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Crossing Lake Harriet by Bridge or Tunnel

The Southwest Dad explains why he can't float across the lake on highly inflated tires.

Look at any map, satellite photo, or child’s drawing of Southwest Minneapolis, and its most prominent geographical feature is obvious. Peering unblinkingly back up at you like a single, irregular Cyclops eye, the 335 acres of Lake Harriet dominate the northern half of Southwest in more ways than one. From the Bandshell to the Elf House and all the trails, parks, and beaches in between, the lake is an indispensable part of the area. Adjoining four separate Southwest neighborhoods and sharing its name with one of them, Southwest wouldn’t be Southwest without it.

But be honest: don’t you get kind of tired of having to drive around it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’d favorably compare Harriet with any other lake in the city. In terms of view, amenities, and atmosphere, it’s easily my favorite. And sometimes there’s nothing like a leisurely drive around the parkway, whether it’s the season for admiring leaves, Christmas lights, or the weather, or the year-round ritual of strapping the toddler in the car seat for a few laps because that’s the only way he’ll take his nap. But sometimes, when one is in a hurry to get to the other side, one can’t help wishing that 46th Street went straight through uninterrupted.

Or at least, that’s how I felt when we first moved to Linden Hills. But after countless walks and bike rides around the lake, I conceded that it would be a shame to spoil its beauty with a suspension bridge or causeway bisecting it from east to west. Unless it was a really pretty suspension bridge or causeway. 

So after giving up on that idea, I considered a tunnel instead. Given Lake Harriet’s maximum depth of 85 feet, a tunnel under it would need to bore no deeper than Manhattan’s Holland Tunnel. Locate the entrances at Xerxes and Dupont, and nobody at the lake would even know it was there.

But like all of life’s minor inconveniences, the lack of a direct route across Lake Harriet was something I got used to as I got older.

And yet, when my son Max was no older than three or four, and being driven around the lake on our way to somewhere else for the umpteenth time, he suggested, “Can’t we drive across the lake?” I explained that no, my tires didn’t inflate enough to keep us buoyant all the way to the other side. But he meant that he thought a bridge or tunnel should be constructed. And I’m pretty sure he didn’t get the idea from me, because my wife had made me shut up about it years before.

So maybe there won’t be a new route across Southwest in my lifetime, but I can’t imagine that Max is the only child in the area who’s had the same idea. Perhaps it is possible, one day. After all, the children are our future.

I appreciate Lake Harriet for what it is more and more each year. As time passes, I’ll become more and more emotionally wedded to the idea of it, and how I think it should be, and maybe one day I’ll even get used to the color they painted the Bandshell in 2004. And as Max and his generation grow up and assume the reins of power and begin to remake the world in their own vision, I’ll probably have one thing to say to anyone who wants to mess with “my” lake:

If extending 46th Street straight through doesn’t work, I’m cool with 44th instead.

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