Linked: Chain of Lakes and Mississippi River

The third phase of the Midtown Greenway is completed

A 14-year-old idea to build a bicycle path connecting the Chain of Lakes to the Mississippi River became reality this month.

Phase three of the Midtown Greenway opened Sept. 1, completing the 5.6-mile path that stretches across the city from West of Lake Calhoun to the river. The Greenway, which bicycle enthusiasts proposed in 1992, was built in three phases along the Midtown rail trench parallel to 29th Street. The first phase runs from West of the Chain of Lakes to 5th Avenue, the second from 5th to Hiawatha Avenue and the third from Hiawatha to the river.

Minneapolis and Hennepin County worked together on the project, which isn't complete yet.

More work is planned along the path, including further development of phase three, the creation of open park space throughout the route, construction of a bridge over Hiawatha Avenue and an extension of the greenway over the Mississippi, said Tim Springer, president of the Midtown Greenway Coalition. The coalition is a group of volunteers involved in a community-based process to develop and improve the greenway.

Springer said it would take decades for the greenway vision to be fully realized, but it is open permanently and enthusiasts haven't hesitated to grab their bikes, skates or sneakers and hit the pavement of Minneapolis' newest amenity.

&#8220It's terrific,” said Kingfield resident James Kerwin, who was cycling on the greenway with his wife, Gretchen Steadry, near Uptown earlier this month. &#8220This is an incredibly good thing that Minneapolis has done.”

Kerwin and his wife said they bike the greenway two or three times a week for recreation. They rode through the recently completed third phase for the first time Sept. 12. They said the greenway has given cyclists a safe alternative to riding on busy city streets.

&#8220This separates you from traffic,” Kerwin said. &#8220On the street you're looking around trying to stay alive. On the greenway you're looking around saying ‘oh, that's pretty.'”

Carol Straight soaks up the greenway's sites, which include 13 flower gardens a number of trees and other vegetation, every day while walking her dogs Codi and Latte or roller skating. She said she likes the greenway because it's flat, so she doesn't have to worry about hills. Straight had been anticipating the opening of phase three, though she hasn't used it yet.

&#8220Now I can bring a picnic with my dogs, go to the Mississippi and go back,” she said. &#8220We'll probably do that on my next day off; get up early and make a day of it.”

Bob Broshat, of St. Louis Park, works from home and rides the greenway during his lunch hour. He said he's started to recognize and interact with some of the trail's regular users. One cyclist donated a spare tire when Broshat had a flat, he said.

Many Minneapolis residents use the greenway to commute to and from work or elsewhere. It's open year-round and plowed regularly in the winter.

Springer said the greenway's pavement is only one of its offerings.

&#8220The Midtown Greenway is more than an asphalt pathway,” he said. &#8220It's a nonmotorized transportation corridor, a linear green space, a potential palate for public art and the catalyst for a built environment that's walkable and bikeable.”

Springer said the Midtown Greenway Coalition is looking to expand green spaces along the route and working with the city to develop a trolley or light rail transit system parallel to the path. The coalition will also monitor development along the greenway and do what it can to ensure new buildings are compatible with the space. Some planned developments, such as Mozaic in Uptown, will be built with greenway access in mind.

George Puzak, the cyclist who thought up and proposed the greenway idea after riding his mountain bike along Minneapolis rail lines, said the greenway might never be complete because of citizens' plans to continually improve it. Puzak has biked the length of the greenway with his family and said he can't wait to see what's next.

For now, he enjoys &#8220seeing people use the greenway with smiles on their faces.” Minneapolis Transportation Engineer Don Pflaum said a formal celebration for the greenway's opening will be scheduled later this fall or in the spring of 2007.

Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367 and jweyer@mnpubs.com.