Congestion on Stone Arch Bridge, highly trafficked areas could mean losing amenities

Park users around the University of Minnesota have largely been compliant with guidelines, but high-traffic areas like the Stone Arch Bridge are an area for concern, community members said.

Roommates and University of Minnesota students from left, Harold Carpenter,  Wenxuan Li, Myles Mickens and Brandon Chan play a game of basketball in Van Cleve Park on Tuesday, April 21. The group relocated their frequent games after the hoops at Comstock Hall had the rims removed to prevent transmission of coronavirus.

Andy Kosier

Roommates and University of Minnesota students from left, Harold Carpenter, Wenxuan Li, Myles Mickens and Brandon Chan play a game of basketball in Van Cleve Park on Tuesday, April 21. The group relocated their frequent games after the hoops at Comstock Hall had the rims removed to prevent transmission of coronavirus.

Brooke Sheehy

City officials say it is crucial for the public to practice better social distancing outside to prevent closures of parks and amenities.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has issued guidelines for the public to enforce social distancing, including using park amenities individually or within a single household and staying six feet apart from others. Park users around the University of Minnesota have largely been compliant, but high-traffic areas like the Stone Arch Bridge tend to be an area for concern, community members said. 

“The park board is doing as much as we can to provide the basis for people to safely social distance and [close] down facilities where that is an impossible thing,” said MPRB Commissioner Chris Meyer, who represents southeast Minneapolis.

On Tuesday, MRPB opened the southbound lane of East River Parkway and Fulton Avenue through Prospect Park to St. Paul for pedestrians. Both sides of St. Anthony Main Street between Third and Sixth Avenues also opened. These measures will provide more space for people to exercise while social distancing, including students on campus, Meyer said. 

Signs posted by MPRB earlier this month at parks citywide lay out specific social distancing guidelines. These guidelines state that only one person or household may use the basketball court, tennis court or playground at a time.

Failure to comply with the guidelines will result in complete removal of amenities like tennis nets and basketball hoops, according to MPRB.

“Those visiting [Van Cleve Park] appear to mostly be following social distancing rules,” said Cody Hoerning, a Southeast Como Improvement Association board member. “Some people are in close contact on the basketball court, but these groups are small and could be part of the same residence.”

Two weeks ago, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board made further efforts to promote social distancing by implementing an ambassador program. MPRB ambassadors will provide information and support regarding social distancing practices in both local and regional parks. 

Chris Lautenschlager, executive director of the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association, said he’s heard concerns about the number of people that congregate at Father Hennepin State Park and the Stone Arch Bridge. 

“With some of the activity on our side of the Stone Arch Bridge, we have gotten phone calls and seen reports about people being concerned,” Lautenschlager said. 

Meyer said MPRB is trying to follow a science-based approach when creating its guidelines, including working with a city epidemiologist. He said people walking past each other in places like the Stone Arch Bridge have a “pretty negligible” risk of infection.

“The vast majority of transmission happens indoors, and it is a bigger issue when the air is stagnant …” Meyer said. “I feel like even though it is hard to follow a 6-foot guideline, it does not yet seem like a big enough safety concern to shut [The Stone Arch Bridge] down.”