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Local View: Greener downtown Duluth, first envisioned in the 80s, can still happen

From the column: "We are talking about a clearly expanded and efficient use of a key central area of Duluth rather than the limited, single-highway use that exists now."

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A "greenway" over Interstate 35 in downtown Duluth is being envisioned to better connect downtown to Canal Park and the Lake Superior waterfront.
News Tribune file photo
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There are so many advantages to pursuing the so-called Greenway Plan, which is a proposal to cover Interstate 35 through the center of Duluth to create a better connection between downtown and Canal Park (Our View: “ Bold vision for Duluth gains welcome support ,” Aug. 19, 2021).

Speeding vehicles would no longer be in close proximity to pedestrians. Many of us know of this problem personally, especially on the Lake Avenue and Fifth Avenue West overpasses.

Vehicular emissions and particulates, which are known dangers to people, could be removed. So could the sight of an ugly highway and vehicular sounds in a space that could be better used by people and would be of more benefit to all.

A 15-acre planted area with multiple crossing connections would be added between downtown and Canal Park. Not just a few rows of trees, but a 240-foot width of Minnesota vegetation is being envisioned to run six blocks, or about a half mile, with trails. All of it would produce oxygen, a quiet environment, birds and nature, and personal amenities. And the trails could connect to the Superior Hiking Trail and other existing trail systems.

A centrally located 15 acres would be returned to the people while retaining traffic passage safely below. It would mean a half mile less snow removal and salted runoff entering Duluth’s stormwater system. The enclosed interstate would be better protected from deterioration and heat-sink conditions.

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Creating Duluth’s first-ever vehicular-free pedestrian connection to Lake Superior from the center of the city would result in space usable for exercise by downtown employees and others, 24/7.

An environment would be created where safe housing could occur. Poor air quality limits this currently.

Interstate funding for highway repairs and maintenance would be maintained, even with a greenway over I-35.

This is an opportunity for forward-thinking Duluthians to create and utilize a vegetated space for teaching about nature and to enhance our one-of-a-kind relationships with Lake Superior and its history, beauty, and uses.

The Greenway Plan would create a unique and beautiful arrival into downtown and Canal Park for citizens and visitors alike to stop, shop, admire, photograph, and tell friends about. This would establish a very positive image and would serve as an example of advanced urban design and its focus right now on integrating highways and natural environments. That was our land-planning objective for the interstate extension through downtown back in the 1980s. It can still happen.

The greenway is a chance to attract new residents to downtown, with amenities, scenic meeting areas, outdoor-exercise opportunities, and convenient and attractive connections. A greenway could include play areas for kids, public restrooms, benches, tables, shelters, maps, public information, site lighting, history, sculptures, and lake views. There’s also the promise of expanded access to retail, commercial, office, and housing spaces.

We are talking about a clearly expanded and efficient use of a key central area of Duluth rather than the limited, single-highway use that exists now.

It is worth remembering that the Interstate 35 extension was the largest and most anticipated multi-use project in Duluth in the 1980s. The original plans included covering the highway with a shopping center and parking structure. An opportunity was missed to provide physical safe passage between two major retail, business, and entertainment districts. The Minnesota Department of Transportation was supportive and ready; the developer failed to follow through, and Duluth lost out.

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The opportunity remains. We can still bridge with a greenway.

Kent Worley of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a landscape architect in Duluth from 1967 through 2007. He designed Lake Place, the Lakewalk, Leif Erikson Park, and Interstate 35 through downtown Duluth. He can be reached at kgwgr@yahoo.com.

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Kent G. Worley

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