Signs of division are popping up in north Minneapolis — nestled in flower beds, unfurling in kitchen windows, sprouting up in grassy front lawns.
The bright yellow signs read: “We support the Greenway.”
The rest bear a rival message: “Say NO to the Greenway.”
They dot the streetscape along a five-block stretch on Irving Avenue N., where a much-debated temporary greenway opened last month. The pedestrian- and bike-friendly route hugs the residential area extending from Jordan Park to Folwell Park.
City officials and residents say the pilot route, which cuts in front of more than 140 houses, has also left the neighborhood divided over issues like parking and access.
Friends aren’t speaking. Tensions balloon and then deflate, and neighbors seem baffled by the fierceness of their own quarrels. They say disagreements over the greenway are wrapped up in larger debates about safety, belonging and the future identity of the city’s North Side.
“It has become extremely explosive, toxic and more argumentative than it really needs to be,” said Alexis Pennie, who chairs the Northside Greenway Council, a group in charge of community outreach throughout the greenway planning process.
The temporary route, Pennie said, will be in place for up to a year. It provides a sampling of three potential greenway layouts.
The southernmost block features a hybrid design, with half of the street reserved for walkers and bikers, and the other half accommodating northbound traffic and parking. A bike boulevard snakes through the next three blocks, which still allows two-way traffic and parking. Cars, however, must navigate around bump-out recreational spaces along the curb.
The northernmost block showcases the most dramatic option. Picnic tables, plants, benches and Nice Ride bikes have supplanted on-street parking. The whole street is closed to motorized traffic.
One man living in the 3500 block calls the newly traffic-free space “a miracle.”
His neighbor calls it something else, frustrated his ice cream truck isn’t counted among the “service vehicles” allowed past the barriers.
Most of the polarizing signs roost in lawns along this block, where residents say much of the pro- and anti-greenway sentiments also reside.
Residents single out the pilot’s June 26 kickoff event as the point when tensions spiked, with the two groups squaring off with signs.
It was here that a food snafu, they say, also snowballed. Participants said it was unclear whether refreshments were for everyone or just volunteers, and tempers flared after some were denied food.
For Marie Drennan, the event reinforced doubts about the project. Public safety, she said, should take priority over a biking and walking path.
“Ideally, I would love for our community to have something like that, but the fact that our kids have to fight through bullets should be more important,” she said.
Opponents cite lost parking and theft in alleys as other concerns. Advocates celebrate the greenway as a needed amenity for a neglected part of the city.
Both pro- and anti-greenway residents have taken to social media to air their concerns, forming lively Facebook groups, online forums and a petition.
But there’s also been unneighborly name-calling, and some say the digital jabs have gone too far.
“It seems like both sides are behaving badly — extremely, extremely badly,” said Council Member Blong Yang, who represents the southernmost block of the temporary route.
Yang said the charged reactions may stem from residents’ fear that their greenway opinions aren’t being heard.
“There has to be a democratic process,” Yang said, adding that the city should be a “neutral facilitator.”
City officials say the project is anchored in community feedback. The Health Department has been fielding comment cards, calls and e-mails.
Since 2012, about $650,000 from federal and private funding has gone into the greenway, with the pilot costing more than $280,000. The route, officials said, is undergoing real-time adjustments based on feedback.
“This is the nature of the pilot,” said Lara Pratt, manager of the Minneapolis Health Department’s Healthy Living Initiative. “You figure out how you can address people’s needs moving forward.”
One adjustment involved Gayle Smiley, a 74-year-old retired teacher with lung cancer who started chemotherapy last month.
After the greenway opened, she had to catch her rides to the doctor in the alley instead of the street, which was a challenge, she said. She’s fallen with her walker, but there since has been a tweak to the access policy. Her Metro Mobility ride now picks her up out front again.
Down the street from Smiley, Yia Thao’s front lawn is one of the few without a sign, but he still holds an opinion on the greenway.
“It’s good for my kids and for me and my wife to get out and exercise,” said Thao, who added that he’s worried about alley parking come winter.
In a block awash with signs, he said their yard will remain neutral — at least for now.