Connecting the dots in the center of Richfield

Richfield resident Casey Kearns, who regularly travels the area surrounding 66th Street and Lyndale by foot, waits at a crosswalk as he returns from a shopping trip. (Sun Current photo by Andrew Wig)
Richfield resident Casey Kearns, who regularly travels the area surrounding 66th Street and Lyndale by foot, waits at a crosswalk as he returns from a shopping trip. (Sun Current photo by Andrew Wig)

As redevelopment projects aim to turn the area surrounding 66th Street and Lyndale Avenue in Richfield into a more attractive destination for shoppers, diners and nature lovers, the city is working on a plan that emphasizes the journey as well.

A consulting firm has one to two months to go in a study addressing the pedestrian friendliness of the area that has been dubbed the Lakes at Lyndale. The connectivity study has looked at the pedestrian-friendliness of the area, and from it have come a number of suggestions to improve signage and pathways for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Bob Kost, project manager for consulting firm Short Elliott Hendrickson, which is conducting the study, noted the reality and importance of pedestrian life.

“We start and end every trip we take as a pedestrian,” he observed as he and city staff hosted an open house Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Wood Lake Nature Center. The room was at times packed as residents listened to messages such as Kost’s. Richfield planners and SEH representatives explained the results so far of the connectivity study that began in early November, when members of the Richfield Planning Commission and the city council took a walking tour of the area in line for the overhaul — the intersection of 66th Street and Lyndale Avenue and the two nearby lakes.

“People were pretty clear that the primary issue is what the consultants call way finding,” said John Stark, Richfield’s director of community development.

Better signage may not only help pedestrians know where they are going, but also tell them where they are already. Not all visitors to the area realize they are in Richfield, and not Minneapolis, said Ana Nelson, a landscape architect for SEH, “so Minneapolis gets the credit.”

Whoever gets the recognition, there are semi-hidden attractions that people are missing out on, like the sculpture garden nestled between Wood Lake Center and The Pines condominium complex, she said.

SEH continued to gather data for the connectivity study at the open house, where placards illustrated the current state of the Lakes at Lyndale area and its possible future.

Visitors were given sticker sheets of blue and green dots, encouraged place the dots on the photographs and diagrams of possible features that would be included in a revamping of the area. Green signaled approval and blue meant disapproval of a particular feature.

One poster board outlined the possible transit features that may one day greet commuters in the area. Judging from the green dots, the most popular proposals were higher-visibility crosswalks with more prominent signage to warn motorists of pedestrian crossing locations, and more benches and garbage cans at public transportation stops.

Rachel Newby used her stock of green stickers to show her enthusiasm for more bike lanes. The south Minneapolis resident commutes to the Hennepin County Medical Center clinic in the HUB shopping center, but feels a sense of biker peril in the bustling area.

“It actually seems very dangerous, and anything we can do to make it safer, I am for,” Newby exclaimed. “I know too many people that have been hit by cars.”

Those on the November walking tour made several observations of the area’s weaknesses, strengths and “opportunities.” In addition to a lack of signage emphasizing the area’s destinations like Wood Lake Nature Center and Richfield Lake, weaknesses also included a need for better pedestrian connections, the study found. Richfield Lake could also benefit from an improved entryway on its north end, according to SEH.

Strengths noted from the walking tour included an appreciation for the curvilinear nature of the area’s paths, which contrasts with the gridded street system that makes up the rest of Richfield. A favorable mix of built and natural environments was another noted highlight, as was the quality of the semi-public space — like the sculpture garden — and high-frequency public transportation.

Opportunities included branding with the help of signage. Perhaps paths could be given names and be dotted with features like mile markers and directional signs, it was suggested. Also, Richfield Lake needs a “major gateway” on its south end, the study notes.

When the study wraps, the city will identify which particular improvements to pursue and how to pay for them, Stark said.

Whatever improvements are made, the Lakes at Lyndale area has a lot going for it already, Kost said, calling the area a “hidden gem.”

The goal now is to make it a little less hidden.