An Unlikely Success: The Dismantling of the Northside Greenway

“City rolls back some aspects of Irving Avenue greenway in north Minneapolis” – Minneapolis Star Tribune (11/19/2016)

I read the above headline with disappointment. An experimental tactical urbanism project is coming to an end. Or, as the local paper wittingly puts it, “the experimental greenway project for north Minneapolis, it’s not so green anymore.”

Early in the summer, Minneapolis city officials implemented a temporary plan to add a greenway through a neighborhood street, running north and south for five blocks. Vehicle traffic was partly blocked off, speeds lowered and dividers, such as benches and planters, were installed.

Photo credits: Bill Lindeke of MinnPost /

City officials and urban planners were happy. And why not? They had made a street in the notoriously underserved northside more bike and pedestrian friendly. And, they had done so for little cost. Personally, I thought it was a great project – a real win-win for everyone. Of course, I’m an idealistic transportation planner and not a resident.

The love was not universal. A grassroots effort from the neighborhood association passed a resolution encouraging the city to remove the Greenway, and signs started popping up in the neighborhood saying “Say NO to the Greenway!” and “Stop Forcing the Greenway Upon Us”. You can read their strongly worded resolution here.


Photo credit: Bill Lindeke

A significant and vocal number of residents did not like the changes. One resident interviewed said, “I hated the greenway, I couldn’t park in front of the house” and cited safety concerns about parking in the dark alleyway. This was a common – and not irrational – concern from those most impacted by the project.

What’s next? The city is removing the temporary dividers and restoring the street to what it once was, minus bike boulevard sharrows that will remain in pavement.

This might feel like a failure, but it’s not. It’s a success story; a testament to the value of tactical urbanism, defined by Wikipedia as

a term used to describe a collection of low-cost, temporary changes to the built environment, usually in cities, intended to improve local neighbourhoods and city gathering places.

Even in its seemingly apparent failure, this is a case study as to why tactical urbanism is such a great tool. The city used a low-cost scheme of testing whether or not a greenway would work, or not work. Over the course of the summer and autumn, it was clear that it wasn’t working for those most impacted. The residents opposed it. The city listened, and is picking up everything and planning to try again somewhere else.

It was a small bet that didn’t pan out the way city officials and planners wanted it to. On the upside, a 50-year infrastructure investment was not made and millions of dollars were not spent on something the community wasn’t behind.

Now, the City of Minneapolis can learn from the successes and failures of this experiment and be in a better position to make positive changes moving forward.

This is the beauty of tactical urbanism: even in its failures, you can find success.

41 thoughts on “An Unlikely Success: The Dismantling of the Northside Greenway

    1. Nate Hood

      Yes, you’re right. There was support in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, not enough to keep the Greenway.

  1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

    It’s important not to cross the “I know what’s good for you” line. However, many of us acknowledge that there exists a status quo that is comfortable for many but not really equitable. I could be talking about race, but I’m referring to car dominance.

    Many people in my low-income neighborhood are not clamoring for better bike/ped infrastructure because they think you’d be nuts to travel by bike or foot for most trips if you didn’t have to. One of the reasons they think that is because the environment is not built for that purpose. Not only is the built environment biased against active transportation but so is the culture. So when you change the built environment it is not immediately accompanied by a cultural change.

    In an experiment like this, how long is appropriate to expect real change in people’s behaviors and/or preferences?

    If the cultural bias is deeply ingrained, must we wait for popular approval to make progress in moving away from car dominance in our transportation system?

    1. Nate Hood

      This is an excellent comment, and you are asking some questions that I don’t think anyone knows the answer to.

    2. Car Clown

      “Many people in my low-income neighborhood are not clamoring for better bike/ped infrastructure ”

      And by not changing their habits, they are keeping themselves poor.

    3. Daniel ChomaDan Choma


      I love your comment here, it shows how you are really involved in both the cultural and structural changes that are happening currently in your neighborhood.

      A little bit of extra context for those of y’all that don’t know Eric, East St Paul has recently had an influx of new bicycle infrastructure. I was at the meeting where the bike plan was presented to the community and saw first hand that there was a vocal contingent that was against the lane. Eric & I both spoke for the lane.

      There are three things that this tells me when I compare it to what happened in North Minneapolis:

      A) Eric and I when we were speaking in favor of the bike lanes were both living within the community at the time. (I’ve since moved away, but Eric remains, remaining active.) So although we were “newer” voices coming from within the community, we were still voices speaking as members of the group instead of as an outside entity giving the community something to try out. This is important and remains important.

      B) Cultural change is *messy.* I believe that a cultural change is currently happening in Eric’s neighborhood. This isn’t *just* because of the bike lanes on Egerton, but also because of many other factors. The Bruce Vento Trail, The Metro Transit study on the bus stop on Payne, the influx of younger folks buying homes in the shadow of the 2008 market crash, existing cultural programs such as East Side Arts Council, etc. My point is, it’s really easy to say “hey we’re going to engineer a cultural fix,” but the kick back from people being told what to do is often times bad. Working within communities and building community members up to have ownership over their own narrative because they have invested in their own community is a way to make cultural changes happen. And it’s effective! The people with the most knowledge of their community are making the decisions. Outside cultural voices are necessary for change, but there needs to be a few strong voices within the community that act as educators and connections to those outside voices. Eric has done this quite effectively in Payne Phalen. Bravo.

      C) Eric: Do you know Melody Hoffman? She recently published a cool book called “Bike Lanes are White Lanes.” She’s a feminist thinker and bike person and I would *love love love* for you to interview her for Streets.MN. Her perspective on the Northside Greenway and your perspective on East side infrastructure should be friends.

      1. Melody HoffmannMelody Hoffmann

        That’s me! I write for this rag sometimes 🙂 Bill podcast-interviewed me a few years ago about Franklin Ave.

        Would love to talk more! Email me anytime!

  2. Serafina ScheelSerafina

    The letter from the neighborhood association was fascinating, pointing out the unintended consequences of increasing strife and division among neighbors, rather helping people come together around a new shared friendly space. I think it points to the challenges of changes to existing streets having a disproportionate impact on some residents. You’d think the city inspectors could have been a bit more understanding about the parking on unapproved surfaces on private property during the trial period, and helped with mitigating some of the other perceived problems.

    I’m so disappointed this wasn’t embraced by the community it could have benefited.

    1. Nate Hood

      Thanks for commenting. You bring up great points. I’m interested in seeing how the city moves forward with similar projects.

  3. Tom Holub

    The point of a pilot project is to test a program. The success criteria for the pilot (if it’s really a pilot) is that you’ve gotten good information about whether the program works or not. So yes, the greenway getting pulled out means that the project was a success; the idea was tested, it didn’t work, so it won’t be made permanent. It may be disappointing but it’s what’s supposed to happen, and yes, that’s a win for tactical urbanism.

    The reasons for the idea not working, though, is worth delving into. I think there are two lessons to take from the failure of the idea. One is the difference between input and feedback. The amount of outreach done before the pilot was impressive, but it seems that a sizable portion of the residents did not feel heard, that the outreach process was directed towards a predetermined end.

    The other is the risk of hegemonic thinking among privileged populations. The fact that most readers of like an idea is not equivalent to that idea being correct. As Peggy McIntosh writes, “whites are taught to think of their lives as morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal.” As privileged advocates, we should be suspicious of our own proposals, especially when underprivileged populations are unhappy about them.

    1. robsk

      Please stop stereotyping “whites”. It doesn’t further any social justice causes, but contributes to the hegemonic thinking you are speaking against. It might make some people feel better, but it really only draws dividing lines along skin color which is the opposite of what should be done. When will the “privileged” realize that political correctness is smug at best and poisonous at worst? A community is more than skin colors or perceived class or privilege.

      Otherwise, you’re on track with your arguments.

        1. robsk

          Agree to disagree Adam. Really it isn’t nonsense. Growing up and living among poor whites gives me perspective that you might not understand.

          I will not let my experiences be swept under a rug just because I’m descended from northern Europeans … some of whom where persecuted minorities.

          Where is the privilege? I’m judged as privileged just because of my skin color. That is racism.

          What is nonsense is complaining that neighborhoods aren’t diverse enough, until they are too diverse, then complaining that privileged whites don’t belong there. Complaining about how unfortunate a neighborhood is, until success finds it way in, then complaining about gentrification.

          Getting back to my point. You will not be able to overcome the social justice challenges until you start seeing people for who they are. Stop labeling. Stop stereotyping. Stop dividing people by their skin color. Improve neighborhoods by offering solutions and adding infrastructure, education, and opportunity. Bring people together by being part of the community not pushing your values on them.

          1. Daniel ChomaDan Choma

            All yall, please be careful with the term “white.” It was expressly designed by the 1667 Virginia legislature to control poor people by turning them against each other. And although I know that it a very old story, it is still a relevant one.

            Attacking others for calling out your privilege does not make your privilege go away. It merely means you are willing and able to ignore your own privilege and in doing so you enslave yourself by making enemies out of those who could be your coalition partners.

            Tread carefully. Peggy McIntosh’s writing isn’t about “stereotyping whites,” it’s about understanding that the label is designed to repress not only those who do not hold it but those who willingly hold it.

              1. robsk

                Thanks Dan, that was a valuable article.

                Sorry Adam, no equating going on here. Poverty is a real issue. If I’m from a poor white upbringing, hearing that my skin color gives me institutional advantage is insulting. With programs like affirmative action, or gender and diversity quotas, there are all sort

                I suggest you reread the definitions of race and racism. Unfortunately, “systemic racism” is a misnomer, buzz phrase, and contributes to group-think. While statistics point to inequalities, there is little evidence of our “system” being racist. Statistics can be twisted by anyone with an agenda.

                Perhaps I sound like some old crotchety white bigot who is afraid I’m losing my grip on power. Do I? That is just bias, discrimination, and resentment showing. Judging, labeling, and stereotyping by skin color is a problem no matter who is doing it to whom.

                How does this relate to I ask that writers and readers stop stereotyping and avoid blanket judgements about communities. Neighbors don’t always agree.

                1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                  Poverty is a real issue. Race is a real issue. That you deny the latter and view attempts to adress it as victimizing you is a real issue.

                  You sound like someone deeply in denial and unwilling to listen.

                1. Daniel ChomaDaniel Choma

                  No! I wasn’t disagreeing with you! 😉

                  I feel you and thanks for the comments. Your passion is always appreciated.


  4. Justin

    Three years of community engagement and a pilot that only lasts half as long as it was supposed to, because of angry residents? Seems like a breakdown in the community engagement process. Now the added value will be taken away and improvements will yet again only take place in the wealthiest neighborhoods. I understand the parking concerns, but aren’t residents of poorer neighborhoods less likely to own cars?

    1. Nate

      You bring up an interesting point: 3 years of community engagement is required for a 6 month project.

      I think there is a lot of unpack here; specifically neighborhood dynamics which I’m not keenly aware of and feel unqualified to comment on.

      1. Justin

        I don’t know the neighborhood either, and I’m not saying the complaints are illegitimate, but it seems like the complaints are the same no matter what neighborhood you’re in: that parking is inconvenient and people can’t drive fast enough through the area.

        1. Tom Holub

          The vocalized complaints (parking and through access) don’t really tell you what’s going on. (They rarely do). I think identity politics are at the core of this dispute (and others like it elsewhere). stopthegreenway in particular demonstrates a lot of “us” vs. “them” language, which raises interesting questions about how those categories are viewed by the residents. (And to be fair, a lot of the unofficial communications from greenway proponents have similar “other”-ing language, about how “they” just don’t get it.)

          Low-income ethnic communities have many decades of experience of their neighborhoods being screwed up by city infrastructure projects that they don’t value and didn’t ask for. That background needs to be considered when implementing infrastructure projects in those communities.

          1. Justin

            “Low-income ethnic communities have many decades of experience of their neighborhoods being screwed up by city infrastructure projects that they don’t value and didn’t ask for. That background needs to be considered when implementing infrastructure projects in those communities.”

            Plenty of people did want it though.

            1. Tom Holub

              Sure, some residents supported it. And no matter what you do or where you do it, there will be individuals resistant to change. But the resistance here is of a different nature than, say, the resistance of some merchants on 38th Street to the potential loss of parking. I’m pretty sure there won’t be an angry web site, or a neighborhood association vote against the plan there.

              There’s a danger of asserting that the opponents are uninformed/stupid/wrong, when the actual story may be that the proponents have failed to address the substance of the objections.

      2. Melody HoffmannMelody Hoffmann

        I don’t mean to sound rude BUT, as a fellow white bike advocate, it’s REALLY important for us to understand these neighborhood dynamics. These dynamics are driving these conflicts and we can’t talk about this Greenway without having that knowledge. That context is supremely important to getting what’s going on with this Greenway.
        Just trying to be real with you, no offense implied.

    2. Jackie Williams

      speaking from past experience, ACTUALLY RESIDENTS in poorer neighborhoods are more likely to own cars. They may not be the best cars or the newest cars. Some have jobs in the burbs or somewhere that does not have a bus route or a limited bus route. Working odd hours etc. Spending 3 hours waiting/changing buses to get home after a long shift sucks.

  5. Alex

    The Star Tribune article seems to point out that there are blocks where a majority of residents favor the changes. Why then call this a failure? Maybe one of the successes is that it provides evidence that infrastructure must be planned at the block scale?

    1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

      Doesn’t that kind of miss the point, though? A bike lane that disappears on the blocks where residents aren’t in favor is useful for nobody. We design networks that make our streets functional for everyone to use. Sometimes the people who live there need to suck it up because it benefits thousands of people who don’t live on that block (who in this case may also be people of color).

      1. Stuart

        Removing the “full greenway” from the block does not mean that the bike lane needs to be removed. To quote the article:
        “The city is removing the temporary dividers and restoring the street to what it once was, minus bike boulevard sharrows that will remain in pavement.”
        The bike lanes will remain in some form for the full length of the original greenway plan.

          1. Rosa

            hey, they’re better than nothing. Once upon a time the bike lanes in downtown just ended, boom, now you’re a car lane! People used them anyway – I certainly did – and now look what we’ve got.

            1. Scottie Tuska

              The three blocks that were removed had sharrows and two-three chicanes. It was this section, that was a glorified bike boulevard, that was removed and had the most negative feedback. The southern and northernmost blocks have half-and-half and full greenway installations, have the most visible support and are staying put through spring.

            2. Jackie Williams

              yes! now we have turn lanes and loading zones and construction equipment parking. I cant use much of the so called bike lane on 3rd ave without having to dodge cars and people.

  6. Melody HoffmannMelody Hoffmann

    I wish the author would have dug into how three years of excellent community engagement resulted in this. Organizers knew the residents’ concerns and, I’d assume, would not spend the money on the experimental version if the feedback was this negative. From my POV, the NSGWC crossed all their Ts, including basic neighborhood engagement. I feel like there’s another layer to this story.
    I am a big fan of tactical urbanism but not if it’s dividing a community. That’s not how it’s supposed to go.

  7. Ethan FawleyEthan Fawley

    You’ve mistaken quite a lot of things here. I’d ask that you adjust the article. The two most changed blocks of the pilot remain unchanged and more support has emerged there than before the pilot. The Greenway is far from dead as you suggest here. And it does show the value of tactical urbanism because it can be adjusted and has built support.

    From the City’s note about the changes:

    “Based on input from people who support the project and from people who oppose it, the City will make significant adjustments in the month of October, in addition to the small changes that have already been made. The significant changes include:

    · Removing the chicanes (the large painted areas) on the 3200, 3300 and 3400 blocks of Irving Avenue North. As a result, normal parking rules will be restored on these blocks.

    · Opening the intersection of 34th Avenue North and Irving Avenue North to east-west traffic.

    · Adjusting the design of the intersection of Irving Avenue North and Lowry Avenue North to allow cars heading south on the 3200 block of Irving Avenue to make a right turn onto Lowry. (Cars will still be restricted from turning from Lowry onto Irving.)

    These changes will create a more traditional bike boulevard design on the 3200 to 3400 blocks of Irving Avenue, with traffic calming features and no parking restrictions on these blocks. The full greenway on the 3500 block of Irving Avenue North and the half-and-half greenway on the 3000/3100 block of Irving Avenue North will remain in place with small adjustments to prepare them for winter, including removing some posts and signs to better allow plows to clear snow.”

  8. Matthew HendricksMatthew Hendricks

    Thanks for your post. I agree with your main point, about the advantages of testing changes in ways that are reversible and relatively inexpensive. However, I also think your post left out some relevant facts, like the fact that 2 of 5 blocks still have the test installation in place.

    The test also showed interesting nuances in people’s reactions to the Greenway concept. One of the results was that support for the greenway was strongest on the 3500 block of Irving, where on-street parking was completely eliminated. It was the blocks where on-street parking was retained that seemed to have less support relative to the 3500 block. As a result, the test installation is still in place on the 3500 block, which has a ‘full greenway’ design that converts all on-street parking to green space. The removal of the test materials was limited to three of the blocks that modeled a potential design that calmed traffic and retained on-street parking.
    This is an important lesson: parking is important to many residents, but it wasn’t the only factor in how people responded to the test. Also, a traffic calming option that retains parking may exhibit more of its downsides and fewer of its benefits in a test format. Many of the comments about the traffic calming features were focused on details of the temporary installation that would be different in a permanent version.
    Thanks again for your post, in spite of the omissions, I do appreciate you writing about the topic.

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