The area around 36th Street and Wooddale Avenue is already somewhat problematic for St. Louis Park: Poor sightlines on the Highway 7 overpass, a convergence of bike trails, an asymmetrical maze of nearby city streets and an oddly angled intersection between 36th and Wooddale combine to cause traffic headaches for those passing through the neighborhood.
But as the city prepares for the Southwest Light Rail line, residents, council members and city staff are say that, while they’re excited about the project, they worry the Metropolitan Council’s plan for a Wooddale Avenue station is likely to make traffic worse.
“Any time you have these light-rail stations, there will be an increase in vehicular traffic, probably bus traffic, and certainly pedestrian and bike traffic,” mayor Jeff Jacobs said. “All of which is a neighborhood concern: You don’t want people parking all over the place.”
Though the fate of the LRT line is still up in the air, the Met Council is going forward with individual station plans.
The council’s current plans for a $6 million Wooddale station place it just east of Wooddale Avenue, on the south side of the Cedar Lake Trail corridor.
St. Louis Park is asking the council for a $3 million to $3.5 million bike trail underpass and to consider grade-separating Wooddale Avenue from the light-rail line. Kevin Locke, the city’s community development director, has said that grade-separating Wooddale would likely require moving the station east to Xenwood Avenue.
But Laura Baenan said the Met Council currently has no plans to include grade-separation in the project because the council isn’t worried about heightened traffic in the area.
“Our analysis indicates that the introduction of LRT at this intersection does not significantly impact the traffic flow in this area,” she wrote in an email.
Jacobs scoffed at that analysis, saying that light-rail will “definitely” increase traffic. Jacobs said he considers light-rail a net positive but that that large changes bring large challenges.
“Light-rail transit is—make no mistake about it—the biggest deal that has happened, will happen in the next and the last 60 years in St. Louis Park, if it occurs,” Jacobs said. “It will bring economic viability, it will bring changes with it, but it will also bring traffic, noise, transit coming through every five to seven minutes, more density, more population that will move here.”
Jacobs said St. Louis Park doesn't want the city's density to skyrocket and will work to "put limits on gigantic high-rises."
"In St. Louis Park, you can’t go out, you go up," he said. "I’m sure that somebody will come along and want to build a much bigger building than you see at 36th and Wooddale right now."
Meg McMonigal, St. Louis Park’s planning and zoning supervisor, called traffic an “on-going issue” for which there’s “no silver bullet,” but said that in a city workshop the city hosted last month, residents’ worries about traffic were overshadowed by their enthusiasm for the change to their neighborhood.“People are excited for it to come into the area,” she said. “A lot of people in that area will be able to walk to the station area and live in the area without a car.”