A Hovenring for NE Minneapolis

Minneapolis is often ranked among the top bicycle cities within the US. Our commute mode share is high, relatively, and the pace at which we build new protected facilities is quicker than most other US Cities. Though, in a global comparison, Minneapolis is still very auto-centric, as are most places in the US.

Fortunately, Minneapolis has set some aggressive bike friendly goals and policies, some of which have made Minneapolis a trailblazer in the bicycling realm. Efforts such as eliminating minimum parking requirements, flipping the transportation hierarchy to prioritize the most vulnerable road users, and setting a goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2027 paint a bright, hopeful future for bicycling in the city. To continue making strides towards these goals and policies though, Minneapolis will need to make meaningful and ambitious bicycle infrastructure investments. 

A recent study has found that the increased prevalence of protected bicycle facilities means safer cities for all. Looking at the Hierarchy of Hazard Control as applied to urban cycling, the results of this study make sense, engineering controls are more effective at reducing hazards than are administrative controls. 

1 Hierarchy Of Controls

The Hierarchy of Hazard Control as applied to urban cycling. Source: Copenhagenize

This brings me to one of the least functional and most stressful parts of my daily bicycle commute, crossing Hennepin Ave at 5th Ave NE.

2 Hennepring Graphics Existing Reduced

The existing north/south movement crossing Hennepin Ave.

Even though there is a user activated crossing signal, drivers rarely yield to people walking and riding bike. There is even a sign attached to the light that says its state law for drivers to yield to people crossing, but for some mysterious reason, the majority of drivers don’t believe that applies to them. As a bicyclist, I’ve resorted to activating the signal then scooting out slowly even with traffic coming full barrel. I’ve even slowed down on my bike in the intersection to give other pedestrians a better chance to cross. The speed limit here is 30 mph, but it’s not uncommon to see drivers cruising along at a prevailing speed of 45 mph. I’ve been hit (minor injury), sworn at, flipped off, and threatened to be run over (i.e. murdered) just for wanting to cross the street. Don’t believe any of this? Then here are some examples from some video footage I captured throughout the summer of 2018. You may ask why I have video footage of me biking. The honest, truthful answer is that my wife usually bikes with me, but didn’t last summer because we welcomed our first child. Since I was solo, I needed video evidence in case the worst happened to me. Morbid, but honestly warranted.

How can this crossing be improved? The City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County are currently in the preliminary stages of planning and design for this area. Initial indication is that the County and City will reduce the number of travel lanes from 4 to 3 and add buffered bicycle facilities for a portion of the corridor. Reducing the number of traffic lanes (and hopefully narrowing them and adding a pedestrian refuge island) may help improve safety of this crossing, but not much can be done to improve the salty and auto-pilot behavior of drivers wanting to get to work or home 15 seconds faster, as comfortably and conveniently as possible.

I believe that this intersection and location provides the City of Minneapolis with a unique opportunity to make a bold investment in bicycling and walking infrastructure. A way to move our progress forward to achieving zero traffic deaths by 2027. Crossing the railroad tracks and 4 or 3 lanes of speeding traffic can be done with our very own elevated Hovenring like bridge, a Hennepring. I’m not usually a fan of huge infrastructure investments like bridges to cross roads because they tend to be an expensive way to not solve the true problem, overbuilt streets with drivers speeding and not paying attention, but I believe the unique circumstances here may warrant such an investment.

3 Hovenring Lights

The Hovenring suspended circular cycle bridge in Eindhoven, Netherlands

4 Hennepring Graphics 3d View Reduced

3D conceptual view of the Hennepring suspended circular cycle bridge in NE Minneapolis.

5 Hennepring Graphics Topview Reduced

Top view of the conceptual Hennepring with the highlighted current and future bikeway connections.

At a vital node of NE bicycle activity, this bridge would connect the future diagonal trail extension, President’s bike boulevard, 5th/6th Ave bicycle boulevard through Marcy Holmes (leading to the Stone Arch Bridge), planned bicycle facilities on Hennepin, and a future trail along the railroad right-of-way that eventually would cross the river and connect to the Cedar Lake Trail. In fact, the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan calls for some type of bridge in this area labeled as NE-19: Hennepin Bike Bridge with estimated capital costs of $6M and yearly operational and maintenance costs of $2k.

6 Hennepring Graphics Bikewaysplan

How the Hennepring fits into the Minneapolis Bikeways Plan

Unlike the Midtown Greenway Sabo Bridge in Phillips, this bridge would be more direct for most routes. When planning for grade separated crossings it is important to minimize the amount of undue detour bicyclists and pedestrians have to take because bicyclists will only incur up to a 25% of detour before they start making riskier, more direct connections. Making grade separated crossings is useless if they cause so much detour that no one will actually use them. One only has to go to Columbia Heights at 49th and Central to observe how many elementary school kids will just cross Central at-grade instead of taking the grade separated ped bridge because it makes the crossing 3 times as long. 

The price for the Hennepring would be steep. Many would probably question whether the investment would really be worth the money. Beyond being a major safety improvement and convenient connection for those riding bikes and walking, there would potentially be a significant positive economic impact in an emerging activity node in Minneapolis. Within the past two years a high-end coffee shop, brewery/taproom, and cidery/taproom have opened up within a few hundred feet of this location. Restaurants have also begun to open up along the corridor as well. Direct access from the bridge to adjacent commercial activity would be a huge benefit to merchants and may spur more commercial and residential development. In their report, Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business, People for Bikes highlights that better bicycle infrastructure can fuel redevelopment and boost real estate value, help local companies attract a talented workforce, make workers healthier and more productive, and increase retail visibility and sales volume.

An added bonus, the Hennepring would also provide some sweet views of the Minneapolis skyline.

7 Viewfromhennepring

View towards downtown Minneapolis from the Hennepring.

On the surface, the Hennepring may be a gaudy piece of engineering that may not make sense. We could probably spend our transportation dollars on other beneficial things like improved bus shelters (horribly needed), dedicated transitways, ped/bike bridges over the Mississippi, and winter sidewalk maintenance. But, as long as our most vulnerable road users keep dying on our streets and drivers continue to drive distracted and disillusioned, the Hennepring is sorely needed. Not only will it protect and assist our most vulnerable road users, it will potentially spur millions of dollars in economic development and send a bright, bold message to the world that we are serious when it comes to moving around in our city via the most efficient mode of transportation.

About Jesse Thornsen

Jesse is an AICP certified planner who has been blogging about making the places he has lived better since 2013. He has a B.S. in Community and Regional Planning from Iowa State University. Jesse lives in NE Minneapolis and is a transplant to the Twin Cities. He was born and raised in Western Wisconsin and has lived in Ames, Iowa and Houston, TX.

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37 thoughts on “A Hovenring for NE Minneapolis

  1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

    This is really cool, but how steep would those ramps up be? It looks like it would have to be really high. The Hovenring is one level above the at grade crossing, but this appears to be two levels above Hennepin.

    1. Jesse Thornsen, AICP Post author

      The ramps are ADA (slope 1:12 or 8.33%) or better. If I remember right, the crossing is 16ft above the railroad tracks. Two levels above Hennepin (under the bridge) is somewhat irrelevant because that section is depressed. The crossing itself is only one level above the at-grade Hennepin section.

      1. Jesse

        Actually crossing is 23′ above tracks to the bottom of bridge, just measured, sorry I misspoke.

  2. Louise W.

    This is AMAZING and sorely needed. I too have been hit at that very intersection (also minor injury and $400 bike repairs). I live in NE and bike to work every day and dread crossing Hennepin. Since being hit I no longer cross there, but instead chance crossing a few blocks further away since I have a false sense of security at the cross walk. I truly hope a solution like this is considered. I am tired of “chancing it” every day.

  3. Andrew Evans

    I’m not sure I get the map pointing out trail access.

    It looks like Diagonal trail starts across the freeway, then directly beyond another rail line, lumberyard, and recycling business. Having a direct line up that way, at this point of Hennepin, seems silly without the rest of that infrastructure in place, because right now the most direct route there is to continue on Hennepin and up Johnson.

    I’m not sure due to construction, but I thought Cedar Lake trail stopped around downtown and didn’t go up over the river into NE? If that’s still the case, your fictitious future connection would need to basically take over those railroad tracks and/or right of way. Again, the ring seems silly here since the more direct route to that trail is currently down Hennepin. Any bike trail would need to get across the river, share right of way with the tracks, and have access points built in since the tracks are below grade in a lot of places.

    I do agree that for everyone Hennepin ave really sucks in that area and it’s not friendly at all. I also agree that due to the way the rail and freeways are in NE it is pretty divided with few access points bridging the different areas. So something should eventually be done, however without those trails getting to that point, your ring, wouldn’t be a great investment.

    Also it doesn’t do much to solve the problem of that crossing, since people would still want cross there. Similar to those who want to cross on Oak Grove and Hennepin by the Walker rather than go down a short distance and use the bridge.

    A better investment of the money may be in traffic police units. This would easily slow down the speeding in areas and make things safer for everyone who uses the streets.

    1. Brandon L

      “A better investment of the money may be in traffic police units.”

      I’m sorry, but this type of thinking is why things never get better. Enforcement will NEVER be the answer. Proper infrastructure self enforces, thus making value from the initial investment even greater.

      Design, not enforcement.


      1. Andrew Evans

        Enforcement is the answer when we have drivers willfully ignoring laws because they don’t have any fear of being punished. Brandon, your type of thinking, and ignoring police as part of the solution, is what gets people killed.

        Eric, that’s not the first silly document the city ever put out or endorsed. My point sill stands.

        1. Monte Castleman

          I’m not against the idea of more enforcement, but in order to do that Minneapolis would need to hire a lot more police officers. I can’t imagine dramatically increasing the size of the police force would go over too well on either end of the political spectrum.

          It’s been the experience of several people I know that Minneapolis treats auto burglaries as a kind of parking fee to visit the city rather than a crime to investigate and prosecute (one of my friends flagged down a police officer who told him “just make a report to 311 for your insurance”) so if they’re that short-staffed it’s not hard to understand whey they don’t go around writing a bunch of traffic tickets.

    2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      “I’m not sure due to construction, but I thought Cedar Lake trail stopped around downtown and didn’t go up over the river into NE? If that’s still the case, your fictitious future connection would need to basically take over those railroad tracks and/or right of way. Again, the ring seems silly here since the more direct route to that trail is currently down Hennepin. Any bike trail would need to get across the river, share right of way with the tracks, and have access points built in since the tracks are below grade in a lot of places.”

      That map wasn’t a silly, fictitious, fantasy. It’s from an actual city document for the long term bike plan found at the link right above the map in this post. Check the link out and browse around, it’s not made up. Here’s a more direct link to the full map. http://www.minneapolismn.gov/www/groups/public/@publicworks/documents/webcontent/wcms1p-081436.pdf

      1. Andrew Evans

        Eric, that’s not the first silly document the city ever put out or endorsed. My point sill stands.

        Further, with all of the investment needed to make that silly map reality, a structure like the ring talked about wouldn’t or shouldn’t be a huge deal at all. Other than with out those other pieces moving forward it’s a pie in the sky design or college study at the moment and more close to fiction than anything in reality.

        It’s like when the group Friends of the Mississippi River did a presentation to some community groups in North a few years back. My goodness did they have drawings, ideas, and visualizations about how the riverfront would work. They pulled in these fantastic bridges and boardwalks from all over the world. Guess how much of that is going to happen?

        I’m not against college projects like these at all, I just can’t take them any more seriously than what they are, a study and class project.

        And it still didn’t solve the crosswalk problem…

  4. Gary

    Isn’t the ranking of Mpls as even a U.S. biking mecca a lot of hyperbole? There may be a lot of developing infrastructure but is use really that significant to warrant a Hovenring?

      1. Gary

        I agree, e.g., Grand Forks, N. Dak. has a bike trail system that ranks higher than Mpls in 2 of 4 categories in one national survey including the category of “reach”, i.e., access by % of citizens. The category of % of usage is also higher for Grand Forks. BTW, the name of the Grand Forks system is named after Tour deFrance racer Andy Hampsten who says he grew up in GF riding against the wind that then enabled him to help Greg Lemond’s team USA win.

  5. Eric Ecklund

    Just another crossing where the traffic engineers should be forced to try it during rush hour and realize how wrong they were thinking it was good enough.

    1. Andrew Evans

      Well honestly, before NE became gentrified and brewified, that crossing and street were more than likely good enough for what was needed.

      1. Michael Bishop

        Honestly, look at any DOT or similar road project. They project out years worth of population and traffic growth yet use “how many people are swimming across the river” approach for ped and bike infrastructure. It’s old. Demand More.

        The number of people walking vs driving will only increase as people get older and birth rates continue to decline. Though, good infrastructure aids the young and old.

  6. Steven Foster

    Please forgive my naivety here from someone who is just starting to let go of the steering wheel in favor of handlebars for shorter commutes. And Loving it.
    Obviously I am not a traffic engineer but it seems to me that if we raised the crosswalks a few inches at the more dangerous intersections, in effect a very wide speed bump, it would force traffic to move slower and safer.
    They could be ramped or sloped to easily allow mobility devices to go over. Emergency vehicles already slow down to navigate city traffic. For buses these would be no more than inverted potholes.
    I would think the only ones that would have a problem with would be us “salty and auto-pilot drivers” of which I am one. But that is starting to change.

    1. Andrew Evans


      France has those types of crosswalks all over the place, and they are extremely effective for being obvious and for slowing down traffic. Along with it, over in the rural or less touristy parts, they are very good about stopping before crosswalks and letting pedestrians through. Then too, pedestrians in those areas are very good about only crossing in marked crosswalks.

      There is also a good example of one here in Mpls for the trail that crosses 18 Ave NE and 4th street NE.

      I’d like to see bumps like that extended to the parkways and maybe less aggressive ones as you said to more major streets. If for nothing else than to force traffic to slow down.

  7. Brens

    Also hit here a while back: minor injuries, ~$500 bike repair IIRC. Had plenty of close calls before that despite my best efforts at being overcautious (gets especially messy when stopped cars get impatient waiting for other cars to stop and gun it through without warning). I cannot see 3 lanes + a median having any significant affect on driver behavior. They at least need to supplement that with a stoplight like at Broadway and 5th St NE, preferably in addition to a huge, suspension-trashing speed bump.
    This part of Hennepin is especially prone to speeding, so some traffic calming would seem to be warranted regardless.

    1. Karen Nelson

      We need vision like this.

      It would be a tourist attraction, a local destination for the fun view, an icon to “brand” the city as biking place, vast safety increase for bikers, would promote more biking by appealing those who crave more comfort and less stress to bike and drivers couldn’t complain.

      This Hennepinring combined with Midtown Greenway extension over river, which could make for great views and a destination in itself, would be economic development, and improved bike safety and encourage increased biking.

      The approach with this vision should be around economic development, rather than just transportation, safety, tho that would be best result.

      If it’s economic development, then more spending is justified as an investment..

  8. Brian

    It seems like a cyclist would have to go pretty far out of their way to cross Hennepin using this structure. I suspect a percentage will still cross Hennepin the old fashioned way to avoid the climb and the extra distance. No different than some cyclists still cross Hiawatha at road level even with the Sabo bridge because they don’t want to go out of their way.

    1. Karen Nelson

      But most bikers take Sabo, love it and it’s a Instagram destination.

      Can’t really care if some bikers don’t bother with it .

      1. Joe

        To people going west on Greenway headed north on Hiawatha Trail (or vice versa), Sabo bridge is 1700 ft vs the 1600 ft it would be taking 28th, for a 6% increase in distance.

        For those going west on Greenway (or vice versa) the Sabo bridge is 2100 ft vs 1100 ft, for a 90% increase.

        This plan would make a 40 ft crossing into a 800+ foot crossing, for a 2000% increase.

        It should be no surprise that people take a 6% detour and also no surprise that people might not take a 2000% detour.

        1. Jesse Thornsen, AICP Post author

          Joe, thank you for your careful measurements. Next time I will try to provide a scale to make it easier.

          For the people accessing the Miller Textile building then heading south and vice versa, they will probably cross Hennepin as normal 99/100 times. (this is my very scientific measurement). Hopefully the at-grade crossing is improved.

          The Hennepring isn’t necessarily for this situation though, it is mostly for bicycle commuters and recreational bicyclists passing through the area on their way to another destination. Most of these pass-through movements only incur a very small increase in distance, <5%.

          One measurement I should have provided is how long the distance is from the intersection of NE Fillmore St to 5th Ave SE with and without the Hennepring. Without the Hennepring, the distance from NE Fillmore St to 5th Ave SE is ~1,680ft, with the Hennepring the distance is ~1,040ft. A person riding a bike or walking through this area would see a 38% decrease in distance taking this route, plus have a stress-free crossing.

          1. Joe

            One question: why not add another ramp from westbound Hennepin on the east side of the tracks up to the Hovenring? Then people wouldn’t have to backtrack so much. But maybe the geometry of that would be crazy, I dunno.

      2. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

        So true, Karen! Sabo is a great example of why “the shortest route” isn’t always the goal for a bicyclist. I’d go even further out of my way to enjoy that bridge, and to avoid crossing that road. Any hovenring would be similar.

      3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        As someone who will regularly not use the Sabo Bridge because of the climb (really, depends on context and which bike I’m on), it’s pretty important context that there’s a traffic light that includes a signal to facilitate crossing Hiawatha at grade. Here, cross traffic isn’t forced to stop and I’d gladly go up and over.

  9. Karen Nelson

    Add something to the vision that seems NY Highline-esque, that will sell it.

    Seriously, how about we get some great design and graphics together for a handful of stunning bike infrastructure projects like this, that have important function of improving safety and encouraging far more biking but also have great attractiveness and appeal as community space and use it to propose Biking-Centered economic development.

  10. Steve Gjerdingen

    Awhile ago when I was thinking about this roadway and lived very close to it, I had a few questions:

    1) Why hasn’t Hennepin Ave gentrified fully north of 5th Street NE? The development we see around 7th St is laughable. An empty lot? Industrial? The backside of some garages? If anything, Hennepin should be high rises all the way from 5th Ave NE to 35w. How can it still be more economically viable to run industrial properties on Hennepin in this stretch? The area between 9th St SE and Hennepin Ave is ripe for redevelopment as long as it were done in such a way to ensure that pedestrians have the ability to get across those tracks.

    2) What if instead of putting in a center turn lane they just put in a median and make turn lanes the exception and not the rule? Then you’d effectively have a 4/2 conversion instead of a 4/3 conversion. If crossing Hennepin wasn’t an issue for pedestrians, you’d see way more development on both sides of Hennepin.

    3) No matter what is done to make the crossing better, how can the bikeway be better in the winter time under the tracks? Making the sidewalk slightly wider would help. That said, without a 6 ft high barrier to make sure that the plow slush from the road doesn’t wind up on the path, it’s going to be an icy mess. It was interesting trying to watch cyclists slowly skid down that sidewalk while traffic was cruising by at 40 mph.

    1. Jesse Thornsen, AICP Post author

      I wish I had taken pictures of the sidewalk during my winter bike commute, it’s essentially unbikeable and unwalkable until end of May when the ice buildup under the bridge is eventually melted away.

    2. Andrew Evans

      Steve, it’s going in that direction, at least to the freeway. Seems like most of the really desirable locations are across University and up Central. It took years before those buildings on Central and 7th were rehabbed, and some of the industrial buildings along Hennepin are being rehabbed or have been over the past 5 to 6 years.

      The problem is that now we’re putting more residential traffic on that same road (well and to be honest Broadway and Lowry aren’t great either, so lets lump them all in), and the designs haven’t been updated to accommodate it. Hopefully the city or county can get to that sooner or later, since something needs to be done.

      I like your #2 idea, and yes, those sidewalks look terrible in the winter.

  11. Thad Dahlberg

    I’ve never been hit crossing this intersection, but it is easily the worst crossing during my 8 mile commute from my NE house to St. Thomas were I work. I’m often shouting and pointing up at the sign and flashing lights as I edge out into traffic. I’ve commented ad nausium to coworkers about crossing Hennepin and the lack of alternatives. Your hover bridge proposal sounds awesome and looks beautiful. I would settle for a way over via those railroad tracks at the very least.

  12. Jeremy HopJeremy

    Couple of years ago, the very crossing I use frequently to get downtown via the Stone Arch.


    I’ve got many clips of this atrocious crossing. Biggest problem for these beacons is the law is so cloudy. Sign says peds and cyclists get right of way but on the other hand, cyclists are to be treated as a motor vehicle and wait for crossing traffic. Do we enforce what the sign at the crossing says or enforce the law on tur books?

  13. karen Nelson

    Please, can we get a dozen or so dramatic ideas like this for worst safety/high volume places or important connections….

    …and pitch it as Bike-Centered Economic Development.

    These type of big vision ideas like Midtown Greenway Extension with amazing view over river, Hennepinring, St. River balcony heavy on bike paths, ramps etc…put together as a packaged vision might get some traction.

    Meanwhile, make city bike commutes so much better

    Do not underestimate the value of iconic structures to a city – they add to visibility of the city, tourism, interest from big employers and just plain get people excited about a place.

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