In Minnesota we love the change of seasons! From winter to road construction and back to winter… Longfellow is no exception to this phenomenon. Minnehaha Avenue in Longfellow has been undergoing a full repaving since April 2015 beginning at the south end by Minnehaha Park. Work on the avenue from East 46th Street to East 38th Street was completed last year, and work has been proceeding north up to East Lake Street this year, scheduled to be completed by November 2016.
This does cause problems for residents, businesses, and traffic flow, as four-block sections are closed down for demolition, utility work, paving, painting, signage, boulevard restoration, and cleanup. While it’s possible to navigate the sidewalks on closed sections by foot or bicycle, there may or may not be single lanes of old asphalt, dirt, or new strips for vehicles to sneak through. Most businesses on Minnehaha Avenue have stayed open during the construction with signage indicating back street and alleyway options for parking and entering.
The 3200 block of Minnehaha Avenue is all dug up and just a dirt road with scattered cement debris, and Peace Coffee at the corner of East 33rd Street looks pretty lonely. Normally on a summer day the sidewalk seating would be jammed with folks chatting over coffee, a dog or two hanging out with their owner, and maybe a smoker or vaper at the end of the row of tables. As I rolled by on bike yesterday, there was one table with a couple folks, lots of bicycles in the racks, but not much activity on the sidewalk. Inside the cafe I could see the usual crowd of coworkers with lattes and laptops along with a few groups of people chatting over treats.
While most businesses have continued operation through the construction process, I have heard some complaints. One is that the residents and businesses will have to cover some of the cost with assessments to their property tax. Hennepin County covers the majority of the costs, as the avenue is also County Road 48, while the City of Minneapolis will apply standard street improvement assessments to both residents and businesses on their property taxes. Since the project will provide improved streets, sewers, crossings, bus stops, bicycle lanes and other amenities, that seems reasonable. It may seem unfair to be billed for fixing a crumbling infrastructure that will benefit the public as well as resident people and businesses, that how we pay for life in the city. People always grumble about taxes, but our quality of life depends upon all of us paying into the system.
The strangest complaint I heard from one business owner was not about the temporary inconvenience, loss of business, nor the assessment cost, but rather they complained about having to pay for new bicycle lanes. They felt that bicycles should be banned from all streets, since they present a dangerous threat to motor vehicles. I tried to discuss the issue as a regular bicycle rider around Longfellow, but this person hated bicyclists—period—no discussion!
Myself, I would have preferred the a protected bicycle lane (aka cycle track) as Minnehaha is a major bike route for commuters and residents, but Hennepin County and Minneapolis engineers rejected that option, even though there was wide community support. Instead, there are painted buffers and crosswalks. While Minneapolis is a great city for bicycling, there is still an outdated mindset with traffic engineers who prioritize motor vehicle flow over public safety—but that’s an American mindset where people drive their cars as fast as possible, hate to stop at crossings and run stop signs and stop lights, and spend more time on their smart phone then watching the road.
Overall, it’s a good deal for everyone in Longfellow. Think back to the repaving of East Lake Street ten years ago. There were lots of complaints then about how the project would cripple small businesses, but there were already plenty of shuttered storefronts, vacant parcels, and lonely auto lots. East Lake needed a cleanup, and that has helped with the recent revival of new shops, restaurants, and services opening along with all the successful businesses that have been around for decades.
The Minnehaha Mile from East Lake Street to East 46th Street is home to antique stores, cafes and restaurants, convenience stores, miscellaneous shops, and small businesses. That hasn’t changed, and it’s getting even better. Sure there’s a few corners with aging structures in need of new life, but as with East Lake, Minnehaha Avenue is moving through a wonderful revival. Just this month Moon Palace Books moved around the corner from behind Peace Coffee to their new location right on Minnehaha next to the Trylon Cinema entrance. I love having a local bookstore and how incredible that the neighborhood supports it’s success.
Now if some of those funky antique stores would open up every weekend…