Taking a fresh look at Duluth's downtown interstate.
We acknowledge that this project is located on the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of Indigenous people. The spaces being reminagined within this project reside on land that was home to communities of Ojibwe, Dakota, Northern Cheyenne, and other Native peoples. We are committed to creating a vision for our downtown which is inclusive of the historical and contemporary contexts of these spaces and the people who have called them home in the past, present, and future.
When I-35 was built, nobody saw the warehouses and scrapyards of Canal Park becoming the tourist destination they are today. As such - when the interstate cut off downtown from the neighborhood, few were concerned. Things have changed, and at present Canal Park and the associated waterfront are some of the most visited places in our city. Unfortunately, there are few ways of traveling between downtown and Canal Park, regardless of whether you're in a car or on foot. Some of the city's worst traffic backups occur when people are forced into these bottlenecks. Issues with pedestrians are two-fold, in that these unsafe crossings make it difficult for residents to access the lake and tourists are discouraged from visiting downtown businesses.
and the Harborfront
& Central Hillside
Can You Fix A Freeway?
These Cities Did
LOCATION: Portland, OR
TRAFFIC: 25,000 Daily Trips
LOCATION: San Francisco, CA
TRAFFIC: 100,000 Daily Trips
PARK EAST FWY
LOCATION: Milwaukee, WI
TRAFFIC: 54,000 Daily Trips
THE BIG DIG
LOCATION: Boston, MA
TRAFFIC: 75,000 Daily Trips
LOCATION: Syracuse, NY
TRAFFIC: 60,000 Daily Trips
CONVERTED: In Progress
For reference, at our project location I-35
has 32,000 daily trips.
In 2018, our city adopted the "Imagine Duluth 2035" plan as the guiding document for future decision making in our community. Many of the changes made within this project stem from recommendations made by this document. Our proposal, if implemented, would accomplish every goal listed. Read more about this plan here.
This is the total amount of land that Interstate 35, Railroad Street, and associated infrastructure consumes within downtown Duluth. This mass of roadway takes up just shy of 20% of all space within downtown.
The question is: is our infrastructure overbuilt for our community? The answer seems to be yes. A recent report by the Metropolitan Interstate Council indicates I-35's downtown stretch handles less than 50% of its intended capacity. Meanwhile, recent highway infrastructure projects in Duluth have gone significantly over budget while our pothole lined streets struggle to be maintained. Eventually, our freeway will find itself at the end of its useful life, at which point scaling back this piece of infrastructure could create a win-win scenario, creating a solution which is less expensive to maintain (i.e. you pay less taxes) while creating more space for development (which adds more to city tax revenues).
I-35 acts as a wall between Duluth's most visited attractions and its downtown. This wall backs up traffic in adjacent areas, frightens bikers, keeps residents away from Lake Superior, and makes it nearly impossible for persons with disabilities to cross. This wall also acts as an economic barrier, in which tourism is primarily limited to the lake side of the interstate.
This diagram shows a comparison in existing vs proposed connections for vehicles, bicycles/pedestrians, and rail between various locations around Duluth's Downtown Waterfront.
When looking specifically at vehicle infrastructure, our goal is to limit the complexity associated with our on/off ramp system. For example, instead of having to leave the DECC by turning on Railroad Street, looping around the Harbor Drive access road, and then using the 5th Avenue ramp, you could simply get on the parkway and leave. The congestion in downtown and Canal Park is caused by our overly complicated road network - by simplifying this area we can alleviate congestion.
This is the total amount of land that Interstate 35, Railroad Street, and associated infrastructure consumes within downtown Duluth. This mass of roadway takes up just shy of 20% of all space within the neighborhood.
Improve Safety and Mobility
Here we see the proposed major routes for vehicles, bikes/pedestrians, and rail traffic. Major changes to note include the condensing of I-35/Railroad Street into a single higher-volume lower-speed parkway, the inclusion of several new connector streets between downtown and Canal Park, and improved bike/pedestrian infrastructure near the corner of the lake. The new layout "stitches" the downtown and Canal Park into one core area while shifting the transportation emphasis from getting people through town as quickly as possible to making it easier for locals and tourists to traverse between the two areas. Though commuters need not fret, we will only be lowering the speed limit from 50 to 35 mph. Travel times for those moving east to west along this route will only increase by 30 seconds if they hit green lights, and 2 minutes if they hit red lights.
the lake superior parkway
The above section shows a direct comparison of the current layout of the interstate vs the proposed parkway. At present, there are 14 lanes of traffic which run along this corridor. Moving across the section - the Lake Superior Parkway would provide bump-out space for businesses, wide sidewalks with landscaped borders, 3 lanes of traffic, a landscaped median with stormwater processing capabilities, a rail line for the North Shore Scenic Railroad (and potential for a future street car line), 3 lanes of traffic, more landscaping, and a separated recreation trail with designated space for bikers and pedestrians.
Everyone has dealt with the frustrating process of trying to park in Canal Park. People searching for parking spaces are one of the biggest causes of congestion in this area. By creating a number of new parking ramps which are directly accessible from the parkway, we can convert the congestion to foot traffic. The pain of parking will no longer be part of experiencing the Duluth waterfront.
The proposed parkway in this concept has rail running through it to accommodate the North Shore Scenic Railroad. This trackage could be used to re-implement a streetcar line which would run along the parkway and beyond to Lincoln Park and the East Hillside via existing tracks, connecting major tourist areas and residential neighborhoods within the denser parts of Duluth's waterfront.
Additionally, the parkway provides opportunity for a new bus rapid transit (BRT) line. Utilizing a joint BRT-Streetcar median transit stop near the existing DTA center, this could allow for quick trips into downtown for residents of our peripheral neighborhoods (such as Lakeside and Gary).
Highway 61 Revisited
Our project name serves as more than just a nod to one of Duluth's favorite artists to claim. Before the construction of Interstate 35, there was U.S. Highway 61, the route which inspired the title of Bob Dylan's sixth album. By demoting the interstate to a parkway, it would once again become Highway 61, literally Highway 61 revisited. Rerouting Duluth's "Bob Dylan Way" into the proposed parkway creates an excellent opportunity to acknowledge this route.
Spur Economic Growth
In total, nearly 20 acres of prime downtown real estate within walking distance of the waterfront would become available, stimulating one of the largest developments in Duluth's recent history. These parcels provide an opportunity to alleviate housing demands in downtown without dislocating existing families and businesses. These parcels could include space for housing, retail, hotels, restaurants, offices, museums, and many other purposes.
Create Green Space
Duluth is known for its extensive park system, yet the project area has a limited amount of green space - especially downtown. This project aims to use the money made from economic developments to fund a network of well-maintained and programmed green spaces, linking existing parks with new open space via trails and parkways while providing space to overlay green infrastructure.
The Big Picture
Is It Time For Transformative Change?
How does it feel?
Duluth: The Zenith City on Lake Superior. Do you see an opportunity to play a role in helping Duluth reach its zenith? Are you interested in seeing a superior downtown Duluth? We are looking to form a coalition of supporters, leaders, and thinkers who can help us create a more livable, equitable, and sustainable Duluth. We want to hear your ideas, regardless of your background. Please contact us to discuss ways we can work together.
The Duluth Waterfront Collective is a grassroots volunteer group of Duluth-based designers, planners, thinkers and more who undertook this project to start a conversation within our city. Nothing outlined in this plan is expected to be built (yet), but is intended to inspire change. If it has worked and you have thoughts, please share them with us using this form.