Not on My Bike Path!

Midtown Greenway Coalition email subscribers, twitter followers, or website visitors will have seen this notice at some point today: 

Let the Sun Shine In
The Midtown Greenway Coalition fights
excessive shadowing on the Greenway.

What the Coalition is fighting is the shadowing of the Greenway that would result from the proposed development of a 6-story mixed-use building at 29th & Lyndale in South Minneapolis, adjacent to the Midtown Greenway bike and pedestrian trail. What is meant by “excessive shadowing” is that the building would cast a shadow onto a roughly 200 foot section of the trail during 3.5 months of the year.

The proposed building:

The geographic milieu:

The MGC’s opposition to any shadowing of the Greenway is understandable. Anyone who has ridden or walked the Greenway during the darkest months of the year can understand the desire for “sun, not shadows.” Being a Greenway user, I don’t really disagree with that sentiment. But, in addition to a shadow-less bike path, we also need increased tax base. And more people living where they can walk to the bar and not drive home drunk. And more housing near high frequency transit service. And more people watching our streets and the Greenway itself. And higher population densities so we can achieve the operating efficients necessary for more rail transit. There’s a lot more to it than just “Sun, not Shadows.” Less shadowing of the Greenway also means less of those other things that we also value and need more of.

I don’t fault the Greenway Coalition for fighting to prevent increased shadowing of the Greenway, but unfortunately there is frequently no strong voice to counter such opposition with the benefits side of the urban development equation (See: What is the Constituency of a Local Land-Use Decision?). And furthermore, while the Greenway Coalition says “density is fine, just not on the south side of the Greenway,” residents in Linden Hills are saying “density is fine, just not in our village,” and residents in Loring Park are saying “density is fine, just not in our historic neighborhood,” etc., etc., etc. The list of places where somebody doesn’t want dense urban development is endless.
Spencer Agnew

About Spencer Agnew

Spencer is an urban planning and real estate professional. He is a graduate of the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis, where he enjoys biking to work, playing soccer, and dreaming of the day when Rapid Bus service replaces the Route 21 local on Lake Street.

11 thoughts on “Not on My Bike Path!

  1. Anders ImbodenAnders

    I was with you til the last paragraph. The Greenway Coalition itself should be arguing the benefits of urban development on its corridor, even if that means a little shade. The benefits to the Greenway itself–but also the business node, neighborhoods, and Lyndale corridor–far outweigh whether or not I'm in the sun for 30 seconds on a January afternoon. To rule out development on 50% of the Greenway corridor is ludicrous and really short sighted. (Land prices being what they are, ruling out a five or six story building amounts to ruling out all development on most of the corridor.)

  2. Dave Reid

    We've had a similar fight here in Milwaukee where an entire stretch of the river (which has bike trails along it) has now been deemed essentially unbuildable. I always felt this action encourages sprawl (fighting density), and limits use of the trails as clearly people living on the trail will be likely to use it. Further, couldn't the development include some lighting for the evening and maybe even night time?

    1. Nathaniel


      There are rationale responses that we can take. Adding additional lighting could be one of those. Making sure the new developments act reasonably in accommodating the bike pathway. It's unfortunate that we set these strict guidelines on development without looking closely at reasonable accommodations.

  3. Reuben CollinsReuben Collins

    I think the Greenway Coalition's request is perhaps a little more nuanced than we're giving them credit for here. The press release says:

    The Coalition enthusiastically supports such development, which is good for the corridor and good for Minneapolis. […] We have asked the developer to step back their building, to let more sun shine in the Greenway.

    They aren't opposed to the development, they just want it "stepped back", which I assume refers to having a greater setback distance on the highest couple floors. This is a pretty routine request in any development scenario.

    That being said, I certainly support greater densities along the Greenway – and trying to ensure sunlight access in a trench during a MN winter is a little bit of a lost cause.

    1. Spencer

      Developer is Greco, who also did the "Blue" building across Aldrich from this site. OurUptown is a good source for Uptown-area development:

      You can also find details on the Planning Commission agenda page (item #6): <a href="” target=”_blank”> <a h…” target=”_blank”>

  4. Nathaniel

    Upper floor setbacks seem pretty reasonable, a good compromise. It's good to hear the Greenway Coalition is in favor of such development though!

    Regarding the setback, doesn't the small area plan detail the required setbacks? I'm curious how this buildings fits into that equation.

  5. Julie Kosbab

    I'm also glad to see that they're asking for setback, not lack of development. I think it's really important to consider context, and the Midtown Greenway's context is that is a quintessentially URBAN bicycle expressway. In a trench.

    As such, setbacks and landscaping are to be encouraged — consider some of the amazing art and garden along the route, particularly near Uptown. But the urban nature of the trail requires nearby urban development, which includes density and even some height. This can be done in a way that is attractive, but may throw some shade.

    This is Minneapolis, not the more rural natural setting of a trail like the Gateway Trail, where near-trail development is not contextual. But here, one of the pro-Greenway arguments before it opened was that it would revitalize areas through which it passed, and would encourage development. Let it.

  6. Sam NewbergSam Newberg (Joe Urb

    The Midtown Greenway Plan pretty clearly asks that buildings on the south side of the Greenway be stepped back to reduce shadowing. But that is just the plan and not the zoning code, so I'm not quite sure what the official rules are. In an ideal world the code would be a bit more rigid and provide more certainty for developers going in to the deal. So according to the Plan, the Greenway Coalition has an argument, but it's also possible that Greco has all their bases covered according to the Code.

    So we'll see.

  7. Evan RobertsEvan

    Yeah, I read MGC's post as asking for the building design to be changed slightly, with more height further back on the building so that the top of the building would not cast a shadow in winter. Indeed, they said that with that different design you might get more units. So the argumetn seemed to be about form, not density.

    1. Spencer AgnewSpencer Agnew Post author

      The problem with such design ideas is that they don't reflect the realities of development economics. In the example of this particular building, it would be impossible to compensate for the loss of units from a sixth-floor setback by adding a seventh floor (also with a setback), because you can't build more than five stories of wood-frame construction (this building being five stories of wood frame built on top of a first floor of concrete). The added construction costs of building a 7th floor would almost certainly make doing so unprofitable.

      In most cases, any setback requirements result in a de-facto loss of density. Importantly to the developer, the loss in density is from the what are often the highest-value (penthouse) units, so the loss of square footage on upper floors has a larger than average impact on the overall cash flow for the building.

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