Minnetonka Boulevard is an old road with an interesting history that dates back at least 150 years. It was once home to a streetcar line that ran from Minneapolis to the Walker-Lake area, St. Louis Park’s original downtown. And in an example of history repeating itself, in 1896, the St. Louis Park Village Council authorized construction of a bike path along Minnetonka Boulevard, in response to the national bike craze.
The road hasn’t always been beloved by residents. A 1906 newspaper account read:
It is one of the most traveled roads in the state, yet on account of the lack of “pull” on the part of the taxpayers of St. Louis Park, the road remains untouched, and those who use it have spilled enough profanity by the wayside to pave it if strong language, in bales, could be used for blocks.
Today, Minnetonka Boulevard, aka County Road 5, is traveled by more than 15,000 vehicles a day and crossed by hundreds of pedestrians and bikers, including kids on their way to school. People I’ve talked with while campaigning say it’s a scary street to cross. They wonder what we can do to make it safer.
In conversations with our city engineer, county commissioner, and others, I’ve worked to gain an understanding of how to make Minnetonka Boulevard safer. The main theme I've heard is that it’s complicated, since Minnetonka Boulevard is a county road. But lots of things are complicated, and by focusing on them, we can resolve them. I’d like to see our city council work with county officials, residents, and others to make crossing our main artery in Ward 1 easier and safer.
The biggest complication, it's said, is that county approval is needed for anything we do that impacts how traffic moves on Minnetonka Boulevard. I notice city staff recently placed yellow crosswalk markers in the center of the road at some locations, which is a small gesture that acknowledges the problem, a tiny step in the right direction. I’d like us to start exploring what next steps might be that actually increase safety, like installing crosswalk systems and perhaps a pedestrian bridge.
There’s some uncomplicated good news on the horizon too. The stretch of Minnetonka Boulevard east of Highway 100 is on the county’s short list for capital improvements in the next few years, meaning improvements are likely to be proposed – and funded – by the county. This may include grassy center medians to provide a landing spot for pedestrians, curb extensions, narrowing the road to two lanes in some spots, and other improvements. I'm pleased about these plans look forward to working with the county, other council members, and Ward 1 residents on specifics.
Minnetonka Boulevard west of Highway 100 is a different story – no plans are currently in place at the county level to improve the road. I’m disappointed in that, and know others are too. But I’m ready to get to work identifying ways our city can move forward on improving safety nevertheless.
As we experience more traffic from planned high-density housing and other new developments, Minnetonka Boulevard is sure to become even busier and more difficult to cross. If elected to the Ward 1 seat on November 7, I’m committed to working with council, city and county staff, and residents to push for solutions to this real and growing problem.
Do you have concerns about crossing Minnetonka Boulevard? Please share them here.
Also, If you liked the bit about profanity being used to pave Minnetonka Boulevard, I recommend visiting the SLP Historical Society’s website. You can donate to the historical society to support their great work. You can also donate to my campaign!
Swenson Redeen Meat Market (circa 1932) operated for 25 years at 6512 Walker Street. Photo: SLP Historical Society.
Many Ward 1 residents I’ve talked with while campaigning say they wish there were more places in St. Louis Park to walk to, where they could grab a sandwich or a glass of wine, browse a little book store or pick up a gift. Like Linden Hills in Minneapolis, or St. Paul’s Grand Avenue. We’re creating a walkable community, they say, let’s have more places to walk to.
I agree that having more community-oriented shops and restaurants would add to our quality of life, whether we walk, bike, drive or take public transportation to get there. Within Ward 1, we have an exciting opportunity to guide the development of a unique destination shopping/dining area in the Historic Walker-Lake district. I’d like to see our city council proactively engage with property owners, developers and residents to make it a reality.
The Walker-Lake area is considered St. Louis Park’s original downtown. Located in the Sorensen neighborhood, the area includes an eclectic collection of buildings completed between the 1890s and the 1960s including the Walker Building (1892) and London Square (1949). The St. Louis Park Historical Society has a home in the area, as does the St. Louis Park Emergency Program.
Modest efforts have been made to revitalize the area already. In 2015, the city secured a grant to create branding and signage for Walker-Lake, and this summer, a neglected strip of Walker Street was resurfaced. Later this year, the American Legion will reopen at 6509 Walker Street (after being displaced by redevelopment on 36th Street), bringing activity to a commercial area that’s currently abandoned at night. And just last week, students working to create The Nest, St. Louis Park’s future teen center, looked at spaces in the area where they might set up shop.
But given imminent development in the area with the advent of SWLRT, as well as the number of buildings currently for sale or likely to go on the market soon, I think we should move more quickly. I recently sat down with a property owner in the area who suggested specific strategies for how the city can proactively create a vibrant commercial corridor along Walker-Lake. I’d like to see our city tap into the knowledge and expertise of such community-minded property owners as we decide how – and with which developers – to invest our finite resources.
Some ideas I’d like our city council to explore include:
Do you support repurposing existing buildings, when feasible, to preserve the character of our community? Are you interested in having more community-oriented, locally owned shops and restaurants in St. Louis Park? Please email me your thoughts.
Lake Street today