Bloomington’s Oxboro Neighborhood

September 27, 2016 at 1:45 am | Posted in Bloomington and Suburbia | Leave a comment
Tags: , ,

 

I’ve lived in the Oxboro area of Bloomington my entire life, 3/4 of a mile from the major commercial area at 98th St. and Lyndale Ave. Although most of my shopping is done at big box stores in other areas, this is where I go to the bank, get lunch at the drive-thru, drop off mail at the post office, and access the freeway. Though I’m basically happy with it, there is always room for improvement for both motorized and non-motorized traffic, as well as the general area.oxboro-1In the past this area was the unincorporated town of Oxboro, dating from the 1850s. The Oxborough family from Canada built a trading post called Oxboro Heath on what is now Clover Center. Meanwhile Bloomington was a stagecoach stop at Nine Mile Creek, and there was another settlement at Old Shakopee Road and Old Cedar. These all eventually got absorbed into the city of Bloomington.When I was growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Oxboro area had a single noteworthy building, the Sunde blacksmith shop (owned by the father of Vikings great Milt Sunde). And a lot of decrepit buildings: the old Burger Brother’s store and Bloomington Drug, Kinney Shoes, and a bar at 95th. REI was in Clover Center before they moved into their newer flagship store along I-494. There are quite a few photographs on the Flashbacks of Bloomington Facebook group.In the early 1980s the grandiose “Oxboro Redevelopment” plan was initiated, but it never lived up to it’s highbrow aspirations, eventually stalled, and is still going on in fits and starts. The city thought they were creating something much more elite than they were – after offering SuperValu a place in the new strip mall, they broke that promise when they decided they wanted Byerly’s instead.

SuperValu was full of mismatched floor tile, bare fluorescent strip lights, and stained ceilings, but it was a place to get groceries. I remember walking through Byerly’s when it was new and being awestruck by carpet, chandeliers, and lobster tanks, and also being awestruck by the prices. Aside from our initial trip, I think we shopped there twice before they closed. The owner raised their lease rate from the original 20-year sweetheart deal and their freezers needed replacing, but obviously they could have made it work if it had been a good fit for the neighborhood.

In typical 1980s fashion, we got a mix of “suburbanism” and “fake urbanism”; Some strip malls with lots of parking in front that have gone downscale over the years, and then what is now Duluth Trading Company and Fairview Oxboro clinic. These went right up to the street, but have blank walls where doors would obviously be in an urban setting.

oxboro-02

Fairview Oxboro Clinic

More recently, two new housing developments have gone in. After adding two strip-malls to the area, the city said no to a fourth, but relented when the developer added senior housing.

oxboro-03

Strip Mall and Senior Living

A new set of apartments replaced the old lumber yard. Wixon Jewelers had a plan to build an elaborate jewelry store and watch museum at what is now Duluth Trading company (and wanted to buy and knock down the Bakers Square so the rich people that could actually afford their products wouldn’t have to park so far from the door) which was eventually was dropped. The trees and street furniture were plopped down centered in the sidewalk. Constricted by tree rings, the trees have never grown much and are constantly dying and being replaced.

Over time too, people like me have moved a lot of shopping elsewhere. My family quit shopping for groceries at SuperValu when the new Cub opened at Valley West. We quit shopping for toilet flappers and light bulbs at Hardware Hank when Home Depot opened along 494. It seems others have done the same. Over time the restaurants, banks, and other such staples have stayed, while some of the general retail has closed. (Although SuperValu was doing OK until the landlord kicked them out to sell to a developer to build the Holiday gasoline station.)

Few people are under the delusion that this is a cultured and sophisticated place. Yes, there are the typically derided places like Applebee’s and McDonalds. And yes I go to them. But to me it’s not “nowhere”. I personally don’t want to live in either the central cities or farther into the suburbs, so Bloomington’s Oxboro neighborhood is “somewhere” to me and quite a few other people. Yes, it’s ultimately very auto oriented, but again that’s something I like about it. It’s easy to drive down to Subway and park, it’s also easy to drivethrough on my way to the freeway entrance.

Still, I acknowledge that there are people that do walk or bicycle in the area and there is room for improvement without impacting motorists too much, and some things that could be improvements for all modes. Although it’s only 3/4-mile away, taking pictures for this article was the first time I’ve ridden down there in years.

oxboro-04

oxboro-05

oxboro-06

Some of the problems I see:

1) Although vehicle traffic flows pretty well, there are a few operational problems. Firstly the heavy westbound through and westbound to southbound movements at 98th St and I-35W conflict with the heavy eastbound to northbound movement. Eastbound to northbound only has a single turn lane, and aggravating the problem, and there is no right turn lane from westbound to northbound. Secondly, both directions of Lyndale Ave at 98th St have very short single left turn lanes that tend to back up into the through lanes during peak hours. My attempts to complain to the county and city have gotten nowhere. Traffic signals are still mostly the inefficient, protected-only turns (red arrows), and there are no sight line problems or other unusual considerations that would preclude protected/permissive phasing allowing motorists to make a left turn if there’s a break in oncoming traffic.

2) There’s a complete lack of bicycle infrastructure in place.  The official line from the city is that bicycles are supposed to (carefully) use the sidewalks, which although having few pedestrians, are full of trees, light poles, and garbage cans. Meanwhile there are free rights, which I like as a pedestrian but not usually as a motorist, and auxiliary lanes of dubious value. And while Lyndale needs all the lanes it has right at 98th St, probably north of there and certainly south of there it could use a road diet.

There’s been a few modest improvements for bicycles and pedestrians, including the addition of countdown pedestrian signals and this new sidewalk to the VEAP social services building with a rectangular rapid flashing beacon, and new marked crosswalk to cross Lyndale Avenue.

oxboro-08

New Crosswalk

3) The Orange Line has to fit in somehow, which will increase the number of people walking and bicycling in the area.

4) I think the free right from the northbound ramp to 98th St. is extremely dangerous. I have seen crashes there, including one where a car was flipped onto it’s roof. There’s simply not a good sight line to see cars coming over the bridge (due to the railing and the hump), and cars tend to speed since it’s fairly wide open.

oxboro-07

Driver’s eye view of free right

5) There are too many ramps too close together on I-35W

6) Thinking broader, Bloomington has way too many Four-lane Death Roads (even one is too many).

7) There’s no drive-through coffee shop. Seriously! I’d probably stop several times a week if there were. Maybe we can find room for a Dunkin Donuts! The only shop in the area is a Starbucks, and while I’m not too highbrow to go there, there’s no drive-thru and believe it or not it’s usually difficult to even park there.

Although I’m basically satisfied with the way things are, here I start to fantasize about changes that could be made.

So Here’s What I Propose:

oxboro-09

Yellow: New Ramps, Blue: New bicycle trail and bridge, Orange: Orange Line Station, Aqua: roads reduced to 5 lanes (except 98th right at Lyndale), Green: Roads reduced to three lanes. North is to the left.

Roadway changes, the interchange

The most notable change is the addition of a loop ramp from eastbound to northbound. This was actually envisioned as phase two of the interchange project back in the 1980s but not implemented–you can see the extra space available on the northbound side of the underpass.  The Orange Line documents hint at not building overly elaborate stations at 98th Street in anticipation of “future interchange reconfiguration.” This accomplishes three things: (1) it fixes the problem with heavy vehicle movements conflicting, (2) it eliminates the free right, and (3) with no left turn lane needed on the bridge, that can be given over to expanded bicycle and pedestrian options without widening the bridge structure.

The ramp to southbound is removed, the existing carpool ramp off the frontage road expanded, and the carpool bypass moved to the loop. This might even have an operational advantage to motorized vehicles, since eastbound to southbound and southbodund to eastbound traffic would no longer cross. The northwest loop is tightened and realigned to Dupont Avenue. The access to the office building is changed to 3/4 access. Office workers would still be able to easily access the southbound freeway by taking a right and then crossing 98th and going around the loop. The ramps to and from 94th Street to the south are eliminated in favor of the frontage roads.

The net result is an important, high volume interchange remains friendly and even improved to motorists, while the high speed movements on and off 98th Street that pedestrians now have to negotiate are eliminated.

Lyndale Avenue

Here, the free rights are removed and replaced with conventional right turn lanes, and the useless auxiliary lanes converted to cycletracks. South of 98th Street there’s not enough room to have a double turn lane and cycletracks, but banning the left turn from Lyndale Avenue southbound into the shopping center would allow lengthening the northbound lane. Southbound at 98th Street there is room for a double lane. North of 95th Street and south of the business district it is converted to a three lane configuration.

oxboro-10

Green Lines indicate new protected cycletracks at 98th St and Lyndale Ave

98th Street

I’d add cycletracks with space taken from the auxiliary lane between Grand Avenue and Lyndale Avenue; probably east of Nicollet Avenue, and definitely east of Portland Avenue, a three lane section will suffice. If more lanes are maintained to Portland I’d buy out a couple of houses to eliminate the short “four-lane death road™” segment from 3rd Avenue to Portland Avenue by adding a center turn lane or median.

You’ll note I haven’t mentioned “bicycle lanes,” just cycletracks. This obviously represents my biases, since I don’t use bicycle lanes at any time, anywhere, for any reason. I want something more than paint between me and cars when I’m on a bicycle. But in the real world with other people planning, that would be an option. Similarly on-street parking is something I don’t want, wouldn’t use, and see no need for (the last time I really parallel parked was my driver’s test), but would be possible along “Clover 2.0” along Lyndale Avenue.

Thinking of Bloomington as a whole for a minute, the four-lane death roads all get road dieted, except for Old Shakopee Road west of the freeway which gets a five lane section. (Traffic counts are above 20,000 for most of it, due to Hyland Park limiting east-west options). The Lyndale Avenue cycletracks go from the new bicycle crossing at the Minnesota River bridge (which is going to get replaced sooner or later, and it looks like sooner), to the 86th Street bicycle lanes, the 98th Street cycletracks go to at least the new Nokomis-Minnesota River Regional Trail and the under reconstruction Old Cedar Avenue bridge along the newly road-dieted section.

StreetscapingMoving back to the Oxboro area specifically, I’d replace the street lights. Due to the width of the streets the one on high poles are necessary to get even illumination on the road, but they could be alternated or supplemented with decorative pedestrian scaled ones like at France Avenue. I’m generally not a fan of the “fake history” lanterns that are so common; the ultimate in ridiculousness is the “acorn” lanterns in front of the Shakopee Walmart. My personal preference would be something attractive but contemporary. And I’d extend the boulevard trees to both sides from 95th to the end of the commercial area, and the freeway to Nicollet Avenue.

Traffic Signals

Flashing Yellow Arrows would be implemented at all the signalized intersections. Pedestrian recall (The walk light always goes on without having to push a button when vehicles have the green) would be possible across some of the minor legs of the intersections, like the shopping center driveway or 95th Street. Of course all the signals would get ADA compliant push-buttons. Also nice would be a signal at 102nd and Lyndale–it’s hard to make a left turn out of the intersection at rush hour, maybe even a pedestrian overpass at 102nd St over I-35W.

Redevelopment

Obviously this would take out the park and ride and Clover Center. To replace it, I propose to redevelop Clover Center and Freeway Ford with structured parking, market rate apartments, and a small amount of retail. The northbound Orange Line station would be integrated here, with a pedestrian bridge along the railroad tracks. Maybe that drive thru coffee shop could go here and also serve commuters. The bank might be able to stay, or maybe not–notice I’ve maintained two auxiliary lanes due the short distance between the new ramp and Lyndale, shifting things north. But I am thinking bigger for this corner.

oxboro-11

Freeway Ford

Also of note, the former SuperAmerica headquarters, now a storage facility, (the white building in the lower center) might be a place to think about redevelopment too. It might not seem like a great place to live, surrounded by a wide suburban style road, a freeway interchange, and a railroad, but keep in mind there are apartments now in what is basically the Southdale parking lot, and this would be right across the new pedestrian bridge from the Orange Line stop. Or the park and ride facility could go here and needn’t be incorporated into the Clover Center redevelopment.

What’s Not Going to Change

In case it’s not obvious by now, the fact that probably 95% of the people either drive to or through the neighborhood, so it will stay reasonably friendly to motorists. I haven’t mentioned the strip malls, fast food, banks, and whatnot. I wouldn’t mind limiting low density detached commercial to of 95th Street. Nor would I necessarily be opposed to eventual redevelopment of the strip malls with parking in back–it doesn’t matter to me if I park in front or back of the Subway or Chinese takeout. The issue is that it’s difficult to configure a business to have both front and back entrances, and the strip malls provide affordable rents for a variety of stores. If the area was all redeveloped at once, there’d be too much high-end retail space and not enough low-end; after all this is not a highbrow area, as Byerly’s found out. An advantage is that there’d be fewer driveways crossing the Lyndale Avenue cycletracks.

A Reality Check

So is all of this going to happen? No. Obviously this is just my fantasy, which differs from how Bloomington likes to do things. So far, the city hasn’t been receptive to my feedback about more minor issues so I might as well suggest that they allow a toxic waste dump next to city hall. But, I can dream that these auxiliary lanes get used more productively as something else.

 

Advertisements

TrackBack URI

Powered by WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.