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Group Prepares to Kick Off Planning for Blake Road Redesign

Hopkins is spearheading the formation of a committee that will come up with a plan to transform the corridor into a “complete street.”

Developers evaluating Southwest Transitway stations saw big potential around the one near Blake Road, but there was one big caveat: The road needs to be transformed into a “complete street” that is more pedestrian and bike friendly between Excelsior and Highway 7.

Researchers have made recommendations along those lines in no less than six studies dating back to 2003. The area may have seen improvements around Cottageville Park over the years, and residents can look forward to further improvements, such as the redevelopment of the Cold Storage site. But Blake Road itself is largely unchanged from the time that first study was published.

“There’s a lot of things that are happening,” said City Engineer John Bradford. “The one thing that’s still the same is the sea of asphalt that is Blake Road.”

Hopkins officials are gearing up to change that, though. They plan to hire a consultant and put together a “technical advisory committee” that will guide the redesign of Blake Road. The goal is to rapidly develop a plan, secure funding and start construction in 2017—just in time for the road to be ready when Southwest Light Rail Transit starts operating in 2018.

Click here for a three-part series on complete streets and what Hopkins planners envision. Click on the PDF to the right to see what developers thought about the area around the proposed Blake Station.

Bradford noted several problems in the corridor that the redesign would have to fix, including:

  • A poorly operating intersection at Highway 7 and Blake Road,
  • Long pedestrian crossings without a safe place to stop,
  • Lack of bike lanes,
  • Minimal streetscape and
  • Numerous driveway entrances that make movement inefficient near Excelsior Boulevard.

The redesign wouldn’t require workers to rip up the pavement and totally redo the road, but it would still be pricy. Having a plan in a place and a multi-agency team backing the project could give it a boost when planners apply for outside money, Bradford said.

Hopkins hopes for the team to include:

“We think it is really important to get all of these people in the same room together and collaboratively come up with the same approach,” Bradford said.

The process could have more indirect benefits, as well. The Blake Station is currently planned for the property where 43 Hoops is now, a location Hopkins planners and developers aren’t really happy with. The city is also worried that some people will want to build the station on the watershed district-owned Cold Storage site, a prime redevelopment site for which the city has high hopes. The committee could help dictate a station location that works best for the corridor, Councilwoman Kristi Halverson said.

A plan could also promote Blake Road development by letting developers know that improvements are coming.

“The watershed district is coming to us and saying, ‘You know, until I know what Blake Road will look like, I can’t sell this (Cold Storage) site,’” Bradford said.

Bradford expects it will cost less than $100,000 to hire a consultant who will do the necessary technical engineering work. Hopkins will likely not pay for all, or even most, of the consultant’s fees because the other partners will chip in and grants may be available.

“I have a hunch once this thing gets rolling, we’re not going to be paying much of anything,” City Manager Mike Mornson said.

The City Council is expected to approve a resolution Tuesday forming the Blake Road Technical Advisory Committee and authorizing staff to work with a consultant, likely WSB & Associates, Inc.

 

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Matthew Kilanowski January 31, 2013 at 09:05 PM
There's one easy, cheap way to fix Blake road right now: Get out the paint and give it a 4-to-3 road diet. That is, ditch the 2 lanes in each direction for 1 lane each way and a center turn lane. Right away, you have a more walkable area that will serve the station area well. There's a half-lane wide buffer between the sidewalk and cars that can be used for a bike lane, you don't have cars racing around each other and changing lanes, and having one less lane to cross makes it much safer for pedestrians. We would probably have to just do this between Excelsior and Cambridge, since the extra lane for queueing at the Highway 7 light seems necessary due to the timing of the light. I'm sure that there will be a lot of naysayers to this idea, too, but that's the great part about just restriping the road: We try it, and if it doesn't give us the desired result then it can just be painted again.
Matthew Kilanowski January 31, 2013 at 09:27 PM
Also, I see the attraction for the 43 Hoops site for the station. Cargill is now a huge employer in town, and it'll be much more likely that their employees will make use of the Blake Road station if it's on the west side of Blake. But still, putting the station at the Atlas Cold Storage site is also very attractive in that the county already owns the property. Also attractive is the idea of a mixed-use development on the creek with a rail station integrated into it. Any residents there could have direct access to the station, instead of crossing Blake, walking past the businesses on the corner of Blake, then walking further still through the sea of cars to get to the station. Regardless of where it ends up, if we want this station to be truly used to its greatest potential, we won't bury it behind a parking ramp. We'll have it share a parking ramp with a mixed use development, and that ramp will be central to the development and not built to separate the station from the businesses. That's where a lot of these station plans seem to fail. Nobody using the station as a park-and-ride is going to actually conduct business or do any shopping in the adjacent development if they have to walk to the other side of the parking ramp, past their car, to get there. They'll just go straight to their cars. Build some storefronts or something that wrap around the parking ramp, then position the station so that people have to walk half a block past those stores to get to the ramp.

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