Proposed North Side greenway encountering some bumps

  • Article by: LIZ SAWYER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2014 - 6:35 AM

Officials seek input from residents for proposed north Minneapolis trail.

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Humboldt Avenue N. got some green space and a biking path at an Open Streets event May 31.

Photo: Eric Roper • Star Tribune file,

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A biking and pedestrian greenway proposed to run through north Minneapolis is being pitched as an amenity for a long-struggling area, but is also raising concerns from residents in its path.

City officials are seeking input on three designs, the most dramatic of which would close off residential streets with little traffic to all but the greenway.

Biking groups and other supporters say the 3.5-mile trail would encourage active living in the area, which they say has limited access to recreational opportunities compared with the rest of the city. The trail would be similar to the Midtown Greenway, a major bike-commuting route that runs through south Minneapolis.

“Green space improves your neighborhood,” said City Council President Barb Johnson, who represents the North Side. “When people complain that there’s not enough investment in north Minneapolis, this could be a significant investment.”

But critics worry how changes may affect parking and safety in neighborhoods along the route. Council Member Blong Yang, who also represents the area, said Hmong households often have several generations living under the same roof and have large family gatherings. The greenway could make parking difficult for them, he said.

The proposed route stretches about 30 blocks from Shingle Creek Trail to Plymouth Avenue, primarily along Humboldt and Irving Avenues N., both residential streets. Cost estimates are expected to be available next month.

If the full greenway option is chosen, residents’ front yards would become grass and greenway, with no street. Residents would rely on their alleys for parking.

Another option called the “half and half” would allow bikes and cars to run parallel to one another with special intersections so bicycles don’t have to stop. This may leave space for parking on one side. A bike boulevard is the third concept, which would mix cars and bikes while reducing the flow of traffic through signs and speed bumps.

Early stages of planning

Officials involved in the process stressed that they’re still in the early planning stages and expect to continue collecting data well into next year.

“No decisions have been made by the city. No decisions have been made by the elected officials or the neighborhood groups,” said Russ Adams, executive director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, a transit and affordable-housing advocacy group.

“We’re all exploring a concept — looking at an idea that would raise livability and recreational possibility.”

Adams and other advocates hope to piggyback off the success of the Midtown Greenway. Residents were initially skeptical about those construction plans in 2008, Adams said, but the trail is now busy year-round. The greenway averaged more than 4,000 riders per day last year, according to city reports.

Right now, the proposal is strictly theoretical and decisions on how to proceed will be based directly on the community’s response, Adams said. The city has partnered with several neighborhood, religious and cultural groups to help residents digest the information. Engagement efforts — ranging from doorknocking to holding formal meetings — have allowed residents to ask questions and raise concerns.

“If we can’t get a solid, core commitment — a critical mass — then it shouldn’t be done,” said Adams, who is on the project’s steering committee. “We have to be really mindful that this may not work for everyone.”

Concerns: parking, lighting

Some people living on the proposed route worry that their lives will be inconvenienced to service only a few.

Hmong residents in the area represent at least 15 percent of the population — about 5,000 people — and require different amenities than the typical American family, Yang said. Full greenways are convenient for families with two parents and two cars, he said. But in Hmong households, it’s not unusual to have three or four generations living under the same roof, which can add up to five or more cars.

“Certain groups are going to benefit more from those investments,” said Yang, the first Hmong-American to be elected to the City Council. However, a greenway would provide a safer environment for children to play outside, he said.

During a meeting at the Hmong American Mutual Assistance Association on Thursday, parking was by far the largest concern. Other concerns ranged from privacy and whether more lighting would be needed.

‘A community project’

In order for residents to visualize how a full greenway would look on their block, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition laid sod along Humboldt Avenue N. during an Open Streets event May 31. The demonstration created green space and a narrower path for biking. Volunteers also lined the street to explain how a greenway could revitalize surrounding neighborhoods with public art, parks and community gardens.

The message was that it wasn’t just a “biking” project. “It’s mostly a community project that is as much about green space and what you can do with that space as it is about having a linear biking connection,” said Ethan Fawley, coalition president.

If the proposed greenway is built, it would link the North Side to Minneapolis’ regional bike trails — allowing families access to prized recreation spots.

A direct connection with the greenway would have physical and economic benefits, said Gary Cunningham of the Metropolitan Council, because it would begin to close the gap between the north and the rest of the city. Met Council studies show that the North Side has a disproportionately high number of transit users, low-income families and residents suffering from heart disease.

“We know that ZIP code matters when it comes to health and life expectancy,” he said.

And with the city’s recent uptick in population, some commuters have turned to bicycles for transportation to avoid crowded highways.

On Saturday, Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota is expected to participate in the annual Twin Cities Juneteenth event while wearing T-shirts supporting the North Side greenway proposal. About 40 percent of the club members live on the North Side.

“Once they understand it, people will feel more comfortable with it,” said Louis J. Moore, president of the primarily black biking group. “There’s always going to be hesitation, especially in the beginning.”

 

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648

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