Greenways — a sign of spring

Perhaps as one of those early signs of spring, discussion of greenways is on the agenda in February in Minneapolis.

If you ride a bicycle, whether for recreation or transportation, the subject of greenways likely brings to mind the Midtown Greenway, a 5.5-mile former railroad corridor in south Minneapolis with bicycling and walking trails.

If you only drive, you’ve likely passed under the Martin Sabo Bridge, the one with the huge mast and cables (yes, the one that needed major repairs in 2012). The Sabo Bridge gives cyclists using the Midtown Greenway a way over Highway 55 as an alternative to the street crossing. The bridge also connects to other bike routes, such as the Hiawatha LRT line.

The Midtown Greenway is one of the busiest bicycle routes in the city, with a steady stream of bikes in rush hour. Some have called it a bicycle superhighway. And, people like it because it’s convenient.

As one south Minneapolis resident said, “My back yard literally butts up to the Greenway so it seemed practically criminal to not get on the Greenway — especially since I’ve been freelancing downtown. … It was slick and just as fast as driving and saved me anywhere from $7-$12 in parking a day, not to mention that I was able to incorporate exercise into my basic routine.”

Given the success of the Midtown Greenway (and here’s a shout out to the Midtown Greenway Coalition, that works to protect and improve the route), it’s no surprise that people have been looking for other possible places for similar dedicated bicycle and pedestrian routes.

There’s long been discussion of trying to extend the Midtown Greenway over the Mississippi River into St. Paul, along a route adjacent to the railroad tracks and Ayd Mill Road. In Minneapolis, there are a few different routes under discussion (check out the website of Twin Cities Greenways for a summary). A greenway route in North Minneapolis has gotten a boost in planning and community discussion via the City of Minneapolis Health Department.

If built, the North Minneapolis greenway would extend from the Shingle Creek Trail in the north and to approximately Plymouth Avenue North in the south. Extending a little over 4 miles, it would connect three schools and four parks and provide a very attractive north-south route for walking or bicycling, as well as new green spaces for the neighborhoods along and near the route.

A few different models and examples of greenways were considered by the community last fall, including a “full linear greenway” (with no motorized access except emergency vehicles), “half-and-half” options that create a dedicated bike way alongside one-way or two-way streets, and a bicycle boulevard.

The discussion of options shows how, with bicycling and pedestrian routes, we’re just learning to expand our terms and sense of what’s possible. 

Bicycle boulevards are sometimes called greenways

In Minneapolis, there are several bicycle boulevards, but one of the most scenic and pleasant, the Riverlake Greenway, runs parallel and south of the Midtown Greenway, along 40th and 42nd Streets from near Lake Harriet to the Mississippi River. This “greenway” is an on-street bicycle route on residential streets with very low traffic. On this greenway, it’s easy for two bicycles to ride next to each other and for families to ride together. Bicycle boulevards are very popular routes with women. They also often have features that make walking safer, such as curb bump-outs and medians that provide a place to wait in the middle of crossing busier streets. In Portland, they call bicycle boulevards “neighborhood greenways.”

Greenways can also be ‘linear parks’

Do you know Milwaukee Avenue in the Seward neighborhood? Or the 37th Avenue North greenway in North Minneapolis. Though both extend just a few blocks, they may be the closest models for what’s being considered on long stretches of the North Minneapolis Greenway. In the 1970s, a few blocks of Milwaukee Avenue (just south of Franklin Avenue) were closed to automobile traffic. Where the road used to be is now a pathway for walking and bicycling. Streets crossing Milwaukee were blocked off. The result is an oasis of greenery, with houses fronting a park-like stretch, aka a “linear park.” The owners of those houses use alleys behind the houses for driving access and to park their cars.

The preferred option for the North Minneapolis Greenway includes a mix of features, including not only the way the route is constructed but also things made possible by re-thinking how to use space:  playgrounds, community gardens, BBQs, and more. The options, once you start to consider them, are many. The response in North Minneapolis indicates that people like the ideas.

The North Minneapolis Greenway is the focus of a community open house on February 12 from 6-7:30 PM at North Commons Recreation Center, 1801 James Ave. N. Maps and information are available on the City’s web site:

Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.