The Minneapolis Grand Rounds Scenic Byway is easily one of my favorite urban amenities that makes Minneapolis a great place to live. According to the MPRB website, The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System encompasses 4,662 acres of parkland, including 50 miles of parkways, 51 miles of walking trails, and 51 miles of biking trails. (Unrelated to this post, but this PDF has some interesting old maps of the Grand Rounds).
I have been spending some time recently looking at various trail systems throughout the state and observing some of the aesthetic design elements. Every trail or trail system develops a “brand”, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Elements like colors, shapes, and logos help establish the “brand” of a trail system. In this post, I want to discuss some of the branding and design efforts that I have observed along the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System.
First, it’s important to distinguish the Grand Rounds from the rest of the Minneapolis parks system. The Minneapolis parks system itself has a “brand”, and some of that bleeds over onto the Grand Rounds. The parks, parkways, and trails that compose the Grand Rounds are all a subset of the larger Minneapolis parks system. There are significant trails and parkways in Minneapolis that are not part of the Grand Rounds – Shingle Creek Parkway and Kings Highway being a couple of great examples.
But we can’t talk about unique ways in which the Grand Rounds is distinguished from other parks and parkways without first noting some design features that apply to all MPRB parks and parkways. These are the features that make parkways unique relative to most other streets in the city.
Minneapolis parkways have a few unique identifiers, which I have come to associate with the Grand Rounds, though in reality they are not. The following is a list of unique features that establish the MPRB “brand” for parkways and trails, whether or not they are associated with the Grand Rounds:
- The roadway curbs, have a 12″ gutter pan and 12″ top, rather than a more typical 18-24″ gutter pan and 6″ top.
- The parkway roadways are typically 24′ wide where parking is not permitted, which is narrower than what would be recommended by most design guidance (State-aid, for example, doesn’t permit roadways narrower than 26′).
- Most parkways are signed at 25 miles per hour.
- When MPRB does a chip sealing maintenance operation on the roadways, they often use an aggregate with a reddish tint, giving the roadways a subtle red color.
- Sign posts along parkways are often square brown posts rather than a more utilitarian galvanized steel post.
- Parkways utilize unique lighting fixtures that aren’t found on other city streets. There are several different lighting types in use along parkways. I mentioned a few of them in a previous post. An important note about parkways is that the roadways are lighted. Where the trails deviate from the roadways, no lighting is generally provided.
- Parkways have the standard park identification sign found throughout the Minneapolis park system. These are low-slung timber signs with a bit of a craftsman architecture vibe.
- MPRB trails often use a green centerline striping, though I am told they are moving away from this standard and will be adopting a more typical yellow striping pattern.
- MPRB trails often have a 10 mph speed limit markings on the trail.
- Square blue mode guide signs are provided frequently along MPRB trails on square brown wood posts. The sign blades are sandwiched between two sections of the wood posts and are often two-sided providing an opportunity for 4 square sign plates per post (two in each direction). Blue is a unique color for this type of sign, (green would be the MUTCD recommended color), but other Twin Cities agencies, including Saint Paul, are also using blue, so the uniqueness of this is lost. Saint Paul also uses the square wood post with four square sign blades design.
- MPRB trails often feature white diagonal hashing in advance of intersections with roadways or sidewalks. This is very unique to MPRB trails.
Now, let’s look at a few of the design features that are unique to the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System.
The Grand Rounds is divided into seven Byway Districts which highlight unique characteristics of the route. Maps highlighting the Grand Rounds alignments as well as the seven districts are stationed throughout the parks as wayfinding and informational/interpretive elements. Each of the districts are assigned a unique color and have a square monochrome icon that highlights the districts features. Both the colors and icons are carried throughout other design features in sometimes subtle ways.
These sign panels are also the only place where you find the word “National” added to the name – Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway.
The sign panels are located on distinctive kiosks placed throughout the Grand Rounds. The pyramid hipped roof on these kiosks is almost comically oversized compared to kiosks found in a lot of other parks (which probably does a better job protecting the maps as well as providing useful shelter for trail users caught in a storm). The classic brown square wood posts, green fascia, and cedar shake shingles are a distinctive Grand Rounds element (I think – if anyone can think of one of these kiosks that is located outside the Grand Rounds, please let us know in the comments).
There are a few smaller kiosks around as well, however.
The system has a logo, which shows up in three similar but different formats. The logo shows grass and a tree framing a view of the Mississippi River and the downtown Minneapolis skyline with the Stone Arch Bridge. In two of the three, a trail is shown through the grass in the foreground, but it is cropped out of the frame in the third logo. The font is different on all three. The colors are also a bit different, though it’s hard to tell how much that is by design (some of it for sure), and how much is due to older signs simply fading over time.
The most ubiquitous logo format is the first image below, which is frequently applied alongside the modal guide signs on the square wood posts. As near as I can tell, the signs are used wherever there would otherwise be a blank sign blade on one of the wood posts. In some cases, this means you can go quite a ways before encountering one, while in other places you can see half a dozen or more at the same time.
The second logo image below is used on the map at kiosks spaced throughout the system.
The third logo image below is hung as a standard street sign and is used sparingly. I had to search hard to find them, and I only found two in the system (there are probably others). I found no pattern to how or where these were placed. They appear to be the only Grand Rounds signs directed at motorists rather than trail users.
My favorite example of Grand Rounds branding is the unique north arrow that is used on the Grand Rounds maps at the kiosks. The north arrow almost becomes a competing logo for the system, though it is so small I imagine most don’t even notice it.
The standard brown wood posts found throughout the parkway system is used along the Grand Rounds, but with a twist! The top several inches of the wood posts is painted to match the designated color of the Byway District where it is located. In the picture below, you can also see the red mileage markers used throughout the Grand Rounds. The zero mile mark is at Longfellow House near Minnehaha Falls, and the mileage goes clockwise. At some locations, additional mileage markers are used for sub-loops. For example, I think white diamond mile markers tick off distances around Lake Harriet.
In the photo below, you’ll also notice that the top few inches of the wood post is painted a color. In this picture, it looks yellow, but it’s supposed to be a greenish (I think it’s just faded?) indicating that you’re within the Minnehaha Parkway Byway District. In other districts, the tops of the posts are painted other colors.
Perhaps the most overt branding that occurs along the Grand Rounds is the iconic wayfinding signs that shout “GRAND ROUNDS” at the top. These are spaced throughout the Grand Rounds at critical junctions. The ends of the sign blades are colored based on the Byway Districts. The red example below is in the Victory Memorial Byway District, the yellow example is in the Chain of Lakes Byway District. Also note in the yellow example one of the panels is not providing directions, but is identifying current location – the sailboat icon represents the Chain of Lakes Byway District.
I love these signs, but I also find them confusing. They are pedestrian scaled. Most of them are located where they will be conveniently seen by bikes & pedestrians rather than motorists, and yet they provide directions to things like “Interstate 94”. Though a few of them are located in places where they would be hard to read as a pedestrian or cyclist (but the font too small to effectively communicate to motorists). Also, they provide directions to features along the Grand Rounds, but don’t very well provide direction on how to follow the Grand Rounds route from Byway District to Byway District.
I was also surprised at how geographically far-reaching some of the branding elements went. I found examples of Grand Rounds signage in places that I didn’t previously identify as being along the Grand Rounds route. For example, this sign at E 54th Street and Hiawatha Ave as well as this sign at Lyndale Ave N and 49th Ave N.
My big takeaway after spending a few weeks paying attention to Grand Rounds branding elements is that they are mostly fairly subtle. The Grand Rounds parkways and trails are branded first and foremost as an integral part of the Minneapolis parks system, with a few additional flourishes that provide the distinction from other trails and parkways. However, the Grand Rounds design elements always seem to complement, rather than compete with, MPRB’s standard trail and parkway branding practices.
What did I miss? Other design elements that should be noted?