University class proposes improvements to Como traffic diverters

Southeast Como residents call for renovations to the 40-year-old diverters.

Kelly Busche

A plan proposed by a University of Minnesota forestry class could ease traffic woes in a local neighborhood.

Many Southeast Como residents want renovations to the neighborhood’s 40-year-old traffic diverters blockades that reroute and slow traffic on residential streets connecting East Hennepin Avenue and Como Avenue Southeast.

Gary Johnson, an extension professor with the University’s Department of Forest Resources, said the Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA) contacted his urban green space management class for help with the diverters.

SECIA asked for a renovation plan that included a maintenance strategy between the neighborhood and the City of Minneapolis, along with suggestions to improve aesthetics.

Johnson said the class designs would update the diverters.

A species of invasive insects, emerald ash borers, attack the green ash trees on the diverters, Johnson said. The class recognized this and other plant deterioration, so their proposal included adding low-maintenance plants, or those native to the area.

The class developed the collaborative plan for the neighborhood and the City to renovate the diverters last spring. 

“Ideas are easy,” Johnson said. “Implementation is difficult.”

Students also suggested lowering the height of the diverters to let rainwater percolate into the soil, Johnson said.

The diverters currently have berms — small landscaped hills used to separate areas — that cause rainwater to drain into street gutters rather than soil.

Como neighborhood resident Wendy Menken welcomes the plan, but said she is concerned about lowering the height of the berms. 

Menken said a car crashed into a diverter on her street this summer, and ended up stuck on the berm rather than driving into the oncoming road.

“There is concern that if you were to shave the berm … you would lose some safety aspect,” Menken said.

When considering aesthetic improvements, Menken said safety features should be considered as the project moves forward.

Cody Olson, executive director of SECIA, said the diverters are a key part of the neighborhood.

“They are something people see a lot, whether they like them or not,” he said.

Olson said SECIA gathered neighbors’ opinions of the diverters, and 48 of the 50 people polled said the current appearance was “poor” or “average.”

“We definitely recognized the need there,” Olson said. “People see these diverters as overgrown… and unsafe because of all that growth.”

The diverters are “looking a bit dodgy,” Johnson said. Improving their look was part of his class’s proposal.

The poll also found neighbors wanted the diverters to include more native pollinators or ornamental plants, storm water retention aspects and public art, Olson said.

“Right now, they don’t really serve any true purpose,” Olson said. “And we are currently in the exploratory stage of looking at what we can possibly do with that.”

Katie Fournier, chair of the Como Neighborhood Livability Committee, said her committee also identified the traffic diverters as a problem.

“We were looking at things that didn’t contribute to a good quality of life in the neighborhoods,” Fournier said.

The overgrown appearance of the diverters hurt the neighborhood’s appearance, she said. 

“They are not only unattractive, they make the neighborhood look uncared-for,” Fournier said. 

The Diverter Project Steering Committee that heads the project will meet Monday evening at Van Cleve Park to continue the project.