Riding on after 18 years

Tim Springer talks about retiring from the Midtown Greenway Coalition

Tim Springer, a co-founder of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, as well as its first and only executive director, recently announced plans to retire from that organization after 18 years.

The coalition formed in 1992, when freight trains still regularly rumbled down the 29th Street trench. The first section of the 5.7-mile, east-west corridor opened in 2000, and in less than a decade thousands of bicyclists and pedestrians were using the greenway daily during peak summer season.

During a February conversation in the Freewheel Midtown Bike Center next door to the coalition offices, Springer, 52, said, while he’s moving on, “Midtown Greenway advocacy will always be a part of my heart and soul.”

SWJ: What brought about the founding of the Greenway Coalition?

Springer: In 1992, I was a commissioner for the Minneapolis Environmental Commission. At that time I was advocating for an east-west bike route across Minneapolis to be developed on 31st Street with traffic calming and other measures. A guy named George Puzak, who was a Park Board commissioner at the time, learned about my idea and came to me and said, “What do you think about doing a bikeway in the 29th Street railroad corridor instead?”

So I said, “I don’t know. Show me; let’s go for a bike ride.”

So, we did that, and I was completely convinced. He’d already been advocating it for a while.

How did you get from that idea to forming the coalition?

Another person who was involved very early on was Joan Van Hala. She was an employee of an organization called People of Phillips at that time.

The primary nugget of George’s vision was a green corridor connecting the Chain of Lakes with the Mississippi River, which is a 100-year-old vision. Joan’s main interest was providing an amenity that would improve the lives in the urban core neighborhoods. My interest was to provide fast, safe and pleasant bicycle transportation.

Those three interests became melded into one common vision.

You must have been an avid cyclist already.

Yeah. In my adult life I’ve only owned a car for six months in 1984. It was a Volkswagen Bug that had a gas leak. It caught on fire and burned up.

What do you see as the greatest accomplishments of the group during your time as the leader?

Working with elected officials to achieve installation of the Midtown Greenway is, of course, the most stellar outcome.

How do you think that the greenway has impacted the neighborhoods around it and the city as a whole?

The impacts of the Midtown Greenway are many.

The increase in the percentage of Minneapolis residents who use bicycles for transportation is one of the biggest impacts. The share of working Minneapolis residents who commute by bicycle went from 2.4 percent in 2005 to 4.3 percent in 2008. 2005 happens to be the year the greenway extended as far east as Hiawatha Avenue, making cross-town bike travel fast, safe and pleasant.

Another impact is the concentration of new residential development along the greenway. …

There’s one other outcome I think is really important to mention. A lot of people refer to the Midtown Greenway as the best thing to happen to South Minneapolis in decades, and one of the most exciting things about it is that it’s improving lives in the urban core.

It shouldn’t be the case that low-income neighborhoods are without physical amenities that allow for a pleasant lifestyle.

What are your concerns for the greenway going forward?

I have a concern that the greenway’s great success will result in things moving forward along its edges and in it without proper long-term planning as to the best way it all fits together. … If development moves forward rapidly, without the city taking a stronger role in protecting the greenway, there’s a great risk that the greenway will be harmed by the development.

Having been involved with this organization for nearly two decades, going from seeing a corridor that just had rail in it — no pedestrian or bicycle path — to, now, one that is used daily by hundreds of people, do you get a thrill, still, seeing people biking down the greenway?

Absolutely.

It’s a big upper for me being on the greenway during the afternoon rush hour in the summer, when you have … families pushing strollers in the walking lane and people traveling both directions and passing each other … all at the same time.

The Midtown Greenway has really set a new standard for non-motorized transportation that, to my understanding, has yet to be fully replicated anywhere else in the U.S.