Design of the Lyndale Avenue Bridge over I-494 in RichifieldThe proposed design of the Bridge is to be a single-point diamond interchange and will look similar to the Penn Avenue Bridge over I-494. While the Penn Avenue Bridge won awards and gets an “A” for its traffic engineering, it fails to enhance the aesthetic of the road, respect neighborhoods, and provide opportunities as a gateway into Richfield. While it is a great improvement for mobility for pedestrians and bicycles, the bar was not very high in the first place as the old bridge, like the current Lyndale Avenue Bridge provided none. Cars zipping along I-494 at 55 to 65 mph might not be overly concerned about streetscapes but it does affects the people, neighborhoods and businesses near the bridge. Bridge designers tend to be conservative in their approaches to bridge design with a form follows functions edict. This is understandable, the I-35W bridge disaster only underscores the human tragedy of design flaws.

Excelsior Ave. Bridge over Hwy 100However, unlike over 40 years earlier when the original Lyndale Avenue Bridge was built, aesthetic design is becoming a consideration in the overall design of highway project. New highway bridge developments like those in Woodbury and other outer ring suburbs are not just being with incorporated sidewalks and bikepaths but are being designed with enhancements to the streetscape which contribute to the experience for pedestrians and help define neighborhood character.

Detail of Excelsior Ave. Bridge over Hwy 100 showing railing and wall treatmentsAesthetic design is not only being considered in new construction, but also in replacement of older bridges as well. The reconstruction of I-94 between the State Capitol and Downtown Saint Paul allowed the State to rebuild a freeway with design that reflected the design of the State Capitol Mall and provided an opportunity to reconnect downtown Saint Paul with the State Capitol, a connection that was severed by the earlier I-94 freeway which was designed only with the goal of moving motorized traffic. The Excelsior Avenue Bridge over Hwy 100 in Saint Louis Park was recently replaced with a bridge that incorporates elements like pedestrian level street lighting, ornamental iron railings and molded concrete to mimic stone. The bridge incorporated elements of the Excelsior Avenue streetscape redesign tying bridge into the neighborhood. Currently the I-35W / Crosstown interchange is being rebuilt, molded is beginning

The Road Ahead

Penn Avenue Bridge over I-494, showing large span of sectionThe challenges in the aesthetic design of the new Lyndale Bridge are both in the length and the breadth of the bridge. The Penn Avenue Bridge gives a good idea of the problems the Lyndale Bridge will have if nothing is done. The single-point diamond interchange creates four very large triangle patches of land. While there are several advantages to this type of design over other more traditional bridge interchanges, one problem is the single-point diamond interchange has a much larger foot print covering the land surface and while the bridge engineers have taken into account water removal, the solution to cover the triangles with concrete has created barren stretches of land and a much hotter surface area.

Penn Ave bridge looking north toward Richfield showing poor sidewalk conditions

As each year goes by the large concrete triangle casings become more cracked and as weeds grow it becomes more and more desolate looking. There seems to be an overlooked solution would have been to landscape and put plantings in there. Minneapolis has tried landscaping at its downtown interchanges with a resulting reduction of speed of the traffic as well as an overall increase in aesthetic appearance.

Design for the Public

Central/Broadway Bridge – Northeast Minneapolis
Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing German design element -looking east Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing Lakota design element
Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing Lakota design element Central - Broadway bridge in Northeast Minneapolis showing Irish design element

One of the more clever and appealing treatments to a bridge was in Northeast Minneapolis. Back in 1990 the Broadway Avenue / Central Avenue Bridge was replaced. Because the bridge was not only a major intersection for two main roads, but was also a neighborhood landmark to the the community, Artist Susan Fiene was hired through the Minneapolis Dept. of Public Works and Art in Public Places Program to work with the community and create a work that would represent the diverse ethnic groups that made up Northeast Minneapolis. The result was the creation that use traditional design motifs found in textiles from each ethnic community that made up Northeast. At first the motifs were freestanding panels away from a chain link railing, but later in 2007 an iron railing was put in place and the panels were incorporated into railing. One of the benefits from this was not only did the work enhance the street scape, but from an intimate level, the walkers experience with the work would allow them to learn more about the different ethnic cultures that made up the neighborhood.