Thursday, April 11, 1957: Freeways, fast and fun

Posted on April 9th, 2006 – 11:33 PM
By Ben Welter

The problem with the future is that it so rarely meets our sunny forecasts. Below is the fourth in a series of 1957 Minneapolis Star articles on what the city would look like 10 years into the future. There’s no mention of St. Paul, of course. Apparently that far-off city had its own newspapers.

Minneapolis: 1967

Getting Around Town Is
Fast, Fun on Freeways

By PAUL VEBLEN and DANIEL M. UPHAM
Minneapolis Star Staff Writer[s]

The year is 1967, and Minneapolis motorists are whizzing along some of the freeways that were only conversation 10 years ago.

Slide into the front seat and we’ll drive downtown on the southwest diagonal. It took decades of conversation to get that one.

We’ll curve onto it at the Lake street interchange, a few blocks east of France avenue.

I-94 in 1965
I-94 under construction in Minneapolis in May 1965. The camera was pointed west toward downtown Minneapolis, with the Riverside Avenue bridge in foreground. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Earl Seubert)

What a beauty! Three traffic lanes in each direction. A 16-foot belt of grass and shrubbery separating the rivers of cars. No traffic entering the freeway between this interchange and the one at Wayzata boulevard.

And glory be – not a traffic light in sight.

Past the Wayzata interchange we go, then sweep over to Lyndale avenue in a gentle curve. We’re directly west of the loop now.

If we go north, we’ll pass the new homes and shopping centers of the redeveloped Glenwood area, the upper harbor, and then angle northwest toward Fargo. But let’s swing south and see what happened to the Hennepin-Lyndale bottleneck.

At Linden avenue our freeway becomes a landscaped bridge three blocks long. Lyndale and Hennepin cars are kept apart in a one-way network, scooting under us when they want to cross the freeway.

Lots of traffic there, flowing to and from the parking ramps that ring the loop, but we glide over it at 45 miles an hour.

A sweeping curve to the east and we can see the municipal sports arena and auditorium, off to the left.

The freeway slices below ground level here, and you can’t even see the homes beyond the sloping blankets of green beside us.

At the top of the slopes are ornament fences, almost hidden by a seven-foot hedge, to keep the children away from the heavy traffic. Between the fences and the nearest homes are another belt of grass, a service road and more grass.

The freeway and its service roads cut a swath a block wide, but only one-third of that width is road surface. The rest is like a park.

We have four choices at the Hiawatha avenue interchange, but we’ll have to watch the signs carefully. It looks like a plateful of spaghetti.

We can curve to the left and cross the Mississippi river on the new bridge near Cedar avenue. (A couple of miles north of the river, the freeway veers to the northeast and pushes on to Duluth.)

I-35W in 1966
Here is Interstate 35W under construction in June 1966, looking north toward downtown Minneapolis and the Foshay Tower. The nearest bridge is 46th Street. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Kent Kobersteen)

Or we can swing to the right onto Stadium freeway, one of two south legs.

It shoots straight out along Cedar, crosses the Minnesota river on a new bridge and meets highway 13. You can get to Sixty-second street in less than 10 minutes from where we are now.

Or we can go straight ahead, cross the Mississippi river on another new bridge and take the intercity freeway to the state capitol and beyond.

Or we can leave the freeway and drive into the loop on a one-way street.

Let’s take the straight-ahead route. As we cross the river, we catch a glimpse of the Washington avenue bridge. It was completed in 1960 – a graceful, six lane, concrete-arch bridge, like the other new ones.

Today we’ll go back to the Lake street interchange the way we came. But in a few years we’ll be able to circle back on a new Twenty-sixth street bridge and crosstown freeway.

It will follow Twenty-fifth street most of the way, then sweep south and cut between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. It will lead you into Excelsior freeway, the little freeway that has replaced stoplight alley (highway 7 to you).

The crosstown highway has been in use for years – the four-lane one that skirts the north edge of the airport at Fifty-eighth street, then dips south to Sixty-second street for its straight shoot to the outer belt line beyond highway 18.

Here’s something you’ll notice: As Minneapolis roared into the freeway era, its major streets took on a new look.

Hugo Erickson still is widening streets, and parking has been banned on many more – Lyndale, for instance.

After parking was eliminated, a concrete divider was put down the middle and access permitted only at three or four-block intervals. The street carries three lanes of cars and trucks in each direction – almost twice as much traffic as it used to.

One-way streets spraying out from the loop got the no-parking treatment, too.

It took a healthy dose of freeways and common sense to put the word “pleasure” back into the vocabularies of Minneapolis drivers. Some people thought the proscriptions were pretty drastic.

But the reason for them was simple: cars and more cars. In 1957, Hennepin county had about 270,000 of them. Today it has more than 375,000.

FRIDAY: Buses, Trains and Our First Monorail.

Crosstown 1967
Our freeways were fast and fun at one point. This is the new Crosstown-35W interchange in 1967. Hwy. 62 stretches off to the east at the top of the photo; 35W heads north toward downtown Minneapolis at the left side. (Minneapolis Tribune photo by Kent Kobersteen)

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