Best and Worst Pedestrian Bridges in MSP–an Unscientific Sampling

Last week’s article calling for a ban on slip lanes in Saint Paul is spot on. Too many of our city streets are built like highways, endangering pedestrians and bicyclists by design. The comments on the article, however, turned toward pedestrian bridges, in particular the bridge at Aldine over I-94, as an alternative to walking across intersections like Snelling & I-94.

Now, setting aside the fact that crossing the Aldine bridge would be an extra half mile of walking, it’s worthwhile to consider that the experience of walking or biking across this particular bridge is far from ideal. In fact, I would rate the Aldine ped bridge as the 5th worst in the Twin Cities. So, here’s my opinion on the best and worst ped bridges in MSP. Along the way, let’s talk about how to make our bridges better.

5th Worst – Aldine at I-94 in Saint Paul

Aldine Bridge over I-94

The Aldine ped bridge shares a lot of features with lots of other bridges throughout MSP that were built in the 60s and 70s–a narrow arched concrete span caged in with chain link fence. Crossing these things feels precarious, as if you’re being chased by a Balrog across a pit of high speed doom.

What sets Aldine apart is the steep ramps on either side, particularly the south side where visibility is limited and the path dumps straight out onto Concordia Avenue. Luckily, Concordia is a dead end here, but the design of the ramp puts a descending bicyclist directly into the traffic lanes. Like many places, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

Also, although Aldine is ramped, it is far too steep for current ADA standards.

Personally, I am quite fond of the Aldine bridge, especially since the neighborhood painted a mural on its deck. I like it because it’s hard to find and feels like a secret passageway–not exactly positive qualities in a structure built to serve the public. Clearly, the neighborhood deserves an update similar to the newer bridges crossing I-94 at Mackubin, Chatsworth. and Griggs.

5th Best – Highland Park Bridge over Montreal Avenue in Saint Paul

Built in 1927, the Montreal Avenue bridge doesn’t really connect neighborhoods or help anyone’s commute, but crossing it is an experience worth going out of your way for. Its art deco style and lamps are great, but the view of the river valley below is spectacular.

Montreal Ave Bridge

Nice shot, Google!

 

Montreal Ave Bridge

If we could build bridges for the sheer joy of crossing them 90 years ago, then we can still do it today. Or, we could build this next thing….

4th Worst – Loring Greeway Bridge over Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis

Loring Greenway Bridge

There’s a lot to see and a lot of roads to cross between Uptown and Downtown Minneapolis. Which is why it baffles me that we built this switched-back bridge with opaque zig zag brick walls that only crosses Lyndale ave and leaves bikers and pedestrians to fend for themselves crossing the freeway offramp one block north. Perhaps if the view of the surrounding architecture weren’t completely obstructed, crossing this bridge might be more enjoyable. As it is, it’s a disappointment.

4th Best – Hamline Avenue Crossing the Great Northern Railroad at Pierce Butler

Hamline Avenue Bridge

 

Another switchback bridge, the Hamline Avenue bridge is a rusty old piece of steampunk charm over JJ Hill’s Great Northern Railroad. Yes, you have to walk or bike FIVE times farther on those stacked switchbacks, but it feels right, almost meditative, like a labyrinth. My kids and I go this way when we bike to Como Park and it’s definitely a highlight of the trip. Which leads us to the 3rd worst bridge…

3rd Worst – No Crossing at Hamline and Jessamine

Corssing at Hamline and Jessamine

You can dump crap here, but you shall not pass. Hamline at Jessamine

Once you’ve crossed the Great Northern tracks, wouldn’t it be nice to continue northward across the next set of tracks north of Energy Park? Nope, there’s a diligently maintained eight foot fence littered with garbage barring your way.

Instead, you can choose to go a full mile out of your way to cross at Lexington or Snelling (strike that–Snelling is completely unfit for either walking or biking).

As a result, the entire Midway neighborhood has only two paths northward to Roseville, Como Park, and the State Fair: Raymond Avenue or Lexington Avenue, 2 1/2 miles apart. The fact that this situation has persisted through the decades, through the urban renewal project of Energy Park and Bandana Square, demonstrates a profound a lack of leadership.

3rd Best – The Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge between Loring Park and the Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis

Loring Park Sculpture Garden Bridge

This newly refurbished bridge is absolutely stunning. Designed by artist Siah Armajani, the bridge makes crossing I-94 feel like an event. It’s designed to be special, a fact which perhaps highlights just how blasé most of our other bridges are.

In fact, the following quote from the StarTribune emphasizes perfectly how engineers tend to separate form from function, often at the public’s expense:

This structure is not necessarily about the utility but about the form and what it does for the user experience,” said MnDOT project manager Christian Hoberg. “It was a new experience for me — I’ve always been very utilitarian and bare bones. This is a bridge that’s more than a bridge — it’s art.

Why can’t every pedestrian bridge be “more than a bridge”? Why can’t every bridge value the experience of crossing it as much as the utility?

2nd Worst – Cedar Avenue at 57th Street, Minneapolis

Cedar Avenue Bridge

When a bridge is so rusted that you can see through the beams supporting the steps, should you cross it? Sure, why not? First, suppress your mounting sense of vertigo and start climbing the impossibly steep wall of stairs. Then, don’t look down as you scuttle across the humped caged span to the other side, where you’re met with another set of steep stairs going down. Let’s hope there’s no ice here!

What’s more, the sidewalk on the eastern end of this hulking monstrosity is so pitched and potted it deserves a little interpretive sign describing the freeze/thaw process.

The western side has a nice little bike trail. Good luck carrying your bike over that bridge, tho.

2nd Best – The Dinkytown Greenway, Minneapolis

Connecting the U of M with downtown, the Dinkytown Greenway Bridge is not only practical but beautiful. In fact, it offers the single best view of Minneapolis available anywhere. And, you can only see it by bike or on foot (although I did once encounter a very lost car driver crossing it. I’m not sure how he managed to get there, but he claimed to be from out of town, by which I think he meant drunk. He crossed three times before finding his way out of the network of tiny streets.)

Dinkytown Greenway

Fetching bike parts with the Banana Wagon

Formerly a railroad bridge known as Bridge Number Nine, the Dinkytown Greenway bridge is truly one of the jewels of Minneapolis’ bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

Absolute Worst – Ford Plant Return Line Bridge, Saint Paul

Located one block west of Fairview across the old Ford Plant’s train tracks, this bridge is the absolute worst. Like, if Goosebumps did a story about an evil bridge that stomps around threatening children, it would totally be this bridge.

Ford Plant Bridge

Rusty to the point of seeing daylight through its steel deck, this bridge was built decades ago to help Highland Park kids cross the tracks to get to school, a purpose which has now been obsolete for over a decade.

Impossibly steep, the stairs to this crossing rise out of the back yard of a little 50s Cape Cod house at the end of Field Avenue and descends to a cracked and overgrown sidewalk south of Worcester Avenue. Serving absolutely no purpose, why this bridge wasn’t scrapped years ago is hard to understand.

Absolute Best – The Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis

The Stone Arch BridgeWhat else could it be? When I was a kid, my dad snuck us past the fencing to show me the abandoned Stone Arch Bridge. Now, it’s the destination of choice when my kids and I go biking.

JJ Hill’s folly is the closest thing Minneapolis has to a promenade. On a nice day, it’s packed full of locals and tourists just taking in the sights. On a cold night, it’s still got people crossing it just for fun.

Last summer, we biked past a wedding taking place mid-bridge. A couple weeks ago, during a snowstorm, my son and I helped some college kids build a giant snowman.

Snowman on the Stone Arch Bridge

Indeed, the Stone Arch may be the best tourist attraction in Minneapolis–not bad for a pedestrian bridge. Over 1,700 bicyclists and over 3,700 pedestrians cross it daily (based on weekday counts during September). It’s become a symbol of Minneapolis itself.

Its popularity certainly argues well for investing in additional pedestrian and bicycle projects like the Greenway extension across the Mississippi into Saint Paul. Pedestrian bridges, when built well, help create community and connect neighborhoods. And, they offer ways to experience our Twin Cities in ways unavailable to motorists.

Dishonorable Mention – The Penn Avenue Bridge Along I-394, Minneapolis

This bridge runs parallel with 394 from Penn Avenue then drops down a spiral to…where? It basically goes right back to Bryn Mawr where it started but doesn’t connect to the Cedar Lake Trail, which is just across a pair of train tracks. Luckily, there’s no fence and a well-worn path to get you there. But c’mon–can’t we figure out stuff like this?

Honorable Mention – The Martin Olav Sabo Bridge, Minneapolis

I’m sure Sabo would top many lists of the best ped bridges in town. It looks great, has cool lights, and there’s often people to meet hanging out on it. But, as part of the Midtown Greenway, it’s mildly annoying to jog a full block north and climb a hill when you could wait for the light and cross at 28th. Depends on how much you trust drivers to stop at red lights.

 

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30 Responses to Best and Worst Pedestrian Bridges in MSP–an Unscientific Sampling

  1. Ben Osa January 21, 2019 at 12:14 pm #

    Great list but if there was a top 10 list:
    The Bryant Ave S bridge over the Minnehaha creek is a charming highly elevated view of the wooded Minnehaha Creek valley below it. This is also part of the sharrow Bryant Ave. bike lane but Bryant Ave dead ends on either side of the bike/ped bridge. Feels special to have this connection on bike and foot but cars need to go to blocks in order to cross the creek.

    • Dan Marshall
      Dan Marshall January 21, 2019 at 12:34 pm #

      Thanks–I’ll add that to my list of places to visit! I don’t think I’ve ever crossed there.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller January 21, 2019 at 12:43 pm #

        I’m fairly certain the Bryant bridge over the creek is supposed to be pedestrian only (maybe the sign says “walk bikes on bridge”).

        • Ben Osa January 21, 2019 at 1:01 pm #

          The Bryant Ave / Minnehaha Creek Bridge does say “walk bikes on bridge”.

          There is also has an uncontrolled intersection for cars on West Minnehaha Parkway with a stop sign for pedestrians so one does need to be carefully at this blind intersection (south end of the bridge).

          Interactions are courteous from bikers as they yield to pedestrians but this bridge isn’t usually busy (no observed negative path-lete behavior from bikers).

          Still a great bridge over looking this wild stretch of the the Grand Rounds.

          Pics of the bridge during a re-decking project (summer views):

          https://www.johnweeks.com/minnehaha/pages/d14.html

          Bridge with decking during the winter:

          https://bridgehunter.com/mn/hennepin/L6393/

  2. Eric Ecklund January 21, 2019 at 12:18 pm #

    I’m pretty sure that Ford Spur bridge also has wasp hives on it in the summer. Or at least the one time I used it there were enough wasps hovering around me that I decided to get off and stay off.

  3. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller January 21, 2019 at 12:40 pm #

    Funny, I usually avoid the Stone Arch Bridge. It’s super pretty, but even as a reality slow biker, it’s kind of annoying to dodge all the pedestrians and sight-seers who aren’t paying attention to where they are walking.

    Also agree about the Sabo bridge.

  4. Alex Schieferdecker
    Alex Schieferdecker January 21, 2019 at 1:25 pm #

    Each of the places I’ve lived in MSP has been associated with a pedestrian bridge. I used the one over I-94 at Aldine all the time when I went to Macalester and lived in Union Park. I used the one over I-35W at 5th SE when I lived in Como.

    My favorite, however, was the one over I-94 at Chergosky Park. There’s no good reason why it should be especially loved, it’s old, crummy looking, and extremely ADA inaccessible. It was so out-of-the-way that I can’t remember ever seeing anyone else on it. But I used to go for runs in Prospect Park when I lived nearby, and the bridge was usually near the mid-point of my run. The slope on that bridge and the stairs on the river side always gave me a second wind and motivated me to run harder. I also liked how you ran over a noise barrier and the muted thunder of the highway would rise so suddenly when you crossed it, and then quiet down again. I have good memories of that one.

  5. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke January 21, 2019 at 1:31 pm #

    Great list! Trying to get through that fence by Energy Park, I have done so once or twice.

    • Dan Marshall
      Dan Marshall January 21, 2019 at 1:51 pm #

      My son and I tried a few days ago but the holes were all wired shut. We gave up and rolled on to Lexington.

  6. Julia January 21, 2019 at 1:34 pm #

    I like the list, but I take issue with the Walker Art Center/Whitney bridge as any sort of pedestrian infrastructure, especially after participating in the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Hennepin/Lyndale bottleneck redo. I didn’t know about the MNDOT staffer’s view of it, but I’ve long call it an “art bridge,” not a “pedestrian bridge,” mainly because it’s totally form instead of function–using it is a colossal waste of time if you’re trying to get anywhere or do anything other than admiring it/the views.

    (To be clear, I do really like the bridge and visit it often as art, but it’s not infrastructure and I’ve had arguments with drivers who’ve called me lazy for wanting to be able to cross safely, comfortably, and quickly at the at-grade intersection(s) rather than taking that bridge.)

    I’m also curious your thoughts on the ped bridge that runs north out of downtown Minneapolis from near the baseball stadium. It’s a really long one with no sight lines or turn offs and weird gaps that always seem large enough for a kid to fall through to the parking ramp on the west.

    • Dan Marshall
      Dan Marshall January 21, 2019 at 1:58 pm #

      Agreed the Walker bridge doesn’t go anywhere super useful. Which bridge running north out of downtown are you thinking about? I’m drawing a blank on that.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller January 21, 2019 at 2:03 pm #

        There’s one parallel to the viaduct that extends from 3rd Street and connecting under the viaduct with N 5th Ave.

        • Dan Marshall
          Dan Marshall January 21, 2019 at 2:39 pm #

          Whelp, I’ve never been across that thing. Might have been useful on a couple occasions, too.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller January 21, 2019 at 2:01 pm #

      Yeah, used to live in the vicinity and only used it when specifically going to the sculpture garden.

  7. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary January 21, 2019 at 2:04 pm #

    Competition for worst ped bridge in Minneapolis: 58th Street over 35W. Since the only thing worse than a bad bridge is no bridge at all — it was removed and never replaced as part of the Crosstown Commons project.

    Another one I’d nominate is 14th Ave S over the Crosstown, which connects a tiny triangle of the Diamond Lake neighborhood that is within de-facto Richfield. It is spaced only 800 feet from the Richfield Parkway/Bloomington Ave Crosstown bridge — but 3500 feet from the next bridge to the west, Portland Avenue. One end literally ends at an alleyway. Its one redeeming feature is that it is “cattle cage” free, despite being of the same era as the bridges that were mostly modified to be fully enclosed.

    I am hopeful that someday that 14th Ave bridge will be removed and replaced with a fully accessible bridge at 12th Ave. This would vastly improve access to Veterans Park for Diamond Lake residents, and improve the functionality of 12th as a bike route. Plus, would be more evenly spaced with Portland and Richfield Pkwy.

  8. Frank Phelan January 21, 2019 at 2:10 pm #

    There is a ped bridge I bike over about twice per month. It’s one of the old style ones, narrow and caged in. But I don’t want to say more than that. I will likely only use that bridge for fewer than ten years, and I’m guessing that it is from the late 60’s/early 70’s. If it were replaced, I’d lose it’s use for one season of biking (9 – 10 months for me). So my hope is that it will not need replacement until after I no longer use it.

    I’d hate to only get a season or two out of the new bridge. So other than say it’s over an urban interstate, I’ll leave it at that, hopefully staying under the radar of the engineers.

  9. Scott Berger January 21, 2019 at 2:15 pm #

    Another dishonorable mention, the bridge spur that connects Shepherd road at the south to Fort Snelling at the north along Highway 5. Hard to find, harder to actually use!

    • Scott Berger January 21, 2019 at 2:21 pm #

      https://goo.gl/maps/bckqK3wEgSM2 (Directions reversed, Shepherd obviously is at the north)

    • Dan Marshall
      Dan Marshall January 21, 2019 at 2:31 pm #

      Yep, that one’s a doozie. Stairs on both ends and cars whizzing by.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary January 21, 2019 at 3:26 pm #

      It was pretty wild that MnDOT redecked the entire bridge, but determined that wasn’t a triggering event that required ADA compliance of the pedestrian facility.

      • Evan Roberts
        Evan January 22, 2019 at 12:14 pm #

        In recent years they have been doing an incredible job of pouring salt into the Mississippi river on the Highway 5 bridge, and managing to melt the snow on the bike/ped path as a side-effect

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke January 21, 2019 at 3:42 pm #

      Seconded.

  10. Lou Miranda January 22, 2019 at 7:51 am #

    Great article. I’ll have to go visit the Griggs bridge, since when I lived in Lex-Ham that bridge looked pretty much like the Aldine bridge. It never felt like it connected the neighborhood the way it was supposed to.

    Now that I’m in the burbs, I see much the same thing. The rickety old bridge over Hwy 100 just south of Excelsior Blvd. in St. Louis Park needs some TLC. Likewise, the bridge over Hwy 62 at Wooddale Ave. in Edina needs replacing (and city leaders/planners know this). However, both bridges are great during rush hour when you see cars virtually stopped for miles.

    Much nicer bridges in those areas are the bridge across Hwy 100 on the Cedar Lake Trail (just north of 36th St. in St. Louis Park), as well as the bridges across Hwy 100 (south of 70th St.) and Hwy 62 (at Bredesen Park just east of Gleason Rd.) along the Nine Mile Creek Trail in Edina.

  11. commissar January 22, 2019 at 11:43 pm #

    how’s about the one from 14th to vancleve park? it’s pretty sketchy.

    • Dan Marshall
      Dan Marshall January 23, 2019 at 4:47 pm #

      Yeah, I meant to include that! It’s super sketchy and not very useful. Why not just cross at the 16th Ave viaduct?

    • Evan Roberts
      Evan January 24, 2019 at 3:29 pm #

      It’s sketchy at night! But during the day it’s often frequented by [supervised] children from the nearby daycares and preschools, and in the summer kids from rec programs at Van Cleve Park are up on there too.

  12. Cycling January 23, 2019 at 9:34 am #

    My favorite one is the old TCRT streetcar-turned-pedestrian bridge in East St. Paul that connects the two parts of Hazel.

    • Dan Marshall
      Dan Marshall January 23, 2019 at 4:50 pm #

      I’ve heard of that but never visited. I’ll have to check it out!

    • Kyle January 24, 2019 at 3:47 pm #

      Can anyone tell me where this is? I have never heard of this, but it sounds like something to check out!

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