Minneapolis city leaders and residents came together Thursday to mark the opening of Samatar Crossing — a former freeway ramp converted into a crossing for pedestrians and bicycles and connecting downtown with the city’s Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.
A project five years in the making, it bears the name of the late former Minneapolis school board member Hussein Samatar, who in 2010 became the first Somali immigrant elected to public office in Minnesota, and perhaps in the country, when he was elected to the school board. He died in 2013 of complications from leukemia.
Mayor Jacob Frey said the crossing provided a direct route from the neighborhood to downtown Minneapolis — something Cedar-Riverside has lacked for far too long.
“This [crossing] is an honor to Samatar who worked to bridge communities,” Frey said during the opening ceremony. “He did it figuratively; this [crossing] is doing it literally.”
The city’s Public Works department repurposed the former Fifth Street ramp to downtown Minneapolis into a welcoming pathway for people walking and biking. The crossing features separate pathways for walkers and bikers and new pedestrian-scale lighting.
“This is a community-centric project where you can walk on foot on one side and bicycles and now some of those scooters on the other side,” Frey said. “I look forward to biking and strolling along Samatar with all of you.”
Back in 2010, Samatar had emerged as one of the most influential voices within the Somali community, forging alliances with power brokers such as former Mayor R.T. Rybak and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
The crossing is significant because it gives the neighborhood — the epicenter of the Somali community — direct access to downtown Minneapolis for the first time.
Samatar’s widow, Ubah Jama, and her children cut the ribbon during the ceremony. She recalled how her husband would always say that “Somali-Americans were here to stay.”
“Although we grieve and miss him, yet we are thankful for the memories and legacy he has left behind,” she said before accompanying her children for a brief walk on the pedestrian path.
It extends up to 1,850 feet from the Cedar-Riverside light rail station, running parallel with the Hiawatha Trail before entering downtown about a block south on 11th Avenue S.
“[Samatar] was passionate about uplifting people and connecting communities. Now children, individuals and seniors will able to bike and walk in the beautiful background that I see,” Jama said.
”I want to thank the city of Minneapolis, former Mayor R.T. Rybak, Mayor Frey and City Council Member Abdi Warsame for making his legacy a reality.”
Warsame, whose ward includes Cedar-Riverside, said about Samatar: “He was an inspiration to many in the city of Minneapolis.”
Other city leaders present at the ceremony included City Council Member Steve Fletcher, who represents Ward 3 in downtown, and city Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson.
When the idea for the crossing was conceived in 2013 and pushed by then-Mayor R.T. Rybak, the plan was to also allow cars to use the road. But after many neighborhood residents opposed that option, city officials decided to just have a path for bikes and pedestrians.
“I like it because it connects the [Cedar-Riverside] neighborhood with the Elliot Park neighborhood without people using cars,” said Joseph Musco, the first one to bike on the stretch.
The city plans to add additional landscaping and public art along the crossing between 11th Avenue S. and 15th Avenue S.
The city has issued a call for artists and is seeking up to three people to collaborate on the design of a memorable public artwork for the crossing.