A Greenway Extension Revisited

Several years ago, I wrote a post about The Short Line Bridge, its history and its critical role in extending the Midtown Greenway eastwards, across the Mississippi River. The Short Line Bridge was built by the Chicago Milwaukee St.Paul & Pacific railroad in 1902. It originally had two tracks and carried both passenger and freight trains in and out of downtown Minneapolis and along what is now the Midtown Greenway.

Today, the bridge has just one track and is a spur line that serves a single large client– the Archer Daniels Midland Atkinson Mill– and one much smaller client– Leder Brothers Metals, a scrap yard. Both are located next to Highway 55 in South Minneapolis. The bridge is owned by CP Rail, who leases its train operation to Minnesota Commercial Railroad. They operate just one train per day to drop off and pick up cars, primarily at the ADM mill.

As I discussed in my previous post, in 2004 or 2005, Hennepin County was interested in extending the Midtown Greenway eastwards, over the Mississippi River on the southern portion of the Short Line Bridge where one of its railroad tracks had been removed. They approached CP Rail about this and CP offered to allow a bike and pedestrian trail over part of the bridge if the County would assume ownership, maintenance and liability for the bridge. Hennepin commissioned a study from the URS Corporation to assess the bridge and the feasibility of building a bike/ped trail and assuming liability.

CP Rail wouldn’t allow URS engineers on the bridge. So much of its report was based on observations from afar and research on the general bridge type. In their final 2006 report, URS determined that the bridge was a “Pin-connected Eyebar Truss” containing elements that were “fracture critical”, meaning their failure could cause a portion of the bridge to collapse. So the report recommended against assuming liability for the bridge, and instead proposed building a separate, parallel bike and pedestrian bridge.

The idea of an additional bridge was rejected by “Friends of the Mississippi River” and the National Park Service. So Hennepin County gave up on extending the Midtown Greenway for the next 13 years.

But many groups would like to see the Greenway extended. So, last year, The Midtown Greenway Coalition, along with the Friends of the Mississippi River and others, crowd-funded a new engineering study from Kimley-Horn and Associates, one of the top engineering and design firms in the country. The goal of this study was to determine if the existing bridge could be rehabilitated or strengthened to be safe for both trains and bike/pedestrian use, and what this would cost.

As in the past, CP Rail refused to allow engineers onto the bridge but, unlike in the past, Kimley-Horn now had access to drones with LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging)– a survey tool that can make 3-D maps of objects.

Also engineers have learned more about how to add redundancy to old Pin-Connected Eyebar Truss bridges to make them safer. Searching the web, one finds numerous studies and reports by state Departments of Transportation on how to rehabilitate, strengthen, and even disassemble and move these bridges. In Hennepin County alone, we have several such bridges that have been rehabilitated and carry pedestrians and bicycles– Bridge #9 (by UMN), The Boom Island Railroad Bridge and the Hanover Bridge.

The new Kimley-Horn study explains several different ways that this bridge could be rehabbed or modified to carry bicycle and pedestrian traffic in addition to trains. It also provides rough cost estimates for four different options. These range from a simple rehab and upgrading of the existing bridge at a cost of about $9.9 million to constructing a brand new one using the existing stone and concrete piers at a cost of about $27.5 million.

As I will explain, relative to other pubic infrastructure projects, this is not that expensive and could qualify for various Federal and State bridge and transportation funding grants. For various reasons, I believe it is worth doing and at least merits opening a dialog with CP Rail to assess its feasibility and whether Hennepin and Ramsey Counties can acquire the necessary bridge and trail easements.

Popularity and Use

The biggest reason why it’s worth the money is a lot of people would use it. From the day it opened, it would be used by somewhere between 1350 and 1900 cyclists per day and over 100 pedestrians. This is based on count data from both Minneapolis and Saint Paul. In Saint Paul, the last available on-line count data (from 2015-2016) shows 437 bikes crossed the Lake Street Bridge during a two-hour afternoon count. This is estimated by Saint Paul Public Works to be about 22% of daily bike traffic for a total of 1967 bikes per day. Many of these riders are going to or from the Midtown Greenway.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, a 2017 count of the east end of the Greenway showed 1350 bikes and 110 pedestrians per day. The highest count, in 2014, showed 1850 bikes per day.

No other bikeway in Saint Paul and few other bikeways in Minneapolis have this many cyclists. Yet we spend as much or more money on other bicycle and pedestrian facilities that often serve far fewer users. Saint Paul is currently spending $37.5 Million finishing and improving the Saint Paul Grand Round, $10.5 Million of which has come from a federal grant. The entire project, expected to be completed in the next 10-20 years could cost over $75 million. Yet it’s a largely recreational trail that would serve fewer users than a Greenway Extension.

The city also spent $16.5 Million just for the Jackson Street leg of the Capital City Bikeway (albeit much of that was for sewer and street work), or an estimated $15 million for a proposed bridge to connect the Bruce Vento Trail to Shepard Road, a project that would have vastly fewer users than a Greenway Extension.

Bike bridge projects that have comparable numbers of cyclists to the proposed Midtown Greenway Extension include the Stone Arch Bridge, which cost several million to acquire and rehab between 1989 and 1994 and is about to undergo another $15 Million rehabilitation project …or the Franklin Avenue Bridge which was recently re-decked at a cost of $50 Million with vastly improved bicycle and pedestrian pathways that can carry over 2000 cyclists per day.

Both of these bridge projects were hugely expensive but almost no one would argue that they weren’t worth it and both received substantial federal funding. The Stone Arch bridge in particular serves thousands of tourists and sight-seers and is an iconic landmark of Minneapolis.

Also compare the costs of these bicycle and pedestrian investments to local highway spending. Adding two MnPASS lanes for a few miles of I-35E cost $225 million and the new Stillwater Bridge cost $646 million.

Just this year MnDOT is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to add new lanes, shoulders or ramps to roadways around the state.  The city of Saint Paul proposed spending $118 million to rebuild the 2200-space River Center parking garage, a structure that only fills for limited special events.

Looking at the cost of all these projects, $10-$28 million for a bicycle/pedestrian (and train) Greenway Extension bridge that would get used by over 1350 daily riders isn’t that much money. From tabling at cycling events over the years, I’ve had more people ask me about or express interest in extending the Greenway to Saint Paul than any other bicycle infrastructure project in the city. The fact that the Midtown Greenway Coalition was able to crowd-fund $40,000 for this latest engineering study and its promotion is further proof of the project’s popularity.

Safety and Health

Another reason to do a Greenway Extension is safety. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have adopted “Vision Zero” policies when it comes to bicycle and pedestrian crashes with motor vehicles. Yet the only two bridges that connect the cities, at Ford Parkway and Lake Street have poor safety records and non-existent or mediocre bicycle facilities. Ford Parkway only has “Sharrow” pavement markings (which is basically “Nothing”).

Marshall Avenue has an uphill climbing bike lane and nothing going downhill, with large volumes of motor vehicle traffic moving in excess of 40 mph. On the Minneapolis side of the Lake Street bridge, there is also nothing. Riders have to immediately slip down to West River Parkway across a somewhat dangerous crossing and go north on the Parkway to reach the Greenway.

The danger of this journey is reflected in the available crash data. According to the Saint Paul bicycle and pedestrian crash map, in the last three years, nine cyclists have been hit by cars between Cleveland Avenue and the Lake Street Bridge, including one person on the bridge itself.

On the Minneapolis side, data is harder to come by but the crash “density” map from a 2010 report showed 2-3 crashes at the west end of the Lake Street Bridge and 2-3 crashes at the Greenway exit crossing of West River Parkway. Attempts to obtain more recent data for this article via The Minneapolis Crash Database or Traffic Crash Location System were unsuccessful.

Based just on the available data, it’s clear that a car-free bike/pedestrian crossing of the Mississippi has the potential to reduce crash numbers. A Greenway Extension could also induce less experienced riders to feel safe crossing the river, promoting the “Active Living” health and fitness goals of both Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.


Greenway Extension Revisited

At minimum, a Greenway Extension as far as Cleveland Avenue would connect (via Gilbert Avenue) to existing bikeways on Cleveland, Prior and St Anthony Avenues. The St. Anthony bikeway will bring riders into the Midway and the new Allianz Field, via existing bike facilities on Aldine Street, Pierce Street and Shields Avenue. A Greenway Extension also provides an east-west connection in a part of Saint Paul between Aldine and Raymond Streets where there are currently no alternatives.

University Avenue is now unbikable and the only other way through the maze of industrial warehouses, highways and railway lines in that area. A Greenway Extension along the CP Rail line would help bridge that. If it could be extended to Selby and the Ayd Mill corridor, a Greeway Extension would create a truly amazing non-motorized connection between both cities.

An Extension would also connect East African immigrant communities in the Philips and Cedar-Riverside neighborhoods with a large community in Saint Paul’s Midway.

Real Estate Development

There are areas just east of the Mississippi that have the potential for real estate development, near both St Anthony Avenue and Mississippi River Boulevard on currently unused railroad land that’s either connected or could be connected to adjacent neighborhoods.

If Hennepin County bought out the two remaining shippers on the Hiawatha spur line, the area along Hiawatha also has huge potential for real estate development, something that’s already starting to happen. The group Min Hi Line has been working to piece together a bike/pedestrian trail along the Minnehaha rail corridor on the east side of Highway 55 and they’ve been involved in redevelopment of some of its industrial and railroad land.

The Midtown Greenway helped to spur a ton of Residential and retail development, particularly near Uptown that has more than paid for the cost of building it. Extending the Greenway to Saint Paul could add still more money to Hennepin and Ramsey County tax coffers.


The new Kimley Horn study shows that it’s possible to rehab or rebuild the Short Line Bridge, the linchpin to any Greenway Extension. Given the benefits of such an extension, I hope Hennepin County and Ramsey County officials will at least restart a dialog with CP Rail and examine the possibility. A Greenway Extension is on Saint Paul’s Comprehensive and Bikeways Plans as well as several District Council plans.

It’s time we expended some effort to turn these plans into reality. For more info on what’s happening and what you can do, check out the Midtown Greenway Coalition’s website or follow them on Facebook.


Shortline Bridge Above Big

Andy Singer

About Andy Singer

Andy Singer is doing his second tour as volunteer co-chair of the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition. He works as a professional cartoonist and illustrator and has authored four books including his last, "Why We Drive," which examines environmental, land use and political issues in transportation. You can see more of his cartoons at AndySinger.com.

Articles near this location

24 thoughts on “A Greenway Extension Revisited

  1. Clark

    Thanks for this great article. I did not review the prior one you linked to. What’s the reason CP refuses to allow people on the bridge to evaluate it? Do we know?

    1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

      There is no federal agency for inspecting railroad bridges. Railroads get to do their own largely unregulated inspections. My guess is CP hasn’t inspected this bridge or performed any maintenance on it for a decade or more. If they don’t allow inspectors in it then they can be “legally” ignorant of its flaws (important for potential liability).

      1. Jerome Johnson

        Cannot tell you exactly why CP refuses groups like the Greenway coalition direct access to the bridge, but experience tells me it would relate to simple liability concerns on the part of skittish railroad lawyers. It is hard to believe that any responsible railway in this day and age would refuse to inspect or maintain one of its bridges in order to profess ignorance of its flaws when doing so would put its own crews in harm’s way. There is also a federal agency involved, the Federal Railway Authority (FRA) that would at least have the authority to fine/punish the freight railroad should there be a freight related safety incident on the bridge. All that stated, the drones and advances in bridge structural analysis outlined in the report should reveal most everything needed to move forward with this initiative.

    2. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      That’s incorrect. The Federal Railroad Administration has very clear regs that require periodic bridge inspections by the railroads and they definitely follow up to see that the inspections were done.

      1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

        There are agency rules but they’re not enforced. MPR and some other local media have done stories on all the deficient railroad bridges that aren’t being maintained. See– https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/07/23/inspectors-find-dozens-of-rail-bridges-need-repair The FRA is definitely not following up, despite TV, radio and print stories highlighting the problem …and it’s not just Minnesota. Read the above article and various others out there …and these didn’t even include the worst bridge in town– the lift bridge in downtown Saint Paul. I’ll see if I can find some photos for you.

      2. Andy SingerAndy Singer

        Aaron, I have photos of the Lift Bridge deficiencies that I’ve shared with the media but I don’t see a way to paste them into these comments. Shoot me an e-mail if you’re interested.

        1. Matt SteeleMatt

          I think the most recent MnDOT Rail Plan covers some of the issues with the downtown UP lift bridge, which the rail plan suggests replacing.

          1. Andy SingerAndy Singer

            Here’s just one photo of one deficient part (of many) of the Lift Bridge at Robert Street. This is one of the main supports for the center section of the bridge. Note that the concrete is completely falling apart everywhere, that some pieces or railroad rail were jammed into the river bottom to try and prevent it from shifting and disintegrating, that the steel beam anchored to the top of the concrete footer is rusted clear through in spots …and keep in mind that oil trains and other toxic substances go over this bridge every day. I have lots more photos. There is no way that this bridge is safe. If MnDOT had any power over the railroad, they’d close it immediately, but they don’t. I am not sure who the owner of this bridge is– CP rail? UP?– but it’s one of many monuments to the complete lack of railroad bridge safety enforcement. I should do a post on it with all the photos– http://www.andysinger.com/roberts_st_train_bridge01.jpg

            1. Jerome Johnson

              I’m pretty sure Union Pacific owns the rail bridge at Robert Street. Whatever, they are the primary user, as it is on their high volume industrial main line between Omaha and the Twin Cities. UP coins money on this line and, overall, is making record earnings. So, while the cosmetics of that bridge may leave something to be desired, it is hard to believe they would put the lucrative traffic they move on that line at risk through shoddy maintenance of a handful of bridges. Moreover, while I cannot say much about freight RR bridge maintenance, the actual track condition on main line US railroads like UP is probably best ever, and the derailment stats bear that out. Hard to believe the rails would let their bridges go in that context.

  2. Kyle Olson

    Great write up. I’ll be writing to my county commissioner, council-member and state legislators to ask them to prioritize this connection. I hope others will do the same.

  3. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    Thanks for this concise summary of the history of the bridge and the effort to extend the Midtown Greenway. There is no time like the present to make this happen.

    Extending the Greenway over the river would be a transformational project. It would open up the route to St. Paul and the Ayd Mill corridor, pushing that city towards renewing its own efforts to building a bicycle highway. It would also open up the possibility of bending the Greenway north, along the little-used railroad spur that parallels I-94, towards the University area. With a little bit more work, hopefully on Huron, the Dinkytown and Midtown Greenways could be connected, creating a nearly-unbroken loop of efficient bicycle highways connecting both lower income and student populations.

    That’s also partly the reason why I disbelieve the estimates for bicycle traffic on this bridge. I think they are too low. The Greenway sees comparatively little traffic at the eastern end, because there is nowhere to go. The Lake Street bridge sees a fair bit of traffic, but it is a challenge to bike on, and the Marshall Ave hill is infamous. Crossing the river, adding new connections to actual destinations, and making the river crossing so much safer, will all lead to a flood of new bicycle traffic over the bridge.

    One final point is that, like the Stone Arch Bridge, this bridge would become a top destination in Minneapolis. It’s high above the river, offering fantastic views of downtown, the gorge below, and the treetops to the south. A case study might be the Walkway over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, NY, a pedestrianized railroad bridge away from the town which draws half a million visitors every year just to walk from one end to the other. Imagine if that bridge were actually useful to people getting from one place to another, and you’ve got what Minneapolis has here.

    I really can’t street enough how high of a priority this project should be for Minneapolis. Only maybe bus lanes on Hennepin is as important. This is the time to make it happen.

  4. Paul Nelson

    Thank you, Andy – nicely done and informative. One minor issue I have been thinking about: If the option of building a second layer deck above the current rail line were implemented, I am wondering how the grade level of the Green way could be connected by a ramp to raise the level up. There should be several ways to do this. The amount of space within the right-of-way is somewhat limited on that area where the green-way ends.

    1. Dan Cross

      That is a great question Paul! As the engineer that designed Alternative #4 and someone that has lived near the Short Line Bridge, played on it and dreamed about a trail over it for the last 35 years, I can tell you I have studied just about every detail of it.
      Regulation requires clearance of 22 ½ feet from the center top of the rails to overhead bridge structures. Accounting for existing changes in grade at the ends of the bridge and the thickness of the deck above, the total change in elevation of a ramp would be about 25 feet. Trail design standards would result in a 6 percent slope ramp about 420 feet long. On the west bridge approach that happily coincides with the end of the ramp up from West River Parkway to the Greenway Trailhead. On the east approach, the ramp would end roughly where the track splits and goes east to St Paul or west through Prospect Park and would link to the new final segment to the Grand Round Parkway.
      I have surveyed these areas extensively and working with the Prospect Park Associations Transportation Committee, developed several trail options all of which would exist within the borders of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. This is a real positive because as much as we want this trail to extend into St Paul and look forward to working with the city and Ramsey county, having that clear definition of responsibilities, make planning and funding a project like this far easier.
      I have shared these plans with the MPRB, my district commissioner and other officials in the affected area and they are all excited and supportive of our effort. Now we need to move forward to loosen the purse strings. If you are excited about this and want to see it happen, then talk to your friends and neighbors, share it on social media, call or email your county commissioner, mayor, city council member, Park Board Commissioner or Director and your State representative. Let them know that this would spur phenomenal development along the trail, grow the economy and increase the tax base of both cities and the state. Let them know this would make a world class transit corridor for decades to come.

      1. Paul Nelson

        Thank you, Dan Cross:

        There is room for a ramp; my perception was off a bit (I pass that location to and from work)

        I will spread the word and contact my elected people.

        All of your work is fascinating – nicely done!

  5. Allen

    Ford Parkway only has “Sharrow” pavement markings (which is basically “Nothing”).

    Sharrows are the best thing out there. They’re incredibly cheap. More importantly, they reinforce the paradigm that bikes and cars SHARE the road. Most importantly, they’re far safer than the usual “bike lane” which is some paint slapped on the shoulder , compelling cyclists to be squeezed into a unsafe situation and creating the optics that cyclists are 2nd class citizens.

    1. Christa MChrista Moseng

      Nobody in a car sees sharrows in this way, so it’s not really a compelling rationale in support of sharrows.

      Paint isn’t infrastructure, but at least painted lines are things that people in cars often recognize. Stenciling suggestions that they should share is indulging in a fantasy.

      Maybe sharrows could work if they were literally painted end to end so that there was a continuous “lane” of sharrows… but they’re never implemented this way (because it wouldn’t allow them to still be “incredibly cheap.”) Instead they’re painted blocks apart and a typical driver would never think a sharrow three blocks back still applies to them.

    2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Sharrows are a dangerous nightmare daring people to become human sacrifices in the cause of “educating” those who cannot be educated.

    3. Julie Kosbab

      If sharrows are the “best” thing, we are doing a terrible job as a whole and everyone should be ashamed of themselves.

      Or there is a definition of best I have not been acquainted with to date.

    4. Rosa

      I have had car drivers shout “SHARE THE ROAD” at me as they passed within inches in a sharrow lane. “Share the road” is not the right message – drivers think “share” means “get off the road so I can drive faster”

  6. Jerry Ciardelli

    For years as I Head east toward the exit just before the bridge I daydream about the future when cyclists can effortlessly cross the magnificent Mississippi (over the only gorge along its entire length) and into St.Paul.

    With the efforts of Andy and many other individuals and entities opening this bridge would become an iconic symbol of the Twin Cities biking community and well beyond.

    Let ‘s all get behind this project 100 percent.

  7. Lou Miranda

    Great writeup and comments. This is a must-have project for residents of both Hennepin & Ramsey Counties.

Comments are closed.