Council approves controversial West Lake Street redesign

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Following a lengthy and often passionate debate, the City Council on Friday easily approved a controversial design for the reconstruction of West Lake Street near Lyndale Avenue.

The decision ratifies a Hennepin County plan that places left turn lanes on Lyndale Avenue for the first time and generally downplays transit in favor of smoother traffic movement in the heavily traveled corridor between Dupont and Blaisdell avenues.

It was that focus on traffic that disappointed Council Member Robert Lilligren, who argued that the entire plan should be returned to committee for more discussion. “It’s a critical node of South Minneapolis and it deserves all our attention,” he said.

Lilligren claimed that none of the four neighborhood organizations in the area had supported the design and suggested that the plan had been foisted on them without allowing for adequate input. He called the layout “predetermined” and described it as more suited to the suburbs than to the city. He also argued that the plan would do nothing to improve mass transit on Lake Street and would increase the danger to pedestrians. “We can do better,” he said.

But Council Member Ralph Remington, who represents the area, disputed Lilligren’s arguments, noting that most nearby residents support the design because it will reduce congestion on Lake and Lyndale, as well as on the side streets. He added that there have been 19 separate studies on this project. “It’s really ridiculous to suggest that there’s been no neighborhood input,” he said.

Remington also noted that to ignore the congestion issue would be naïve. “Ignoring automobiles doesn’t mean they’re going to go away,” he said. “This stops the bleeding, and all of us want that.”

The plan isn’t perfect, said council president Barbara Johnson, but it was time to move ahead. “Sometimes you have to build,” she said. “We’re a long way from moving most of our people in and out of the city on mass transit.”

The council voted 11-1 in favor of the plan, with Lilligren the lone dissenter.

Cedar-Riverside will get security cameras
The council also approved a measure that would allow the installation of seven surveillance cameras in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood—but not before getting an earful from one council member about the sloppy process used to make the decision.

Scott Benson, who represents the 11th Ward in South Minneapolis, said there was no criteria established to decide which neighborhoods should get the cameras–which have proven to be effective crime-fighting tools since they were installed downtown last year–and he argued that it would be premature to allocate any funding to the Cedar-Riverside initiative. “I will not be railroaded into voting for something that did not go through a fair and open process,” he said.

Cedar-Riverside neighborhood leaders have been working on the camera proposal for the better part of the last year. But when the idea reached council committees earlier this month, it caused some council members, including Gary Schiff and Don Samuels, to wonder why more crime-ridden parts of town were being made to wait.

Those concerns led Third Ward Council Member Diane Hofstede to propose an amendment directing city coordinator Steven Bosacker and Interim Police Chief Tim Dolan to create a set of criteria to be used to judge future requests for surveillance camera funding and report back to the council in 60 days. That resolution passed unanimously.

Samuels, whose Fifth Ward is home to more homicides than any other part of town, supported the Cedar-Riverside initiative, noting that planning is already underway for a surveillance camera network on West Broadway Avenue and wouldn’t be implemented until the fall, anyway. “I don’t think this is going to be a problem for West Broadway,” he said.

Allowing Cedar-Riverside to proceed “makes some sense,” said Lisa Goodman (Ward 7), because the neighborhood is part of the First Precinct and the cameras would merely be an extension of the downtown Safe Zone.

The council approved the proposal on a 10-1 vote, with Benson dissenting.

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