Dream a Little Dream of Me: Minneapolis’s 10th Ave Bridge

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Recently the 89th Minnesota Legislature reconvened to start what certainly bodes to be an important session in regards to transportation legislation.  There’s already been some good rhetorical talk about the best ways to ask for money and there has already been a great deal of city plans asking for money.

I’ll let the grad students and college professors speak on those topics, “eternal recurrence of the same,” and other intelligent topics I never learned in music school.  For me, it seems the political sphere has frankly gone a little batty and the most reasonable thing I can do now is dream.  It is, after all, the way of my people.

Conveniently enough, I’ll phrase my dream in the form a problem that necessitates a reasonable bipartisan solution.  (I told you I was dreaming, right?)  Don’t worry: I might be a jazz musician, but I’ve been to enough of these community meetings to have figured out how to keep away from the weird stuff and play the blues.  Here we go.

What’s the Problem With the 10th Avenue Bridge?

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As has been elucidated recently, the 10th Avenue Bridge is in rough shape.  It’s frankly getting on in age and needs a lot of work in order to remain structurally load bearing for the four lanes of traffic that it intends to serve.  (More on those four lanes later…)  The city of Minneapolis is asking the state legislature for $31.9 million dollars in order to make sure it remains a safe traverse across the Mississippi river.

As streets.mn readers may already know, this is a local bridge serving local traffic operated by the city of Minneapolis.  Some great things have already been written about whether or not state funds should really be used to fix local bridges, but as promised earlier, I’ll stay out of that debate and stick to the blues.

But most importantly, this bridge is decidedly unpleasant to walk across.  It’s this concrete monstrosity that makes you feel boxed in by steel bars and slabs of soviet era concrete because, frankly, you are surrounded by steel bars and concrete.

Biking across the thing isn’t all that better.  It does have bike lanes, but there are gigantic manhole covers that make me feel like I’m risking my evolutionary biology to achieve ecological sustainability.  It seems the only way to avoid these 3-4 inch deep holes the size of a fire pit is to swerve into traffic.

Speaking of traffic, there really doesn’t seem to be any car traffic on the bridge.  Any time I have gone across the bridge on foot or on a bike, pedestrians out number the cars at least two to one.  I’m not a traffic engineer, but the four lanes in my opinion seem to be unnecessary.

When I do drive my 1994 Dodge Shadow across the bridge, I often catch myself speeding gratuitously.  If I can accidentally drive my budget hatchback four banger fast enough to seriously endanger pedestrians, imagine how someone with a nice car might accidentally speed?

This begs the question: Do we actually need four lanes of traffic that only seem to encourage speeding?  And furthermore, what creative things can we do with this bridge if we remove two lanes (or more) of traffic?

Removing Two Lanes of Traffic: Cheap and Easy Like Mac & Cheese

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At the very least, removing two unused travel lanes would allow this bridge to have a protected bike lane.  Protected bike lanes are cheap and implementing this would be pretty easy politically.  There isn’t any parking to fight over and there aren’t any businesses on the bridge that could complain.  In fact, today there are just two traffic lanes south of the bridge (where it becomes 19th Avenue) and keeping it consistently striped would actually make things less confusing. Narrower roads are safer and cause people to speed less, plus emergency vehicles would still be able to use the bridge.

My obvious blind spot here as a non-engineer is that I can’t tell you if removing two travel lanes will allow the bridge to be legally load bearing.  If it doesn’t solve the load bearing issue, then we risk this being a much more expensive project for the city to execute.  Finding money then becomes a political balancing act and a simple bridge becomes a political case study.

But what if we can avoid that political science case study and at the same time make something incredibly memorable for the city of Minneapolis?

Remove All Lanes of Traffic like the High Line Bridge in Chelsea, NY

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The High Line Bridge in Chelsea was for many years a contentious ugly face of urban decay that many politicians in New York wanted to be torn down.  Through imagination and community organization, the city was able to create a pedestrian park that connects two neighborhoods of the city and adds much needed green space to New York’s urban jungle.

For me, this is the best case scenario for the 10th Avenue Bridge.  Since it is already such a high use pedestrian bridge, why not just continue to allow people to use it as a pedestrian bridge and shut off traffic entirely?  This allows the city to do something truly memorable with the bridge, add a bike lane for the spritely rad dads to race in, and empower students to safely wander across the bridge with their headphones in staring at the sky.  And may we not forget, implementing more green space in a city keeps city dwellers sane.

The real added bonus here is that pedestrians are significantly less heavy than cars.  While refurbishing the bridge for cars seems to have costs that could add up quickly in order to make the whole project weight bearing, the low impact of pedestrians could allow the city (and the state) to use public money more efficiently to make something truly memorable.

Furthermore, a lighter project is easier to pass in a packed transit session.  And imagine how good all the politicians will look with their ties and skirts fluttering in the grass as they cut the red ribbon.  It would save money, be memorable, and everybody would come out smelling like a rose with a project that gives them pride.

Wouldn’t that be a lovely day?

Daniel Choma

About Daniel Choma

Daniel Choma is a community advocate, a jazz musician, and a former bible salesman. He rides bikes, plays drums, and tells jokes. He can consume a bag of jelly beans faster than almost anyone.

20 thoughts on “Dream a Little Dream of Me: Minneapolis’s 10th Ave Bridge

  1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

    I’m a pretty big fan of the park/ped bridge idea. I normally don’t support pushing local traffic onto freeways, but when the 35W bridge is right there, and super overbuilt for all but a couple hours of the day, and even connects to the same cross streets on either end (ignoring that little chunk of 2nd), I think it’s totally acceptable.

  2. Nick

    I definitely agree that the width could be used more efficiently.

    However, I’d really hesitate to take all traffic off because then it becomes too easy to ignore. With Bridge 9 and the Stone Arch so close, I could see it becoming a target for cutbacks in 15 years when it needs some repairs. The Gateway Trail bridge over 35E looms in my memory.

    In addition, I’d be REALLY surprised if the University let this bridge get converted to bike/ped only. With the Washington Ave bridge now of limited use, I’m guessing they’d be pretty touchy about taking away general access to another river crossing near campus.

    1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma Post author

      I guess my main reason for dreaming so big is actually in favor of the University. I grew up here, but it seems the University has a problem getting people that DON’T grow up here to actually come to their grad programs, in fact, some folks from out of state get scholarships just so that the culture of the U isn’t just local kids coming to college from Bemiji. (Warning, this is my *vibe* from talking with friends, I would be extremely interested in some statistics on this)

      For me, I could see a pedestrian bridge as being a quill in the University’s feather. If I was a prospective grad student from Massachusetts walking across the 10th Ave bridge today, I would be thinking “Dang, bruh. I hope this place pays really well, because this bridge is like Redneck Russia: Just Flannels and Soviet Concrete.” Comparing it something like the Charles in Boston or even the High Line in NY, I wouldn’t want to go to the U.

      All that said, you have a really good point on the 35E bridge in Saint Paul. People are still po’d about that. Frankly, I think the issue with that particular bridge comes down to a cultural disconnect with the neighborhood. The neighborhood *loved* that bridge and frankly didn’t get a chance to participate in the conversation as to whether or not they keep it because they are working class folks represented by people who IMHO have been in their jobs too long and have stopped caring. The bridge was already torn down before the folks got a chance to speak their piece on it.

      I don’t necessarily see that happening with 10th Ave as it is *right* next to the U and has a place of prominence in the Metro area. The poetry of Saint Paul’s east side seems in my mind to be written in a different civic language than the language of streets around the U due to the East Side’s economic situation. But I’ve gone long in a comment which I try not to do and that is a topic for another day. Great thoughts, Nick.

      1. Nick

        The University is pretty focused on cars. They’re the only ones keeping the idea of Granary Rd. through the Dinkytown trench (to Main or SE 2nd) alive. So given that they want more roads, not fewer, I’d be floored if they supported closing 10th Ave to traffic.

        Plus it’s pretty far from the heart of campus. Just guessing, but 10th Ave is probably viewed as their way to keep facilities vehicles away from Northrop Mall and they like it that way.

        1. Joey SenkyrJoey Senkyr

          I don’t know if I’d call the University overly focused on cars. I mean, they did let Washington get closed to cars, and Pleasant just saw some significant calming as well.

          That being said, I don’t know that the U would really care one way or the other about 10th being a pedestrian bridge. Washington Avenue is already their iconic, signature bike/ped bridge, and Bridge 9 exists as well.

      2. Alex Grill

        According to the University’s Office of institutional Research website, of 12,659 graduate students at the Twin Cities campus 5,946(4,605 from the 7 county metro area and 1,341 from the rest of Minnesota) are locals. This may obscure the fact that many students may move to Minnesota for undergraduate and stay for graduate school, or like I did, move to Minnesota from out of state and then apply. Almost as many students come from out of the country and out of SD-ND-WI-MN in the US.


  3. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    Is the auxiliary lane on the 35W bridge inadequate or inappropriate for local traffic? Seems many suburbs get by with the auxiliary lanes on 169, for instance.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Auxiliary lanes are meant to assist motorists merging in and out when there’s not a lot of space and/or heavy traffic get in and out. They’re not meant to enable local traffic to hop on the freeway for one exit (which ramp meters also discourage in peak times), if enough traffic does that it can impact the operations in the through lanes. Of course sometimes there’s no other choice, there’s no alternative to the Wakota Bridge and two auxiliary lanes provided.

  4. Monte Castleman

    I’m not sure designating the bridge for pedestrians would help ease rehabilitation. Right now the rehabilitation of the Winona Bridge is on pause mode, and it’s very possible now it might be demolished rather than restored. (And the MUP on the new bridge is going to be completed but the second two lanes for motorists might not be, which is a counterexample to the allegations here that it’s normally pedestrian features that get cut when budgets are tight).

    I asked about just using the old bridge as a pedestrian structure, which would be more attractive than the MUP along the new bridge, but was told that load calculations are greater for pedestrians, because they have to plan on pedestrians standing on an entire bridge shoulder to shoulder.

    (Question #7 is mine).

    1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma Post author

      Thanks for the data and examples, Monte. I wrote this piece hoping someone with more of an engineering background would weigh in on this.

  5. Ethan Fawley

    A note that the current plans for this bridge include reducing it to two lanes, adding protected bike lanes (although with concrete barrier rather than bollards), and adding walking room on the side that doesn’t have it.

    1. robsk

      If I held the redesign reigns…l

      I would move auto traffic to 2 lanes on the east side. Deck the west side a little higher and separate with a curb.

      Dedicated bike lanes would run about the middle of the 3rd lane with a nice comfort buffer on both sides.

      The west side would be a pedestrian walk and gawk way. Could be a nice spot for river views, sunsets, and the downtown skyline.

  6. Matt Brillhart

    Is this project a total rebuild above the arches, with a 100% new deck, etc?

    If so, it certainly seems like there should be room for cost savings by reducing the total deck width. If there are only going to be two traffic lanes, plus sidewalks and protected bike lanes, it would seem that should take up less space than the current configuration (even if not by much).

    Anyone have details on this (current deck width vs. proposed?) Any engineers want to chime in on if you believe the city has done everything they could to bring the costs of this project down?

    1. Matt Brillhart

      And hindsight being 20/20, it seems that the new 35W bridge probably could’ve been designed slightly differently to actually plan for the future decommissioning of the 10th Ave Bridge. Car traffic can use the 35W aux lanes pretty efficiently today, especially the northbound movement. And for bike/ped traffic, it seems like something could’ve been attached to or below the south side of the new 35W bridge that would’ve accommodated nicely, in combination with the nearby No. 9 bridge.

      To amend my previous comment about reducing deck width to save project costs, what about having a single lane of southbound traffic on the renovated 10th Ave bridge, plus bike/walk space, on a drastically reduced deck width?

      The point of my comments, I guess, is that $42MM+ is just an astronomical sum to spend on this bridge, when we have so many other needs (like our local streets that we’re struggling to maintain, talking about raising taxes, etc.) Any objective eye would agree that this bridge is not a 100% critical component in the local transportation network. Cars have 35W as a fallback, bikes can use the No. 9 bridge as a fairly efficient detour. Peds would be stung pretty bad though, without some type of replacement connection strung along the south side of the 35W bridge though.

  7. David MarkleDavid Markle

    We have a problem here on the West Bank with lots of automotive traffic to and from the major institutions (U of M, U-Fairview Hospital and Augsburg) that make the neighborhood a big-time metro area destination for both employees and visitors. The Blue and Green LRT lines have not appreciably reduced the traffic. The final Green Line design made the Washington Avenue bridge less utile, tending to concentrate traffic on other routes to and from the neighborhood. The more recent street modifications on Riverside Avenue (for pedestrians and bicycles) and Cedar Avenue (supposedly for pedestrians) have considerably worsened rush hour traffic problems. Many locals fear that the proposed Samatar Crossing reuse of the I-94 exit ramp to 5th St/11th Ave will only bring additional problems, not a significant number of customers for neighborhood businesses or other benefits. The planned modifications of the Cedar/Minnehaha/Franklin intersection (done without input from the immediately adjacent West Bank) seem likely to impede automotive traffic to some degree, in my opinion..

    Before throwing yet another traffic pattern alteration into this troubled mix by changing the 10th Avenue bridge, the situation needs very, very careful examination.

    1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma Post author

      David, I really appreciate your comments here. I think a lot of us on Streets.MN tend to be biased towards public transit and pedestrian projects, so your automotive viewpoint here is really appreciated.

      I have been driving across this bridge at rush hour for the past two weeks as I have been parking my car in Mary Holmes and biking into work, and I frankly don’t see much traffic over this bridge during rush hour, during events, or otherwise. Do you have a citation that you could share that indicates the considerably worsened rush hour traffic on Cedar? I just haven’t experienced it and would like to hear from someone who has.

  8. Amy

    I love this bridge! Yes, it’s not currently pedestrian or bike-friendly and that’s something that should be changed. But as someone who works on the West Bank at the U of MN, I use this bridge as a driver all the time and see many other vehicles on it. It DOES get traffic, just not as much as in other areas. It’s nice to have a “local traffic” bridge and an alternative to 35W to reach the East or West Bank or beyond (depending on where you’re coming from ). 35W can become VERY backed up due to people exciting from 35W onto University Ave. for events at the U of MN. The 10th Ave. bridge is especially important in those kinds of situations. Also, Washington Ave. in my opinion is not the same kind of “local traffic” bridge. When driving from the West Bank to the East Bank, you are rerouted to East River road and not allowed to drive straight on Washington Ave. anymore, as in the past. The 10th Ave. bridge lets you drive across the river from either side and continue straight vs. having to follow a convoluted path. Don’t get me wrong–the lightrail is great! There are times when I miss being able to drive down that part of Washington Ave, though. I think the bridge can be modified to make it more user-friendly for pedestrians and bicyclists while still allowing automotive traffic.

    1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma Post author

      I dig your opinion on this, Amy. I ended up digging into the internet for some more data on this as you gave some good comps for how to cross the river in a car.

      I was able to find this site:

      Keep in mind that I am *not* a traffic engineer and my paradiddle skills are much greater than my engineering skills. That said, I found some interesting things that corroborate your viewpoint.

      A) The Washington Ave bridge actually has *less* traffic than the 10th Ave Bridge. (Something like 9k for peak times on the 10th Ave bridge and 6k for peak times on Washington?)

      B) The best comp I could find for a river traverse traffic bridge based on traffic is actually *Franklin* as it has a similar traffic volume. Franklin has a wide bike lane on both sides of the bridge and only has 2 automotive lanes.

      Once again, I’m not an engineer, but Franklin seems to be accommodating automotive traffic really well with just two lanes. This would lead me to believe that you are right when you say that the bridge can be modified to make it more user-friendly for peds and cyclists, as a similar bridge accommodates better sidewalks, better bike lanes well.

  9. Nicole Masika

    Either plan that makes more room for pedestrians and bikes would make me happy. I do ride across it regularly and find it a bit scary in its current state.

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