Over the years people in Minneapolis and Saint Paul have dubbed several dubious landmarks “Bridge to Nowhere” and “Skyway to Nowhere.” As fashionable nicknames and features of the cityscape, they come and go.
But one such landmark has quietly persisted for decades: Minneapolis’s Crosswalk to Nowhere.
You find it at the intersection of Main Street and First Avenue NE, just across the Hennepin Avenue bridge from downtown.
You get the Walk signal and start walking across Main, the oldest street in the city, aiming in downtown’s direction. Perhaps you pause midway to take in the skyline and river views from the traffic island.
Finally you reach the far corner — where you discover you have no legal option but to turn around and go back the way you came.
In one direction is a No Walking sign and a dirt path where a sidewalk should be.
In another, a three-lane road with no crosswalk or pedestrian signal.
Straight ahead, the wrong side of First Avenue’s one-way bridge over the Mississippi’s East Channel, the side with no sidewalk.
It’s a classic American crossroads dilemma. Which way do you go? Do you stay on the straight and narrow or make a deal with the devil? What is free will when you’re faced with a Hobson’s choice? Is life one long crosswalk to nowhere?
Sadly, you may not have the opportunity to ponder such questions at the Crosswalk to Nowhere much longer. Forces are conspiring that would make it a crosswalk to somewhere, by replacing that blocklong dirt path along Main Street with proper pavement — probably for the first time in city history, judging from old aerial photos.
The area is on the radar of planners at Hennepin County. That’s important because Main Street, First Avenue NE, and (surprise!) East Hennepin Avenue are all county roads. “Hennepin County is aware of the sidewalk gap at the Main and 1st intersection,” Jordan Kocak, the county’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, told me in an email. “We are currently exploring what opportunities exist to make improvements to this location. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything certain to offer you at this time but it is a known gap and is under consideration for future improvements.”
The county is crucial, but ideas and cash could come from elsewhere too. Termed “The Seam,” that gap in the bike and pedestrian trail is featured as a problem to solve in the Central Mississippi Riverfront Regional Park Master Plan (pages 7-26 and 7-27).
The gap (not called The Seam) also features in the City of Minneapolis’s East Hennepin and First Avenue NE Transportation Study of the same year.
Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has amassed nearly $1 million in park dedication fees from the rampant development in the neighborhood (see interactive MPRB map). And the Nicollet-Island East Bank Neighborhood Association told the park board closing that trail gap on Main Street is their top priority for using that money.
For those who were looking, there have been signs that the corner’s heyday as a monument to nihilism might be nearing its end. Or rather, there hasn’t been a sign: At some point in the last couple years, one of the pedestrian-with-a-slash-through-him-or-her signs disappeared.
But until then,
I'm.taking the crosswalk to nowhere …. pic.twitter.com/ygSSTj7EOA
— Chris Steller (@chris_steller) March 28, 2018