The Dinkytown Greenway Finally Pedals Forward

“It isn’t the longest bike trail in the city, but it is probably the most important.”

These were the words of R.T. Rybak yesterday afternoon to the nearly 200 bicyclists at the official opening ceremony of the Dinkytown Greenway. And a bold statement such as that one deserves a seconding motion, which I will make gladly – this trail is crucial in the continuing connectivity of bicycle infrastructure in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Celebrate good bicycle infrastructure, come on!

Celebrate good bicycle infrastructure, come on!

After an decades of negotiations, budget fallouts, more negotiations, reroutes, and some more negotiations, the black pavement with small white and yellow lines was finally installed earlier this summer, and a dedicated group of bicyclists came out to enjoy the first ride.

But the real question remains… How is the actual trail? If you are impatient, you can scroll to the next section. But first, a quick background history:

A 20-Year Bureaucratic Nightmare

Bike Walk Twin Cities has a great summarized history of the bike trail’s creation. Basically, the idea of the trail first came to fruition nearly 20 years ago. At the ceremony, a BWTC spokesman said that the trail was first hoped to be completed in 1997.

But, failed negotiation after failed negotiation with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad led to a lethargic timeframe for the project, along with an unacceptable project cost. The bike trail that made so much sense in a connectivity standpoint was shot down three separate times before being redesigned in collaboration with the University of Minnesota. Due to this, however, the constant brake slams became a financial blessing in disguise – the trail saved so much money with the U of MN reroute that the leftover cash will be now used to fund the Bluff Street Park connection to downtown (official description). This will allow bikers to go under the I-35W bridge without having to pump up the hill trail from West River Parkway, and will also provide a good connection to Gold Medal Park, the Guthrie, and ice cream.

With the U of MN reroute, some University vehicles will also be allowed to use the trail to access the Donhowe Building shipping/receiving area, but since those vehicles drive about as consistently as the Twins current level of play, bikers shouldn’t have to worry too much. (Sorry, Twinkies. I still love going to Target Field and getting a helmet of nachos. Don’t fret.)

The Feel of the Trail

The new bike trail showcases some of the next steps in bicycle infrastructure development. The pavement obviously is nice, but a rainwater sewage drainage ditch rides along a good portion of trail. Although this might have been designed to handle the extra load for the U service cars, it will also assist in keeping rainwater off of the trail, lessening the chance for cracks to form. Also, grooved pavement and plastic-melted traffic lines are placed along the stretch, which will probably lessen the need to repaint as frequently.

The trail starts at the ped and bike #9 Bridge, passes the rarely-open Dunn Bros coffee shop, and continues within the “Dinkyditch” underneath Dinkytown Proper. As far as the actual trail goes, the elevation change from the river eastward is very doable, even though the incline to the stadium is noticeable. Due to the railroad still occupying half of the ditch, the “Greenway” moniker seems like a longshot, as most of the visible green is from overgrown vines and shrubs near the otherwise desolate gravel roads and railyards. Hopefully, this will change over the years. The last stretch swings behind the back of one of the “mostly-used-for-tailgating-and-normal-workers-stuck-in-1969” parking lots across from Ridder Arena, and connects to 5th Street at Oak.

Dinkytown Greenway behind a parking lot

Dinkytown Greenway behind a parking lot, with the Chateau looming in the distance.

Greenway looking up at Sydney Hall (and probably onlooking partygoers from their 5th floor apartment)

Greenway looking up at Sydney Hall (and probably onlooking partygoers from their 5th floor apartment)

The trail then progresses from Minneapolis hands into the U of MN Biomedical Research area, where the landscape turns much more beautiful. Bikers can experience, in my opinion, the best example of a modern cycletrack in the City between Oak and 23rd Avenue north of TCF Bank Stadium.

U of MN Cycletrack. Please, Minneapolis... More of this?

U of MN Cycletrack. Please, Minneapolis… More of this?

The trail then continues past a couple more tailgating lots, and after one small block of trail-lacking, it connects with the U of MN Transitway, where bikers can head to St. Paul.

On a side note, the pre-ceremony yesterday included a stop near the new Surly Brewing Company site, where the company owner Omar Ansari and other Surly stakeholders addressed a thirsty (not at the time) biking crowd. Rybak also addressed the crowd, and opened by saying that he was “stuck in traffic jam, but the traffic was on the Midtown Greenway.” It was mentioned several times that the construction of the Dinkytown Greenway trail was extremely important in the decision to build the Brewhouse in Prospect Park. Since Surly has a key fanbase who tend to saddle up, I can’t imagine this was a false statement. Personally, I couldn’t be more excited to enjoy some Furious after a ride down the new trail.

Biking toward TCF Stadium, working off my giddiness from the Surly plans

Biking toward TCF Stadium, working off my giddiness from the Surly plans

Back in my day, people had to climb to the top of old grain mills to get a taste of beer!

Back in my day, people had to climb to the top of old grain mills to get a taste of beer!

After the ceremony, a group ride down the trail allowed for pit stops at key locations. Ceremony speakers, including Rybak, Cam Gordon, Steve Kotke from Public Works, and Pam Wheelock from the University, pointed out future Dinkytown street connections during the ride. Rybak said to stay tuned to his last mayoral budget which will include important street onnections to the corner of 15th Avenue and 4th Street and a potential ramp to 14th Avenue. Finally, Rybak also pointed out that the Park Board is working hard on designing another piece of the puzzle in the connection between Main Street and the trail on the east side of the river – something that would finally connect the University and St. Anthony more seamlessly near the Mississippi.

Rybak addressing the ceremony crowd

Rybak addressing the ceremony crowd

Overall, the trail is very nice and will be used, but it is not the nicest in the city. But like Rybak said, it is the most important trail connection in the city. Not only will bikers be able to get to the University from downtown all along segregated trail, but this connection also opens up opportunities for connections to St. Paul via the Transitway. After years of negotiations, the Minneapolis and University collaboration served not only as a good solution to an otherwise frustrating negotiation period, but also served as a symbolic shaking-of-hands between the two entities which have demonstrated conflicts in the past. What once served as James J. Hill’s primary rail line into Minneapolis can now serve as the City’s primary bike connection between Minneapolis, the University, and St. Paul.
And also, it will probably induce more people to bike to the Surly Brewhouse, because what drives people more to bike than beer?
Chris Iverson

About Chris Iverson

Chris Iverson is a transportation engineer & planner for the City of Bellevue, WA and currently lives in Seattle. He holds degrees in both Civil Engineering & Urban Studies from the University of Minnesota, and worked on a myriad of transit & multimodal transportation projects in the Twin Cities. He is a former Minnesota Daily columnist, RAGBRAI participant, bad musician, marathon finisher, and an unabashed generalist.

5 thoughts on “The Dinkytown Greenway Finally Pedals Forward

  1. Brendan

    That’s fantastic! Didn’t know that was happening this summer, but have wished for it to happen for years. Have certainly off-roaded it on rail right-of-way in the past.

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