they came to the conclusion that a center platform was better, too – only to be overruled by MnDot, who decided at some point that they were too afraid of an errant driver entering the station area and smacking head-on into a bus to allow it (nevermind that MnDot has operated a reversible facility on 394 for two decades without a serious incident). The advisory committee members were understandably irked that they had spent so much time on something that had already been decided.
But after talking with a consultant at the open house, the side platforms make a lot more sense to me. A lot of buses are going to be using this station – today there are 70-80 buses an hour at peak but it’s being designed for 90-100 buses per peak hour. That last figure would be a bus about every half-minute on average, and the guy I talked to mentioned that entry gates don’t really work at that frequency, which I believe. The other advantage to side platforms is they allow for wider lanes in the station (22.5′ each), making it easier for buses to pass each other. Anyone who’s ridden Nicollet Mall at rush hour knows how important that is.
So I’ve been won over to side platforms for this station, although I still am opposed to making that the standard. Certainly there needs to be a lot more study of Freeway BRT networks before we can choose a station design based on a freak accident that may or may not ever happen. Considering our griddish freeway network, it seems likely that transfers are going to be crucial in a built-out Freeway BRT network, and crucial to transfers are center platform stations. It may be that dual-side door vehicles will be needed for this reason – someone at MnDot or the Met Council needs to get off their ass and commission the study of the transit technology that they killed heavy rail transit for in the 70s, but haven’t even gotten around to thinking about yet.
The 28th Street Exit
28th Street must have some friends in high places in order to be considered for an exit. The only point along its length where it sees more than a handful of cars a day is just east of 2nd Ave S, which is basically an extension of the exit from 35W. If I were in charge, I’d ask for a promise of expanded employment before I built an exit there, since it seems just as easy to handle those cars on Lake St and then any of the major arterials that are spaced every 1/8th of a mile east of 35W.
26th and 28th run through some of the densest neighborhoods in town, and don’t come anywhere close to needing the capacity they’re built to. They could each be converted to two-lane two-ways with left turn lanes at intersections and center turn lanes in the busiest segments with no loss of parking and using existing curb geometry. The City has been ignoring the neighborhoods’ request for two-way conversions for years. I get that in projects like ARCH the large institutions will get their way, but when they build that 28th St exit for Wells Fargo and Allina, they better build it in a way that can accommodate a two-way conversion.
24th St/Braid Bridge
Way up on the northern fringe of the project runs 24th Street, which at 35W becomes a narrow pedestrian bridge that is the source of approximately 97% of pictures of the Minneapolis skyline. This bridge isn’t necessarily involved with the ARCH project except that any funding for ARCH will also likely include funding for the Braid Bridge, which is pretty thoroughly ancient and also is maybe sort of awkward to merge with (source?). The big roll-up layout of the proposed full bridge moves the Braid Bridge slightly to the north, which frees up some possibilities with 24th St that according to the consultant I spoke with have barely been explored thus far.
One possibility I heard mentioned more than once at the open house, though, was to replace the Franklin overpass with upgraded pedestrian facilities and then not replace the 24th St pedestrian overpass at all. That would be a terrible idea. Fair Oaks and West Phillips are two of the densest neighborhoods in the city, and they’ve been separated by a freeway for decades. They need every bridge they can get. I’m not aware of any standards on pedestrian bridge spacing (of course, even though we have extremely detailed official standards for slant parking). I would say that in this kind of setting, 1/4 mile is the minimum spacing for pedestrian crossing.
Will this thing ever end?
I think the ARCH project – like the 35W Access Project that proceeded it – is one of the most interesting projects around. Balancing the needs of basically every type of mobility in the heart of a neighborhood that’s been ravaged by past government actions, it requires sensitive proceedings of whatever government agency is unlucky enough to take it on. And for the most part they seem to be delivering. They say they’ll be at 30% design for the project by the middle of 2013, which means the construction will be complete in approximately 2999. We’ll see how the project will have changed by then, after many more open houses to come.