Construction hasn’t yet begun on the Southwest light-rail line, but downtown Hopkins is already prepared for the train’s arrival.
Work is nearly complete on “The Artery,” the transformation of a multi-block stretch near Hopkins’ historic Mainstreet into a “pedestrian seductive” space that is friendlier to biking and walking. It connects two regional bike trails on either side of downtown, and will be a welcome mat for the future downtown Hopkins light rail station — assuming the line begins service as scheduled in 2023.
“It’s to create a special experience for, say, a pedestrian that’s going to draw them to downtown Hopkins,” said Nate Stanley, city engineer.
The redesigned corridor runs on 8th Avenue from Excelsior Boulevard past Mainstreet. The street has been converted into a one-way, with an elevated bike lane and wider sidewalks replacing some of the space previously used by vehicles. The project gets its name from the array of public art that is being installed.
“We’ve used aesthetics [on] everything from the pavement all the way up to custom lighting,” Stanley said, referring to lights suspended over the street on wires.
Workers are installing art pieces along the corridor this spring, including a giant dragonfly wing that will do double duty as public art and a traffic gate to close off the street for events. The grand opening is on June 2.
“This area is intended to be used by the public for public events … whether it’s car shows or Raspberry Days, or street festivals sponsored by private entities,” Stanley said.
The sculptor of the dragonfly wing, Stan Sears, has designed other public art along the Twin Cities light rail system. He studied dragonfly wings under a magnifying glass to better understand their three-dimensional shape.
“You wanted something that could be light enough but also structural enough to make this span out here,” Sears said.
The Metropolitan Council, which is building the light-rail line, has supported the project as a prime example of transit-oriented development.
It awarded The Artery project more than $1.3 million in Livable Communities Act grants, and awarded an additional $365,000 in similar grants for environmental cleanup to help develop a nearby apartment building, Gallery Flats. It is also paying $3.4 million to purchase an enclosed parking ramp in the new Moline apartment building on the street, which will serve as a park-and-ride facility for Southwest.
Hennepin County’s housing authority has also committed $300,000 for development of the Artery.
Eric Anondson, a Hopkins resident and advocate of travel by bike, transit and walking, said the project has turned out better than he expected.
“The Artery, I think, fulfills the promise of making it a better experience of getting from the Cedar Lake bike trail … into downtown Hopkins,” Anondson said. “There was 2½ blocks of bland, boring industrial [properties] there, but now as a cyclist or a walker along that space it is so much nicer than it was before.”