Nicollet Mall Can Live Up to its Potential

If we really are sincere about making Nicollet Mall a premier must-see destination, and one of the most vibrant public spaces in America, a few things must happen. Whether or not we spend $40-plus million to rebuild the street and then more to route a streetcar down the middle, we should completely overhaul the zoning code for buildings fronting Nicollet – we need a form-based code for the buildings and the street. And we should consider tearing down the four skyways that cross Nicollet between 5th Street and 10th Street.

Nicollet Mall

Before you shoot a million holes in this idea, hear me out. The website for the Nicollet Mall Project explains that Nicollet Mall has been “steadily deteriorating” and the goal is for Nicollet to become “one of the most vibrant, efficient and appealing public spaces in America.” One of the ten goals in the Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan is to “transform Nicollet Mall in to a ‘must-see’ destination.” The designer of the Nicollet Mall Project, James Corner Field Operations has an impossible task – to save us from ourselves. They cannot do it alone.

This sounds like the last time we were mulling a reconstruction of Nicollet Mall. It was 28 years ago, when the committee tasked with making recommendations to the City Council invited Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces to come and present his opinion. Coverage of his talk in the Skyway News reveals he pointed out lifeless storefronts, minimal vendors, dark, cold bus shelters, and that most outdoor seating was made of stone and uncomfortable. He also recommended getting rid of skyways. “You want to reinforce Nicollet as a main street, but if you put in more skyways, no one’s going to be on Nicollet.” He also said our buildings were “not related to the street,” and that more retail shops should face Nicollet, and we should have more retail and food vendors.

That was 28 years ago, and luckily we’ve made a fair amount of progress, although we still struggle with how to make Nicollet “one of the most vibrant public places in America.” The reconstruction of Nicollet that came out of that process 28 years ago resulted in arguably better bus shelters, a little more seating (although still made of stone), and a few more vendors (food trucks on Marquette are also worthy of mention). As well, better building design standards like the Target store and headquarters frame the street well and have added restaurant patios, adding valuable life. We’re also lucky that Macy’s hasn’t closed and that 150,000 or so souls still work in the downtown core and populate Nicollet. We’re getting some of this right.

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However, we did build new or replace skyways, and we have fewer retailers that front Nicollet (that’s how the street has been “steadily deteriorating”). To be sure, new restaurants and their patios have helped, but we still allow office and private uses to front the street, and that’s a shame. Recall that where Let it Be, Sawatdee, Key’s, and the Christian Science Reading Room used to be there is not a single retail door facing Nicollet Mall that a member of the public can use. Sure, Target has a private playground in the space, but it’s like a fishbowl and that block is devoid of public life, not “vibrant” nor “must-see.” Keep in mind that the most vibrant block faces with the most retailers are found along the east side of Nicollet between 8th and 10th Street – primarily in buildings that pre-date skyways. We can learn from the past, and a form-based code can help maximize the number of retailers facing Nicollet in the future.

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It is also worth noting that, at least as of three years ago, a pedestrian count revealed that Nicollet Mall was the most well-traveled footpath downtown, beating any skyway. That is great, as a combination of events like the farmers market, a couple food vendors, restaurants, and yes, nice weather, draw people outside. But just imagine if skyway connections across Nicollet were gone? Those 14,915 pedestrians per day between Gaviidae Common and City Center, for example, not to mention three other skyways, would instead access Nicollet at street level, greatly increasing the vitality and retail potential for downtown’s main street. You see, in many respects, because skyways exist, we have to bend over backwards to get people down to street level, instead of it naturally occurring. If roughly half of the foot traffic across and near Nicollet is still suspended on the second level, we’re missing out on significant street level potential. At least the Downtown Council has acknowledged that skyways are both a gift and a curse, but it’s a shame if another generation passes before we do something about them.

What have we learned since we last rebuilt Nicollet Mall? Hard to say. Cities are great when they have beautiful streets, buildings that interface well with those streets and when there are people to activate that space. From that perspective, Nicollet Mall is like a three-legged stool with two weak legs and a third in need of repair (and it’s still a nice street! Just think if we strengthened all three legs!?). The skyways succeeded in their original charge, which was to take people off the sidewalk. We then constructed buildings that hardly addressed the street at all, and have tried in recent years to correct the latter while still struggling with the fact that skyways continue to keep people off the street.

So what are we supposed to do? We could bring Fred Kent back, but we know what he’ll say because he told us 28 years ago. The ribbon cutting in 2016 will be a great event for elected officials who hold out hope that a cosmetic facelift of Nicollet Mall will magically transform it. Unless we implement a form-based code so buildings relate better to Nicollet Mall and seriously consider removal of at least a couple skyway connections to better populate that street, our well-intentioned efforts to make Nicollet Mall one of the most vibrant public spaces in America will remain seriously hobbled. Start with one example – remove the skyway between Gaviidae Commons and City Center, put in five retail front doors in City Center facing Nicollet Mall (find retailers or temporary art galleries), add some moveable chairs, another vendor or two and that outdoor fire pit on the sidewalk and see what happens. I guarantee we’ll like the result.

This was crossposted at Joe Urban.

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48 Responses to Nicollet Mall Can Live Up to its Potential

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 29, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    The alternative is to raise the street twenty feet.

    • Eric Anondson January 29, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

      I like the 20-foot-lift idea. Buses-street cars could still pass underneath…

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg January 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

        Oooh, like Michigan Avenue/Wacker Drive in Chicago. Then we could have underground tours of Minneapolis, like they do in Seattle, led by Bill Lindeke!
        https://www.undergroundtour.com/

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke January 29, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

          Ug. Bury me down there.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell February 5, 2014 at 10:32 am #

      Seattle did that. You can still go down to what use to be street level. Quite amazing actually.

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam January 29, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I was just thinking about this last week. I’m not sure it would accomplish much beyond sending people down to the street to cross before they go back up, but it’s interesting. I’d have to think it would make the latest attempt to make Block E into something viable a bigger challenge, and perhaps undermine Macy’s if workers just cross Nicollet less.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg January 29, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      But if more destinations are at street level, would people necessarily “go back up” on the other side? They may just stay on the street in greater numbers, which would be the point.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam January 29, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

        They may, but if they were already inside until they had no inside option, they would seem to have had a preference for being inside.

        Incidentally, the best idea I saw in proposals for the Mall overhaul was from one of the bidders that was nit selected to tear down part of City Center and make it into a market square. Combine that with the “Crystal Stairway” and some food trucks and we may actually be able to create a space that draws people outside.

        • mister.shoes January 30, 2014 at 8:52 am #

          The removal of part of City Center and replacing that portion with an market, plaza, and proper bus stop was my favorite proposal as well. Unfortunately, that group didn’t get selected (and even if they had, that wasn’t going to happen). Incidentally, I also preferred their more whimsical pavement designs to that of the other two teams. That proposal is the third one in this massive PDF:
          http://www.nicolletmallproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/GuthrieDesign-Presentation.pdf

      • Mary February 3, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

        This is what I hate about Chicago – having to walk outside in the freezing wind and rain to get to everything. I would just avoid Nicollet altogether.

  3. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman January 29, 2014 at 12:57 pm #

    Everyone’s entitled to their opinion of course, but I think it’s one that is only shared by a tiny fraction of the city’s workers and residents. Poll 100 random people downtown on whether they want the skyways demolished so they have to walk in the -10 degree weather and see what kind of response you get. This kind of reminds me of the “most people don’t know what’s really good for them” mindset.

    Of course if we go back to the idea of putting a glass roof on Nicollet Mall…

    • jeffk January 29, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

      I’m conflicted because I absolutely agree with the author that no skyways would be better. But I also appreciate this sentiment; to the average citizen it’s like telling them you’re disconnecting their air conditioning so they’ll go outside and play. Concepts like “increasing street vibrancy” make sense to the urban design wonks that populate streets.mn but I have no clue how to explain them to most people.

      That being the case it seems better to compromise by increasing the ability of people to move between the sidewalk and skyway level, especially in ways that avoid forcing people to enter through private doors.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg January 29, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

        Jeff, I think people who may not be able to clearly explain the wonky concept of “increasing street vibrancy” do get it. They’ve seen it in other places like European cities, New York, Chicago, Uptown, Grand Avenue, even downtown.

        A lot of the proposals we’ll see for increasing the ease of moving between the sidewalk and skyway levels, but as long as there are skyways, people will use them for a variety of reasons, especially the weather, and that will continue to hurt the vibrancy of the street. Furthermore, proposals for connections up to the skyway level often just block the sidewalk anyway, which doesn’t necessarily help anything.

        My suggestion for accessing the skyway level (I call it the second floor) is to use the sidewalk, enter a building and go upstairs.

        • Jeff Klein January 29, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

          Unless you really think they can be gotten rid of, I disagree that the access to them is acceptable. For one, it’s not always clear *what* buildings allow access to the skyways and how. For another, lots of people, particularly those of disadvantaged classes or just people like myself, a poorly dressed hippie biker grad student, don’t especially like entering the ground floor of a bank or office tower, which are the most deeply formal and intimidating places in the city. And finally, if you’re *in* the skyway you can easily spot a restaurant or food truck at street level and the path to it, thus partially mitigating the street vibrancy issue.

        • Drew February 5, 2014 at 4:11 pm #

          I think the skyways are a minor problem that probably should be removed eventually, but it’s secondary to building a better pedestrian experience at ground level.

          People might not get the wonky concepts like street vibrancy when you explain, but they know it when they see it:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Graben_Vienna_Sept_2006.jpg

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sttephanplatz,_Graben,_Vienna,_Austria.jpg

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Amagertorv,_Copenhagen.jpg

          An Austrian engineer was telling me last time I was there that the businesses along Kaertnerstrasse and Kahlmarkt (both adjacent to Graben, also pedestrian only) freaked out and were in full protest mode when then proposal to extend the pedestrian only concept was made make in the 1970s. They were certain they’d lose business because no one would be able to find parking near by. Even after it started in one street and was driving up foot traffic and driving profits through the roof, the other street (I forget which went pedestrian first) insisted it wouldn’t work on their street. Of course, it did. Of course, the entire pedestrian zone in the first district is a huge tourist draw and helps make Vienna the most livable city in the entire world.

          A completely pedestrian focused design works out. There’s nothing better than eating outside on a nice day with absolutely no motorized vehicles whizzing by. There’s nothing better than stopping in the very middle of the street to talk at length. Give people that experience and you’ll get the increased street vibrancy you want.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam January 29, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

        While I’m largely with you guys, I think there is some merit to reducing the number of Nicollet crossings in an attempt to create an outdoor market zone, especially if the one main crossing to remain is substantially redesigned, as proposed, to better connect to the street.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg January 29, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      Monte, you raise a good point, of course. Skyways are our crutch on really cold days because we are used to them. Of course, the problem is a huge percentage of shops and restaurants have followed the foot traffic to the second floor (I might choose the skyway level as well if I were a retailer).

      And so we’re left with too few stores facing Nicollet Mall, and while we want to enliven the street with retailers, if skyways remain in place store owners may still choose to remain on the skyway level.

      • Some Guy January 29, 2014 at 3:05 pm #

        I think a bigger crutch the skyways serve is that a lot of folks who, for whatever reason, are walking from one side of downtown to the other through the skyways, aren’t going to like walking down and then back up a series of staircases (or worse, cram in elevators) every time they cross Nicollet.

        So here’s the solution: rebuild all the skyways over Nicollet Mall as outdoor bridges (maybe really sturdy concrete ones?) with staircases leading down to and networking with all the sidewalks below. In winter, skyway pedestrians only need to go out some doors, walk over Nicollet, and then they’re back inside the skyway system without even having to worry about traffic. Inevitably, a lot more of them will end up at street-level than the current setup.

        Plus, maybe running a streetcar under a setup like this would look even more attractive.

  4. Josiah January 29, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    Closing the skyways certainly would be a tough sell. Maybe there could be an open streets type event where one or more skyways crossing the mall were closed–but for an entire workweek. Additional storefronts, moveable chairs etc. could be programmed as mentioned in the last paragraph. Maybe people just need to experience the street for a while without the threat of permanent closure.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg January 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      I like that idea! Maybe as part of the planning process for the Nicollet Mall reconstruction.

  5. Brendon Slotterback
    Brendon Slotterback January 30, 2014 at 9:28 am #

    Most of the area you’re talking about is zoned B4 (I think), which limits FAR to 8. To go any higher, developments need to apply for FAR premiums, which generally aren’t a problem for large developments to pursue. Most of these premiums speak to the issues you’re talking about: ground-floor retail, open space, transit facilities, sidewalk widening. Setback requirements are already minimal in downtown districts.

    What would you change in the code? Existing properties can’t be compelled to open more street-fronting retail.

    Eliminating one piece of skyway will only make people take a longer route (and make them grumpy). At this stage, I’m not sure what we can do besides make better connections between the street and skyway, as Corner Field is proposing in the vicinity of IDS.

    • Joe January 30, 2014 at 10:09 am #

      Maybe someone should read this and then tell elected officials specifically what should be changed. Then, consider asking your elected officials to stick to those standards instead of allowing exceptions every time an Xcel or Target requests it. But no, actually suggesting concrete ideas isn’t what we need, we need more talking in generalities that nobody can disagree with – because if you do, you’re anti-urban. I’m so effing tired of this discussion.

      • Sam Newberg
        Sam Newberg January 30, 2014 at 11:08 am #

        I invite code experts to look at Joe’s link above to the Nicollet Mall Pedestrian Overlay and respond – what IS wrong with it?

        I have a few quibbles, like retailers are ENCOURAGED but not REQUIRED to have an individual entrance off Nicollet. And they are only encouraged to have awnings, etc.

        Windows have to cover 40% of the ground-floor façade. Is that anywhere close to enough?

        Retail uses shall occupy 60% of street frontage – again, is this enough? It allows for just one retail use per block in a new development – this is insufficient for an active frontage.

        So, sure, Target breaks the retail frontage regulation, but adheres to the individual entrance and 40% window, which is insufficient. The CenterPoint plan seems to be following these rules, which again is very underwhelming and not enough to sufficiently activate Nicollet Mall.

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg January 30, 2014 at 11:35 am #

          Case in point – more than 40% of my HOUSE has windows or doors on the front façade. Is that good enough for Nicollet Mall?

        • Drew February 5, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

          Do cities with the highest livability rankings require more window coverage than 40% in their public space streets? What’s code look like in Copenhagen?

          Same logic applies to other zoning concerns. Why reinvent the wheel? There are cities with public spaces that are far more successful than Nicollet Mall. Why not take a look at their zoning schemes? There’s far too much original thinking and not enough blatant copying for my liking.

  6. Jeremy Mendelson
    Jeremy Mendelson January 30, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    Another way to bring more people to Nicollet Mall is better transit service. There is no reason for buses to be tootling along at 10 miles per hour on what is supposed to be a major transit corridor. (Note that a streetcar is not better transit.)

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg January 30, 2014 at 11:38 am #

      It would be nice if eventual streetcar service (or existing buses) on Nicollet gets signal timing priority and free downtown rides, displacing all buses. The best option for transit speed is a shallow tunnel under Nicollet (and eventual tunneling of light rail under 5th)

    • Drew February 5, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      No one goes down to the street to socialize with buses and cars whizzing by at high speeds. That’s a terrible street experience.

      To the extent Nicollet Mall is a major transit corridor, that’s the problem. You can’t serve two masters at once. Transit is supposed to move people quickly from A to B. Public spaces are supposed to be for lingering and loitering and chatting. Pick one and move the other activity to the adjacent streets.

      Ever wonder about that? Maybe the skyway’s success is that they are pedestrian friendly. You can, in fact, loiter in a skyway without fear of a bus or streetcar whacking you in the back.

  7. Faith January 30, 2014 at 12:51 pm #

    The larger problem is that the property owners want to see a great Nicollet Mall and think it can be achieved with better pavers – not with changes to their buildings to increase retail frontage and add more active uses. The likelihood of most buildings being redeveloped is very low. Remodels can likely meet the minimum standard (which is less than what would qualify for LEED-ND walkable streets credits http://www.usgbc.org/credits/lt7), but the debate above is evidence that the results are less than stellar.

    A better Nicollet Mall requires a commitment from the property owners to do a Rosa Mexicano treatment (or similar) to all of their first floor space. In short, a culture change is more important than a zoning change.

  8. bw January 31, 2014 at 9:53 am #

    I think its better to draw people down to the street rather than pushing them down through skyway construction. What about: provide a network of circulator buses in dedicated lanes downtown (so people will use those instead of walk across downtown in skyway); provide nice, well heated bus shelters; build more cycle tracks on downtowns wide scary one ways. (see NACTO urban street design guide for inspiration); build a park on the Nicollet block and put a restaurant, dog area, playground, whatever you choose (this was recommended by Jan Gehl and there is a plan for it). These are just a few — and in fact much of this is already called for in one plan or another.

    Lastly, conduct a travel survey of downtown workers and residents: learn more about how and where they travel: trip length, trip routes, purpose, etc. Then you can come up with better solutions rather than hunches about how people need to walk 5 blocks in a skyway just to eat lunch — is this really the real reason why we have skyways?

    • Drew February 5, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      I agree with your main point that the goal is to make the street level experience better. However, I think buses are loud and detract from the pedestrian experience. I’d move all motorized vehicles, including your wonderful idea of a circular bus route, to auxiliary streets and not on the mall itself.

  9. Alan February 3, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    On the skyway debate I think that the part of the discussion that was missed is that thousands of people flock into DT daily, and once in their offices they often go out into the skyways for food, social, coffee, and shopping during the working day.

    These people wouldn’t have nearly as robust an impact on the local economy if you made them think about getting back into street clothes and walking outside for a quick shopping trip or food run.

    There is almost no direction you can’t go for at least 6 or 12 blocks indoors – and it seem to me that is always going to be a strength and not a weakness – other than perhaps street-level retail without skyway access who may be unhappy with the skyways.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg February 3, 2014 at 11:47 am #

      Alan, I believe the 150,000 people who work downtown need various things during the day – coffee, lunch, a snack, errands to the dry cleaner, gift shop, florist, you name it. Those daily needs will be met regardless of whether it occurs at the skyway level or street, and those dollars will be spent.

      Sure, there may be a few cold days per year when people spend a little less because they simply don’t go out, or make one less trip, and just maybe the net spending in downtown will be off by a few percentage points. That is a tradeoff I’m willing to make in return for more active streets and sidewalks and the overall improvement to civic life. I actually think putting everything at ground level would result in more downtown visits, as people would be drawn by a more vibrant street life.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell February 3, 2014 at 12:34 pm #

        On the other hand, with an appealing street life and places to go outside, will people be more likely to patronize downtown businesses on days when the weather is not absolutely awful rather than stop off somewhere on their way home?

        • Sam Newberg
          Sam Newberg February 3, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

          Yes, perhaps they would. I believe the tradeoff would actually result in a net positive in terms of dollars. More importantly, civic life in Minneapolis would benefit tremendously.

          • Walker Angell
            Walker Angell February 5, 2014 at 10:42 am #

            At the risk of causing my libertarian heart to seize, I often wonder what would happen if retail entrances were disallowed at skyway level except for retail only buildings that already have sufficient retail at street level.

          • Jack Taylor February 6, 2014 at 10:23 am #

            “you believe”. That’s what you’re basing this on. Well, “I believe” that removing skywalks would seriously cut into any lunch time meandering by the thousands of DT workers between November and April. Do you seriously think that all the business folks with their business dress/shoes are going to get dressed to walk through slop just to get some flowers or other stuff that “you believe” they need? At best, there will be quick dashes across one street to get to that one restaurant, shopping/strolling ain’t happening. Alan knows how it works, Angell is almost right, we’d just get that stuff on the way home. The streets would be deserted Nov thru April other than the hardcore biker/walker crowd who don’t spend any money anyhow.

            And please, comparing Minne to Chicago, NewYork, the mythical european cities, at least compare similar winter cities, like Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg (snort guffaw). They ALL have tunnels/tubes/skyways to even make their downtowns habitable. Ever thought that the reason that downtown Minne is so busy is BECAUSE of the skyways, not in spite of them? They’ve opened up parts of the city that otherwise would be dead all day every day. I’m dreading moving up to a northern ‘burb because we’ll be stuck in our building with no way to get out all winter – the skyways make downtown bearable.

  10. SE February 4, 2014 at 3:02 pm #

    Let’s not forget the mutual interactions between driving and skyway pedestrians, and transit/biking and street-level pedestrians.

    – People who drive to work downtown don’t really need coats and boots (or umbrellas, etc.), because of skyways, and many of those people don’t even bring coats or don’t dress well enough to be able to go outside in cold or rainy weather. They won’t want to linger on Nicollet Mall.
    – Prioritizing car traffic over, say, trees and better bus stops through downtown makes the rest of our downtown streets less appealing for pedestrians.

    Nicollet Mall is part of an overall system downtown. Despite its many challenges, it’s still the most pleasant place to walk (and, arguably, bike) in the area. Redesigning Nicollet can only do so much if the rest of our downtown remains more car- than pedestrian-oriented at the street level, and if we don’t invest in better transit infrastructure (such as an east-west transit spine). We can’t look at Nicollet in a vacuum.

  11. Phid February 4, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    The author’s argument is predicated on the curious notion that more warm bodies on Nicollet = more vibrancy = better city; his solution is to force those bodies onto the Mall, whether they like it or not. Of course, this position disregards the present reality, which is that the skyways ALREADY create a vibrant and *better* city than it would be without them. Tearing down the skyways for the sake of populating Nicollet Mall would not only be an inconvenience for many, but it would actually make the city worse off than it is presently.

    I can understand and appreciate the desire to attract more visitors and foot traffic to Nicollet, but this should be a reflection of the already existing vibrancy of the urban space through competent planning and what it offers. If the Mall were crafted in such a way that people would make the choice to traverse it – even though they had the option to take the skyway – then we could say that the city has taken a step forward.

    In the end, I don’t think that Minneapolis’s vibrancy or greatness as a city is best raised by eliminating a feature of the city which creates a level of vibrancy and greatness all its own.

  12. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg February 5, 2014 at 9:59 am #

    MPR interviewed me on Monday and Kare 11 News interviewed me yesterday about this post and the interesting conversation it has started. Thank you to everyone who has commented.

    The MPR interview is here – http://www.mprnews.org/story/2014/02/03/daily-circuit-skyway-curse

    The Kare 11 interview is here – http://www.kare11.com/media/cinematic/video/5213611/nicollet-mall-redesign-prompts-skyway-debate/

    I hope we can remain focused not so much on skyways themselves more the more overarching goal of a better downtown Minneapolis.

  13. Drew February 5, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Ever been to Copenhagen? Vienna? What makes their public spaces so darn nice is having 100% pedestrian only zones. You can wonder down the middle of Graben. A juggler can set up shop.

    As much as I support street cars, I think anything that pedestrians have to watch out for has a negative impact on street vibrancy. Of course, there are early morning delivery exceptions and emergency vehicles can go wherever they need to, but the more you have areas designed specifically towards the best pedestrian experience, the more pedestrians you get. The more pedestrians you get, the more vibrant the street level becomes.

    This has been done other places. No offense to previous posters, but Chicago and Seattle aren’t the model for effective design. The models are Vienna and Copenhagen or pretty much any city at the top of the “livability” or “quality of life” surveys. Maybe one day we’ll see a US city ranking high enough to copy, but right now, the standards are in Europe.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World%27s_most_livable_cities

    • Anne February 14, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

      How much time have you spent in Vienna? What makes their pedestrian spaces so great is the direct access to underground public transit. At one end of Kärntner Straße, you have the massive Karlsplatz station and connections to 3 major subway routes. At the other end, the Stephansplatz station has 2 major subway routes that dump pedestrians right out into the central square, as well as am Graben. The new pedestrian zone along Mariahilfer Straße has a connection to the U2 on one end and no fewer than 3 stops for the U3 directly along this shopping street.

      I understand the argument for safe pedestrian spaces, but we do not have the same transit infrastructure that Vienna has. FAR from it. Direct access to the pedestrian zones forces people to use them and dumps countless individuals into these spaces on a daily basis. Eliminating the transit options directly on Nicollet is hardly a fix-all for for making the Mall thrive as a pedestrian area. If we’re going to keep talking about how Vienna is the most livable city in the world, we need to take a serious look at their transit system, not just their pedestrian zones.

  14. Randall Cheuvront February 5, 2014 at 4:50 pm #

    You can Kumbayah all you want but it can already be incredibly crowded on the street with pedestrians and cafe’s that have seating irregularly sprawled out across the sidewalk. Whether it’s 10 or 80 degrees and I only need to go to the bank or to Target I’m not interested in taking the coldest, hottest and most crowded route there is just to make it seem busy. It wouldn’t change my shopping plans other than maybe to make as few trips as possible because of the hassle. I’m not really an impulse shopper so why do I need to walk by all those other stores and curse under my breath at all the slow annoying tourists and loiterers? Remember that Let it Be was closed to make way for a new development that I’ve yet to see any progress on. I miss the store as well as Big Brain Comics and I certainly dislike the vacancy of the block but that was a casualty of the economy’s ups and downs not the skywalk.

  15. minneapolisite February 5, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

    I know I’m late here, but what everyone is forgetting is that if you think keeping or adding skyways are the key: you’re flat out wrong. If you think less skyways = more vibrancy you’re just as wrong. Everyone is wrong!!!…except for me, just hear me out.

    The key to this goal is a pedestrian-friendly wall off of Nicollet Mall 2-3 blocks at every intersection possible to multiply the number of destinations and cross-traffic between these new spots and existing ones right on Nicollet itself: people will be a lot more likely to walk outside to/from Nicollet Mall if there are lots of destinations just a short distance away, even in unusually cold weather. This is why much of that money to rehab only Nicollet Mall severely limits the most bang for that buck: this will do nothing to multiply the numbers of destinations that interact with the sidewalks on or near this street.

    9th east of Nicollet shows the high potential of what these cross streets could be: extremely popular destinations in and of themselves. I’m using Hell’s Kitchen as an optimal example with over 600 reviews on both Google Maps and Yelp respectively which is able to compliment to the vitality on Nicollet Mall. On the other hand, most of blocks on 9th east of Nicollet outside of this spot don’t allow for such a possibility to occur: Almost facing Hell’s Kitchen on the other side of the street a few steps further east is a surface parking lot: not a single person on Google, Yelp, etc, is able to patronize businesses here or find anything worth talking about. Instead of offering an excellent array of food and drinks to draw a similar number of people to the area the sign on the other side of the street seen in streetview below offers up the only one thing on the menu there: parking.

    http://goo.gl/maps/INplD

    And when you go further down it’s mainly more parking lots and soulless, secluded skyscraper fortresses. The problem is that places like Hell’s Kitchen are the exception on these side streets, not the rule. Take the north side 6th west of Nicollet Mall: this is really the only strip of pedestrian-oriented destinations that connects Nicollet to Hennepin with any sense of connectivity: that’s pretty sad, as is the fact that there’s very little room for new infill to be built to accommodate a quality pedestrian experience, Not to mention the number of patrons at Ike’s, Murray’s, and Lyon’s are easily a multitude higher than the rest. East of Nicollet there are a few opportunities for new builds to expand walkability, especially to connect eventually to Elliot Park and add more vibrancy there where the additional number of businesses can’t fit on Nicollet Mall anyway. If retrofitting just a few strategically located building facades to include sidewalk-friendly businesses is possible it should be pursued for the huge psotive changes they would bring by reconnecting the rest of Nicollet to Hennepin.

    After 5 destinations that want to setup shop around these parts aren’t looking to do so in the skyways anyhow. And after all, if Nicollet Mall is to be a nationally renowned it absolutely cannot succeed on its lonesome and an elevated mini-mall (which smells unpleasantly strange between the IDS and Target) hasn’t and will not do it. Tearing it down doesn’t make the area more vibrant and nor does leaving it or expanding it; instead it all rests on maximizing the number of inter-connected strips of storefronts that are welcoming to pedestrians.

  16. Mary Kirk February 6, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    Negative twenty-two degree windchill in Minneapolis this morning and you want to consider taking down the skyways? You must not live here or work downtown.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Sunday Summary | streets.mn - February 2, 2014

    […] Nicollet Mall can live up to its potential as “one of the most vibrant public spaces in America” during the current redesign initiative according to Sam Newburg a/k/a Joe Urban. His prescription: changing the zoning to put more storefronts and entrances onto Nicollet and, getting most of the comments, tear down the skyways.  One skyway experiment proposed: an open streets type event which would close off skyway sections temporarily: “Maybe people just need to experience the street for a while without the threat of permanent closure.”  Also from Sam Newburg, Save Dinkytown’s Public Realm critiquing Doran Companies proposal for Dinkytown. […]

  2. Sunday Summary | streets.mn - February 9, 2014

    […] stories mentioned in last week’s summary continued their impact with new posts. Nicollet Mall can live up to its potential, with its call to tear down the skyways and picked up by MinnPost generated a response on MinnPost […]

  3. A Modest Proposal Regarding the Skyways | streets.mn - February 13, 2014

    […] Sam Newberg’s recent streets.mn post arguing for the destruction of the skyways crossing Nicol… could not have been more wrong-headed. The skyways are not only a critical piece of infrastructure that make Minneapolis a great place to work and live, they are also a key piece of our Minnesota identity. Tear down the skyways? We might as well drain our 10,000 lakes. No, what Minneapolis really needs is more skyways. Many, many more skyways. […]

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