Elise Nicpon

July 2015 - Urban living is not without its ironies. Each and every day, thousands of drivers and mass transit riders rely on busy city streets to get around. At the same time, however, many of these same streets represent a great hindrance to hundreds more travelers - namely, pedestrians and bicyclists. Until recently, France Avenue between Minnesota Highway 62 and Interstate 494 represented one of the Twin Cities metro's best cases in point.

Elise Nicpon can attest to this. Nicpon is manager of the Room and Board furniture store at the corner of France Avenue and West 70th Street. On paper, this location - within sight of both the Galleria and Southdale Center - seems ideal for business.
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However, Room and Board was effectively isolated from the rest of the Southdale neighborhood by France Avenue until just last year. Wide lanes and an insufficient crosswalk system, coupled with a high speed limit and traffic volume (to the tune of about 30,000 vehicles each day) put a damper on foot traffic.

Nicpon and colleagues were thrilled in 2013, when the City announced its intentions to make significant improvements to the Edina thoroughfare. "We knew that this would directly affect our store. An inviting environment around France Avenue means more walking and biking," she explained.

The City of Edina received $1.09 million in federal grant assistance, and secured an additional $3 million through the Centennial Lakes Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) District. This allowed the City to address three key intersections, but without putting area drivers at an unfair disadvantage.

Efforts were focused on intersections, particularly those at 66th, 70th, and 76th streets, Nicpon explained. Driving lanes were narrowed , and unnecessary right-turn islands removed, in preparation for new pedestrian accommodations. In their place, so-called "median refuge islands" were built between northbound and southbound traffic to hold walkers and cyclists between lights. Improved lighting and traffic signals enhanced by vehicle and bike detection, add further convenience.

The multi-stage project also called for an extension of the existing sidewalk network across from Room and Board, to allow easy access to the revamped crossing locations. "The addition of sidewalks on the opposite side of France Avenue from our store, and the crossing changes made at each intersection, had an immediate [impact]," Nicpon noted. "We now see more families, more strollers, more dog walking and more bicyclists."

Indeed, bicycle traffic has increased so dramatically that Room and Board will soon be installing new racks outside the store for customers to lock up and leave their bikes while shopping.

Inevitably, construction work throughout 2014 brought with it some short-term inconveniences. However, Nicpon says that people who frequent the Southdale neighborhood had no doubt that the France Avenue project would reap dividends. She now points to it as a success story for Edina's ongoing Living Streets initiative, which aims to balance the needs of motorists and non-vehicular traffic throughout the city.

"There's definitely a growing sense of both community and connectedness here, because of the changes," she said. "Building up the France Avenue experience and connecting the many sights to see and areas to shop is good for residents and visitors, and also good for the success and growth of neighborhood businesses. It's a true win-win!"