Night after night, the one problem on 76th Street, that is very clear is the amount of light pollution and light trespassing (which occurs when unwanted light enters one’s property) from the businesses and heavily light roadways along the 494 corridor.
I can remember a time in the early 1970s when there wasn’t a greyish glow coming from 494. But that was when before the Honda car dealership and when the Colonial Motel occupied the spot of where the four story Hampton Inn is now. The brightest things at the Colonial Motel were the entryway lights on each of the cottages. I think they may of had a flood light pointing at a sign but I don’t recall it ever working. Shops at LyndaleIf you go across Lyndale Avenue, the light pollution created by lighting at “The Shops at Lyndale” big box retail center is surpassed only by the light pollution created by the city. While I am very happy to see the development and a revitalised business corridor there, the bright glare coming from the over-lit buildings and the parking lots has little to do with security and is more about competitive brightness and marketing.  So what is the limit on brightness? If none, will lights just keep getting brighter and brighter in retailers crazy attempts to lure consumers? A quick google search with the words “light pollution big box retail” helped me realize my neighborhood was not the only one dealing with this problem. The issues facing Richfield about light pollution and light trespassing are not unique to us but are part of a much larger nationwide issue. While many communities oppose the idea of big box retail out of principle, others simply take issue with the effects that big box usually bring including light pollution, but also the problems of traffic, water quality/run off, safety issues etc… Richfield, I suppect is of the latter.On the other side of the wall, in the neighborhood From what I have read on the web, communities like Richfield, that have been retrofited for big box retail seem to have the biggest issues. That is probably because in a new development you have more of an opportunity to develop away from residential, in a community retrofitted with big box retail, as in the case of “Shops on Lyndale” that may be impossible.However, what really worries me is not so much the current situation but rather the increasing brightness and glare that will come with future development.
The other light polluting culprits nearby appear to be hotels and car dealerships. The hotels nearby 76th Street are not much of a problem -understandably as they have an insentive to keep their lighting low key. However there appears to be little insentive for car dealers to change. For car dealerships crime and vandalism are big part of the reason for turning night into day in their lots. Other options, such as storing cars inside would be too costly for most. However, for big box retail it appears to be more of a mindset. As mentioned in the Globe and Mail:

No one seems to like high lighting levels more than big-box retailers. Many now use three times the intensity of shopping-mall lighting in the 1970s.”There is a lot of desire to boost up the light levels,” said TonyRutenberg, sales manager at Rutenberg Sales Ltd. of Mississauga, a majorCanadian lighting dealer. “It looks very inviting.” The big-box retailer thinks, ” ‘I’m going to have more people come in,’ ” he said.~Blinded by the light, Globe and Mail http://www.globeandmail.com  

Honda DealershipMuch of these problems could be dealt with. Fortunately, light trespass is easily controlled by using full cut-off fixtures and reasonable illumination levels. Full cut-off fixtures keep the light down on the ground, where it is needed, instead of being cast to the side or in the sky, where it is wasted.Lights recessed into gas station canopies instead of mounted on the surface (which is typical throughout Richfield) is a good example of how to control light from flooding off to the sides.Excessive, poorly designed outdoor lighting wastes electricity, imperils human health and safety, disturbs natural habitats, and, increasingly, deprives many of us the nighttime sky.Lighting is effective in preventing crime mainly if it enables people to notice criminal activity as it’s taking place, and if it doesn’t help criminals to see what they’re doing. Bright, unshielded floodlights—one of the most common types of outdoor security lighting in the country—often fail on both counts. The bright glare caste by them, in addition to being a driving hazard, can actually inhibit seeing criminal activity with glares and by a creating deep shadows criminals can hide in. I am not saying good lighting has no impact on safety, but like any tool it must be used wisely.  

The design of Lyndale Avenue bridge over I-494 was unveiled yesterday at Bloomington City Hall. Unfortunately the low turn out (about 12 people) to see the design probably reflects the poor time slot that the viewing was put into (4:00pm-7:00pm). However, the Bloomington city staff that were there were very accommodating to myself and another person that arrived late at kept showing past 7:00pm.

It was nice to see TKDA‘s street scape designs and nicer still to see attempts to correct and improve upon the lack of street scape design from a similar design on the Penn Avenue Bridge. It has the same pressed faux brick concrete on the sidewalk that Penn Avenue has but unlike Penn the median islands have planting, trees and shrubs over the land areas of the islands. However, it looks like most of the islands are going to be combination of concrete and landscape rock (rock mulch), in a design that I would imagine must look pretty from the airplanes would not have any visual impact what so ever from car of pedestrian point of view. The other problem with the concrete rock mulch combination is that it does nothing to help reduce or eliminate the “Heat island” that is created with vast spaces of stone and pavement. Yet another problem with rock is it seems to be inviting trouble by having a collection of rock sitting next an overpass, but maybe I am just a pessimist when it comes to my faith in humanity and lack of belief that no kids will throw rocks over the bridge. So while the light colored concrete and rock proposed is better than asphalt, better still is the use of vegetation.

I can understand TKDA, the designers of the bridge, concerns with site lines and root systems effecting the bridge however, the best solution it seems would be the use of prairie grasses which are drought tolerant and low growing instead of concrete and rock mulch. The biggest problems with prairie grasses, are first to get established they do need to be maintained for the first two years and also problem of perception. Richfield is a city that appreciates its mowed lawns and it may have a difficult time adjusting to unmowed islands. However, Minneapolis made the change of attitude and no longer boats out lawn mowers to mow the islands on Lake of the Isles, Powerhorn, and Loring Park – I think Richfield can make the adjustment too.

River Woman by Amy CordovaThe design also showed an increased if not interesting use of railings. Which I while I think it is a good start I think there could be much to improve on. First, they put railing in-front of the islands. It is an interesting but not all necessary. The islands do not need barrier protection from traffic. This is not done with Penn so I imagine it is not needed and it only for effect. But what is the effect? First if the islands are landscaped with plantings, the effect will be to block them from view of cars using Lyndale and somewhat from the pedestrians. The railings have an unfortunate design of concrete for the bottom half and metal railings on the top. Better would be to do what was done near the 76th Street over I-35W Bridge which was metal railings set in concrete posts that go most of the way down exposing the landscaping or to do away with the idea of railings all together. The other problem with the railings is this design creates is a loooong corridor effect. Better would be to break it up with simple unique designs in each island center, using designs not unlike the work by Amy Cordova on Saint Paul’s West Side which consists of organically cut thick plate steel which is allowed to rust naturally. Together with the mosaic on the retaining wall the natural vegetation surround, it makes a stunning yet subdued effect.

The artwork in the island centers would probably cost less than the railing in front of the island centers. That being said, it is important to note that the cost of aesthetic improvements in the design are just a fraction of the over all bridge cost. The decision to upgrade and over build the bridge to a diamond design vs. the lower cost traditional bridge design probably added far more to the overall cost of the bridge than any street scaping improve ever could add.

Hopefully when the city posts the designs on their web site I will have something to show rather than describe.

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.

Lyndale Bridge over I-494, looking south toward Bloomington - showing hazardous sidewalk conditions.It’s coming, I look forward to it with both hope and dread. The current bridge is not only pedestrian and bike unfriendly to say the least (I think the 1 foot sidewalks were only designed as a place for trash in the summer and plowed snow in the winter and never were intended for human feet) but it is waaay inadequate to handle the traffic on it now. Besides all that, the bridge is butt ugly, it is rundown and built with all the soulless charm and creativity of an Eisenhower/Johnson era highway project.The current design calls for a Penn Avenue style interchange. Not really a quaint covered bridge design that would go with the “small town” image that many in Richfield try to convey to the rest of the world. However, it will be a traffic mover which is what is need for the area.

Lyndale Bridge over I-494, looking north toward Richifield - showing hazardous sidewalk conditions.However, it is the bridge’s aesthetics that worry me the most. If anyone has gone over the Penn Avenue Bridge, it becomes quite obvious while it has the sidewalks that the Lyndale Bridge lacks it is large desolate span of concrete in an “Eisenhower/Johnson era” design. This is troubling because Lyndale is a major gateway into Richfield, and a bridge with all the flare of a Soviet five year plan project doesn’t speak well of Richfield. Sadly there has been a tread that Richfield has appeared to have missed completely by other communities, such as St. Louis Park, Woodbury, Minneapolis, St. Paul etc…. to sex up and humanize their bridges with decorative lighting, railings and formed concrete mimicking stone. This of course costs money which some frugal non-fussy Richfield residents are loathe to part with. Sadly, if the Penn Avenue bridge is setting the stage for the rest of the 494 expansion and redesign, it will keep it concrete river look and feel.My guess is that aesthetic design while not a requirement in civic projects, it makes the difference between swilling with pride in your pig pen or swelling with pride in your community.

Redevelopment of the Hampton Inn into a Sherition Four Points HotelOk, this is off topic. It is between 77th Street and 494 but still it is about development that can impact the neighborhood. The Richfield city council approved a parking variance and addition for the Hampton Inn at 7745 Lyndale Avenue. What does this mean for 76th Street? Not much really. I don’t think many of us park there, though I did have a friend that stopped in on a regular basis for a free continental breakfast. However, they are selling the building and are building a kitchen addition to make the building more attractive to buyers. The addition will not impact the 76th Street neighborhood, but the building’s sale could, and the fact there was a public hearing with little publicity on the addition and no one showed up is disturbing. Not so much on this property but what kind of public input will the city seek out on other development on 77th that WILL impact the neighborhood?