2nd Street Terminus

Design Rochester was asked to host a design charette focusing on creating a safer, more balanced, and more pedestrian-friendly place at the terminus of 2nd Street in front of the newly expanded Civic Center.  Due to the Mayo Civic Center expansion construction project these past ten months, the traffic lanes along Civic Center Drive SE have been reduced down to as little as one lane in each direction. While the construction has made accessibility difficult, there have not been any detrimental effects of the temporary road diet. Traffic flows smoothly, albeit slower, and there have been no more pedestrian fatalities than compared to previous years. Councilman Wojcik and others have advocated for a more thoughtful design of this thoroughfare before simply reverting back to the previous design once construction is complete. Furthermore, the Rochester Downtown Master Plan (RDMP) and Destination Medical Center (DMC) Development Plan highlight improvements to the public realm at this crucial hub.

There appears to be no design for the street in front of the Mayo Civic Center expansion

There appears to be no design for the street in front of the Mayo Civic Center expansion

Because the properties, businesses, and streets surrounding this terminus have an impact on the overall usefulness, every attempt should be made to include those constituents and stakeholders in how changes can serve and compliment this high profile intersection. Only after a vision is crafted, can the implementation be championed by stakeholders and reviewed by city staff in a more holistic manner.  

The conversation around the design of our streets is changing. The predominant view that streets are the exclusive domain of the automobile has been called into question. New examples and case studies of transforming streets back into places for the public are proliferating.  This is an attempt to begin to create a vision for a place in downtown Rochester--to build consensus for change. As such, this project should be designed in concert with a greater vision for the downtown urban fabric, and should incorporate the long term objectives of the RDMP and DMC plan.

Meeting participants indicating what locations they represent (blue and yellow dots)

Meeting participants indicating what locations they represent (blue and yellow dots)

The participants in the charette were from the City of Rochester, Rochester Public Library, Mayo Civic Center, Rochester Civic Theatre, Rochester Art Center, Post-Bulletin, and many more who had an interest in the overall intentional design for this area.  

Existing Intersection of 2nd Street SE and Civic Center Drive SE (prior to construction)

Existing Intersection of 2nd Street SE and Civic Center Drive SE (prior to construction)


Adopting "road diet" recommendation from RDMP and DMC Plan for 2nd Street SE

Adopting "road diet" recommendation from RDMP and DMC Plan for 2nd Street SE

Proposed changes to the bridge across the Zumbro River (narrower, more pedestrian space)

Proposed changes to the bridge across the Zumbro River (narrower, more pedestrian space)

Civic Center Drive R-O-W options

Civic Center Drive R-O-W options

The entire 2nd Street Terminus vision report can be downloaded HERE . 

A Chicken in Every Pot, or a Truck in Every Spot

This summer in Rochester, much of the "word on the street" was not involving DMC, or the evolving landscape of the downtown built environment, it was about food trucks.  More specifically their prohibition in the downtown central business district or on public land.  It sparked everything from a MoveOn.org petition, to a local Food Truck Summit to highlight the ongoing public debate of food trucks in Rochester.  

How I Feel About Food Trucks in Rochester *
Before reading this post, what option below most closely characterizes how you feel about this issue.

The Food Truck Summit was about highlighting the current situation and why it is all but impossible to operate a food truck in downtown Rochester.  It was not about advocating for a specific position, but rather to foster dialogue in the wake of recent news.  This whole topic came to a head with the widespread publicity over BB's Pizzeria's downtown food truck approval and subsequent denial....and subsequent reinstatement.  The City Council--the ultimate authority on modifying an ordinance--recognized the problem. Some elected officials wanted immediate change to the ordinance. The City Council President Randy Staver, didn't have any ideas to put forth, but he welcomed thoughts. So this forum provided an opportunity to supply them with ideas.

In addition to creating the characters for a moving three act play of an archetypal hero journey, it was kind of ridiculous.  What was the big deal?  

You see the existing ordinance for food vending on a public street was created back in an era where these proprietors were ice cream trucks, hot dog vendors and popcorn wagons. It was not during a time of literal mobile caterers that have grills and fryers. I know you might be shocked to learn this, but Rochester has not updated the food vending on a public street ordinance in quite a while.  And so new food trucks are left to navigate the old rules. Below are the restrictive measures included in 143A.08 (of note: E, F, G, and H):

A. An operator shall vend only when the food vending vehicle is lawfully stopped.

B. An operator shall vend only from the side of the vehicle away from moving traffic and as near as possible to the curb or side of the street.

C. An operator shall not vend to any person standing in the roadway.

D. An operator shall not stop on the left side of a one-way street to vend.

E. The operator of any food vending vehicle which traverses the streets of the city for the purpose of vending shall submit to the city engineer of the city prior to April 1 of each year hereafter a detailed listing of the streets on which vending is planned to occur. The City engineer shall approve or disapprove of the use of any such street or streets for that purpose within thirty days thereafter. In making said determination, the city engineer shall take into consideration factors such as the classification of the street, the amount and character of the traffic carried thereon, and any special hazards to the public which may be created by permitting vending activity thereon. A street not approved by the city engineer shall not be utilized by said operator for vending.

F. An operator shall not vend on a street within or immediately adjacent to any park or public facility maintained by the department of park and recreation, nor in the central business district of the city.

G. No vending activity shall occur between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. the day following.

H. An operator shall not vend in a single location for a period to exceed 15 minutes. For purposes of this subsection, a single location shall be deemed to be a place 500 feet or more from the last sale. 

Rochester is not the only community coming to grips with the changing demands of a more urban population.  The National League of Cities published a comprehensive report on the issue of food trucks to aid cities in overcoming the growing pains.  Their five step model is where we can start.  Design Rochester helped by creating a "town hall forum" to share ideas.

What we learned is that however complex the issue may seem, much of it comes down to a few minor issues.  The larger issue (which we will not debate) is over fundamental beliefs of fairness of competition and definitions of innovation.  But the information collected at the Food Truck Summit has been tabulated and is listed below:


  • Tough with traffic downtown
  • Trash / Cleaning
  • Adjacent to Mayo properties
  • Competition w/ Thursdays on 1st
  • Possibly increase fees to make more equitable
  • "Cluster effect" could hurt (or help)
  • Competition w/ bricks & mortar shops (size, proximity, taxes)


  • Lourdes - what's happening there?
  • Future UMR campus
  • Creative Salon parking lot
  • Kinney Creek Brewery
  • Anywhere where there isn't "road"
  • K-Mart parking lot, along 9th Street
  • County Campus @ RCTC fields parking lot
  • 522 6th Ave NW
  • Businesses w/ excess space/parking
  • People's Food Coop
  • Schools?


  • Mailing list of supporters to keep people informed. Can lead to advocacy
  • Rochesterfest at Soldier Field was a great example
  • May-Sep only, not year round problem
  • Create public acceptance first, then create demand
  • 11-2pm (M-F) food truck area (spaced out geographically), in designated spaces
  • Need to be next to a park (figure out a way to handle clean up)
  • Vocational groups or individuals w/ disabilities to help with clean-up
  • Don't let the ordinance stop you, build small, scale up
  • Ordinance should protect businesses/public
  • Only operate when other businesses are closed
  • OK for different roles (1) truck (2) brick & mortar
  • People enjoy summer outside in MN
  • Deposit for clean up expenses
  • Food options get spread out farther from downtown, opportunity for neighborhood building
  • All desserts after dinner needed
  • Need places to sit nearby (M-F)
  • One day a week, "food truck Friday"
  • Food truck offers low-risk starting point to lead to brick & mortar business
  • Petition list, email list, online presence

The above map was meant to spark debate about the location of food trucks. Certain areas of the downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods were highlighted as potential good spots (show in light red).  The large orange and blue squares were post-it notes that do not necessarily relate to a specific geography.


  • We need diverse food options downtown! Close to Mayo
  • Bring variety to Rochester! Allow food trucks!
  • Make it easier for food trucks!  Pro food trucks!
  • Perks: 1) more traffic to DT   2) more varied options  3) Vitamin D outside eating  4) Family friendly
  • Allow food trucks for growth in Roch
  • Rochester needs to support local business, food trucks should be aloud!
  • More food trucks will be awesome  I'm willing to help out.   [email protected]
  • Spin-off all existing Minneapolis food trucks
  • Why is it that the only late night "downtown" option for food is Taco Bell...LAME!  Put a food truck downtown after 10P or 11P -- sell out of food :)
  • Facebook Group that shows times/locations new trucks can join so others in Rochester know what's out there
  • Thanks for coordinating these efforts!  What would it look like to partner with parks?  Soldier Field?  Zumbro Lutheran lot?
  • We need more late night food options on the weekends!
  • Small local businesses are vital for the success and growth of Rochester.  A food truck may blossom, grow into a restaurant that employs more people, pays more taxes.  An example is "Foxy Falafel" in St. Paul began as a food truck and she grew to business (sp?)
  • Make Facebook page that posts summit location(s)
  • We have a fair number of local businesses, but they still come off "chain-like." For ex - the street w/ City Cafe, Newt's (1st) - does that look like a place full of local businesses? No.
  • Indian food (Naan, paneer)
  • How about food trucks parked on 3rd Ave SW, between 1st and 2nd street.  They can park during the day where the out of town buses stop in the AM/PM
  • GREAT IDEA - we want them!
  • If "brick & mortar" businesses don't keep up with changing customer demands that's their problem - food trucks are innovative & meet changing markets
  • Put a food truck in the IBM parking lot, now a Mayo park & ride.  Plus, IBM cafeteria is bad

The news covered the event and did a very nice job of summarizing the purpose and getting a general feel for the support.  Depending on your favorite source for local news, you can watch and read the full reporting on the Food Truck Summit below





Med City Beat

My Thoughts On Food Trucks in Rochester *
Now that you have read the article, heard the dialogue, and seen the information tabulated, what are your thoughts on food trucks in Rochester?

The One-Way Pairs

There seems to be a lot of chatter lately about something called "DMC."  Something having to do with taxes, I guess.   Or new Adidas sneakers. 


But in reality, Destination Medical Center is moving forward at breakneck pace.  There are RFPs out for major (emphasis on major) consultant contracts to begin the process of planning and shaping the DMC initiative as well as future growth of downtown Rochester. 

Complementing (hopefully) those plans, are the requisite public infrastructure investments that will be necessary to support future expansion and growth of Mayo Clinic.  This has been repeated many times by politicians and Mayo Clinic officials; to set the stage for growth, certain public components need to be further developed and reinforced to properly support private investment.  And as the City of Rochester is the de facto bookkeeper on those public investments they need to begin rolling out projects.  All the while being mindful that the projects should always be in accord with the vision and spirit of DMC. 

So walk with us down this path and see how we might envision a large scale public project that would support the goal of a walkable and vibrant downtown and enable Mayo Clinic to recruit the best and brightest talent and become the premier global destination for health and healing.

Let's start with what we know:

  • The Rochester Downtown Master Plan was created and adopted by the city in 2010.  Within the document are myriad recommendations throughout downtown for open space, mobility, and private development.
  • The Mayo Clinic 5 Year Master Plan Update was most recently created and adopted in 2011.  Within that document are comprehensive outlines of all Rochester-wide Mayo Clinic facilities, land use, and infrastructure and what the future 5 years has in store for related projects (as required by their governing zoning ordinance).
  • It is the stated goal of Destination Medical Center to provide the ideal patient, companion, visitor and citizen experience to become the world’s premier destination medical community.

Now where shall we begin?

How about we start with a vision that is widely agreed upon by the above referenced documents for a portion of Mayo Clinic's downtown campus.  In particular, the one-way streets of 3rd Avenue W and 4th Avenue W.  These pair of one-ways (3rd Avenue runs north, 4th Avenue runs south) are an anomaly in our downtown grid.  For some reason they create a block that is about half the width of the typical downtown block and facilitate traffic flow from Civic Center Drive to the north all the way to 6th Street SW.  North of 2nd Street SW, these one-way pairs book-end several multi-story parking garages and adjacent hotels.  South of 2nd Street SW the buildings are much older and vestiges of a land use pattern long since abandoned (evidenced by 2 blocks of single family detached houses).  It is this zone, between 2nd Street SW and Soldiers Field Park where we will focus our energy and see where major changes in the street landscape can foster the character of urban design displayed on the pages of both the RDMP and Mayo Clinic Master Plan. 


At the heart of any transformative change will be a greater understanding of how these streets function.  It is obvious that they are necessary for vehicular traffic.  There is a significant outpatient clinic building (Baldwin) on the corner of 2nd Street SW and 4th Avenue SW that accommodates a tremendous amount of automobile traffic.  Similarly, the 200 & 300 block of 3rd Ave SW is used as a queuing location for the commuter buses that travel in and out of Rochester on a daily basis.  Not to say that this activity couldn't happen someplace else, but it highlights that 2nd Street SW is the epicenter of activity for these one-way pairs with visitors travelling from Civic Center Drive south to 2nd Street SW as well.  Even the RDMP indicates these as Secondary Traffic Streets--with the qualifier that it "serves an important function for motor vehicles accessing downtown destinations and parking facilities, but auto movement is necessarily balanced with other priorities."


We believe these "other priorities" are transit, pedestrian, and in particular bicycle traffic.  It is the essence of a Complete Street.  But in order to create a walkable pedestrian environment in this corridor, more has to be done to make these streets safe, comfortable and inviting.  And we believe that to achieve this will require a wholesale change in how we design the one-way pairs.  We should aim to transform them from 4 lanes (2 thru-traffic, 2 parking) in each direction to only 3 and increase the pedestrian zone.  This road diet can have two primary benefits: 1) slow traffic through the corridor to promote ease of pedestrian crossings and 2) free up space for landscaping and a separated bicycle way.

Before we get into the design details, let's make sure we are being consistent with the planning documents.  First of all the Downtown Bicycle Study (adopted 2009) and included in the ROCOG 2040 Long-Range Transportation Plan (adopted 2010) recommends to "develop 3rd & 4th Ave SW with single directional bike lane or diagonally striped wide curb lane." 


Below are images from the RDMP.  It sure appears that within what is called the Education and Research District there is a vision for a campus quad-esque landscape with a mixture of flanking multi-story buildings and open relief. 

"Future development and public infrastructure investments in the Research Partnership Corridor along 3rd and 4th Avenues create a linear park and green boulevard environment between Civic Center Drive to the North and Soldiers Memorial Field to the South.  The central green boulevard is flanked by six to eight story buildings that mix research uses with commercial space...The boulevard is planted with double row of large canopy trees, and interrupted with small pocket parks that span from 3rd to 4th Avenues wherever development needs allow.  Buildings have a small setback from the curb to create a lawn and contribute to the sense of an open, campus landscape.  The lush, green atmosphere of the corridor provides the city with much needed "breathing room" from the density of Mayo's core to the north, and transitions people down to the open landscape of Soldier's Memorial Field."

The renderings showcase how a wider pedestrian zone (at the expense of a traffic lane as we are positing) that has two rows of boulevard trees can "breathe" a little and create pocket parks similar to the widely used sunken Harwick Plaza directly south of the Guggenheim & Hilton Buildings. 


The Mayo Clinic Master Plan Update reiterates the same imagery. Even though they too recognize the significance of this corridor as necessary for car circulation elsewhere in their planning document, they also view it as a beautiful "parkway" spanning from Soldiers Field to Civic Center Drive including a urban green place at 6th Street SW as a South Gateway. (click the image below to enlarge) 


These plans are consistent, and they require bold action on behalf of our public sector.  We can take cues from other cities around the country that have removed traffic lanes or in some cases completely eliminated cars from streets to enhance and promote pedestrian access.  The Mayo Clinic Gonda Building is a mere six blocks from Soldiers Field Park (including two sizeable children's playgrounds), so why aren't more visitors and patients seen exploring and enjoying our parks system with their families?  At the Gonda Building where might a visitor or patient be directed to get access to our extensive trail system?  These are important questions to answer if we drill down deeper into the visions of the RDMP, Mayo Clinic Master Plan, and DMC initiative and actually implement progressive change.  So here is our recommendation:


We need to GIVE SPACE BACK TO THE PEDESTRIAN.  We must not allow traffic counts and growth projections to dictate the design of our streets.  Streets are more than just engineered roadways.  They are the lungs of the City, and in contrast to the theory that we must plan for ever growing traffic volume (and thus widen lanes and even *gasp* add MORE lanes), the design of our streets may prohibit ever-increasing traffic.  Instead of viewing traffic volumes as a zero sum game whereby shrinking one street requires other streets to expand to accommodate new load we can approach the street grid network similar to the way we approach markets.  The market approach teaches us that people will follow the path of greatest gain.  If 3rd and 4th Ave become slower and less desirable, people will change their behavior and start to avoid those streets for travelling through.  They will not simply re-route all of their traffic to one specific street (e.g. Broadway, 6th Avenue, etc.) they will more likely disperse and find their own path.  If all paths are equally constraining (the ideal for city centers) then people will avoid driving through downtown all together.  This frees up streets for transit, pedestrians, and bicycles.  Now back to those bicyclists.

We need to go beyond bike lanes.  Bike lanes and sharrows are great for avid bikers who feel comfortable rolling down the street next to 2,000 pound car separated by a 4" white line.  Most people are not comfortable riding along or with motor traffic, especially in the urban core.  They in turn spurn the roadway for the safety and grade separation of the sidewalk.  This causes most pedestrians to feel uncomfortable as the sidewalk is not meant for bikers.  Why not create a distinct bikeway, above grade from automobile traffic, and separated from the pedestrian sidewalk?  A bikeway that, using the litmus test of writer Walker Angell, "is good enough for parents to allow their 8-year-old to ride a mile or two, by themselves, to school.   Anything less may not be worth it."

To have great bikeways we need two important things: 1) a network, and 2) a welcoming destination.  Arguably we have a network of bike trails, but where is our trailhead?  Maybe this is an opportunity (in conjunction with the upcoming Soldiers Memorial Field Master Plan) to consider a downtown trailhead, just minutes from the front door of Mayo Clinic.  Widening the pedestrian zone along 3rd and 4th Ave may be the first step in that process; establishing a stronger connection, enhancing the network, and creating two welcoming destinations (Soldiers Field to the south and Mayo Clinic's campus to the north).  We need to go beyond just thinking striping satisfies the needs of bikers and create a distinct pedestrian zone.

Sample Street Section (Mirrored on 4th Avenue SW)

Sample Street Section (Mirrored on 4th Avenue SW)

The above street section modifies the existing R-O-W primarily in the red area.  It swaps vehicular area for pedestrian area.  This allows a second row of boulevard trees to be planted and a separate bikeway along with low level pedestrian lighting to make it welcoming also at nighttime.  Furthermore the traffic lanes are reduced to 11' and on-street parking is maintained on the side where there are planned to be tall, multi-story buildings.  Effectively it widens the narrow block between 3rd Avenue and 4th Avenue all the way from 4th Street SW to 6th Street SW.

ROW Swap Detail.jpg

As you progress southward the green space gets more substantial around 4th Street SW and continues all the way to Soldier's Field.  Then at 6th Street SW there is an opportunity for a large scale paving change or mural  in conjunction with an urban space to become the South Gateway for Mayo Clinic.  South of 6th Street SW then continues to expand into green space and a re-oriented entrance into Soldier's Field made for biking and walking (as opposed to a parking lot entrance) makes this whole spine connect to the trails and thus could be a downtown trailhead. 

Ultimately we are proposing an investment in the public realm that favors the pedestrian over the automobile.  For this critical corridor there is a confluence of opportunities and funding including:

  • Sales Tax funds for downtown improvements
  • DMC funding for public projects
  • Soldier's Memorial Field Master Plan
Overall Plan-small.jpg

Also consider the effect that this public R-O-W change on the adjacent land use.  As we have seen recently, when the street is reconstructed, there are protests by property owners for the assessments that are necessary.  For this change, the assessments would be weighted toward the interior space between 3rd and 4th Avenue and signify that there should be a higher and better use for this land than speculative real estate holdings of single family homes.  Thus over time driving out this vestige of a downtown long gone to be replaced by Mayo Clinic facilities which have long been held in the reach of their medical campus district.

By taking on this challenge, Rochester would be proactively embracing the ideals of DMC.  It would set the stage for how we plan to develop our downtown and where the priorities lay.  It will not happen without political and community support, so it needs to be a public and transparent process.  And it needs true leadership.  People willing to step outside of the comfort of conventional wisdom and popular opinion and embrace what is best for all of us going forward.  Design Rochester is simply pushing the discussion; we want to be talking about it and we think you should too.  Help us elevate this to a position of prominence and support a new era of a truly world-class healthy community.  

300 Block Alley Vision

With increased activity in downtown, we have an increased responsibility to be good stewards of our downtown environment.  The epicenter of pedestrian activity along 1st Avenue SW and Historic 3rd Street SW has led to increased foot traffic and nuisance complaints involving the 300 block alley between Broadway and 1st Ave.  After prompting a dialogue among neighbors, a property owner approached the Rochester Downtown Alliance about ways to improve the public space that exists in the alley.  Topics discussed included landscape, lighting, murals, decorations, cleanliness, refuse handling, etc.

300 Block between Broadway and 1st Avenue SW

300 Block between Broadway and 1st Avenue SW

The Rochester Downtown Alliance teamed up with designRochester to facilitate a design charette focusing on creating a safer, cleaner, more pedestrian-friendly place in the alley of the 300 block between Broadway and 1st Avenue SW.  Many property owners have already discussed improvements and what they could do to help.  But this was a forum for structured collaboration in the hopes of establishing a shared vision among property owners, adjacent business, residents, City of Rochester, and the Rochester Downtown Alliance.  Once a vision is crafted, an implementation plan can be instituted in an holistic manner furthering downtown as "The Place to Be."



The entire alley vision report can be downloaded HERE off the Rochester Downtown Alliance's website.  Contact Jon Eckhoff, Executive Director, for more information. 


The first parklet installation in Rochester, MN on September 29th, 2011

Parklet 1.jpg
Parklet 3.jpg