U Regents face transit ‘crossroads’

Admins discussed a long-term plan to improve campus design with a focus on transportation.

by Kristina Busch

Bumper-to-bumper traffic on game days and congestion from the hospital are some of the problems drivers can face on the University of Minnesota campus.
This month, the Board of Regents opened discussion for a 30-year plan to improve the design of campus, including transportation.
This is the first time the University has laid out a long-term strategy, Regent Thomas Devine said.
“One of the reasons we make plans like this is to understand what the [campus] capacity needs are and the infrastructure of the state network,” said Monique MacKenzie, University director of planning.
The plan highlights a need to improve the East and Southeast Gateway Districts — the edges of campus that evolve most rapidly, said Pamela Wheelock, Vice President for University Services.
Specifically, Huron Boulevard Southeast is often congested because of the University Health Clinics and Surgery Center and events at TCF Bank Stadium.
The plan proposed discussion with public and private landowners about the best ways to control vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
“One of our biggest challenges when working with the city is understanding the transportation system,” Wheelock said.
The University will consult Minneapolis officials and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to find out what needs to be changed, she said, adding this includes improving vehicular traffic and keeping pedestrians off busy roads like University Avenue Southeast.
Wheelock said the regents need to have more conversations about the issue in order to set specifics.
“Today, we’re at a crossroads,” Wheelock said. “We wonder whether our missions for our institution will outweigh our financial capacity.”
The campus is cut off by train tracks, and there’s limited access to it because of highway ramps and the river, said architecture professor Thomas Fisher. The University should encourage implementing more bike lanes and two-way streets, he said. 
The master plan discussed creating bike lanes as well as expanding bike routes, tunnels and possibly skyways.
It also considered street safety improvements for pedestrians, such as installing better lighting for walking routes and more security cameras. 
Even so, the cost of the plan is undetermined.
“With our current reality, even in a 30-year time frame, given that three-quarters of our capital funding comes from the state, we know that this is a big stretch,” Wheelock said. 
Youssef Rddad contributed to this report.