A Non-Definitive Ranking of Paths Over and Under I-94 in Minneapolis and Saint Paul

The other day, I decided I had a favorite bridge across I-94: the 3rd Ave bridge in Minneapolis.

A view from the 3rd ave bridge looking north toward minneapolis downtown. The light installations are red-orange colored poles with lights decorating in a birch-tree-like pattern.

The best bridge over I-94 in the Cities, in my humble opinion. (Source: Google Maps.)

I love it! The cedar-inspired light installations, the wide sidewalks, the nice railings, the feeling of being welcomed into the city center. So, obviously, I have to have a least-favorite bridge, right? There are a good number of contenders for this spot. But I wanted to take stock of all the bridges, to see if there were some real stinkers I overlooked.

Wikipedia has a list of exits off I-94 in Minnesota, but not a list of bridges. I couldn’t find a definitive list of accesses over the freeway anywhere online. Plenty of information about bridges that 94 itself is comprised of, but not accesses across it. It’s always nice to be reminded of where I stand in relation to car culture. To me, the freeway is a screaming, howling, smelly void that sometimes the bus goes on, but mostly is in the way when I want to get from point A to point B.

I fired up my trusty web browser and decided to undertake a manual inspection of satellite photos to help me come up with a list, and then rank them. I have some comments for most of them; scroll to the bottom for the Official Unofficial Ranking.

From west to east, I found:

53rd Ave N Never been on it, but crossing 94 and two branches of Lyndale in one go sounds like a death trap to me.
49th Ave N Same.
45th Ave N Small path under, no cars. Seems much nicer than the previous two options, but not exactly near them.
Shingle Creek Cute looking tunnel, but it’s on a winding path that tells me “this isn’t for travel, only for recreation” which, eh.
42nd Ave N I’ve crossed here like once, and that was not a great time. Maybe the protected sidewalk is nicer.  Bonus for crossing the river with the same bridge, I guess.
N Washington Ave Painted bike lanes, not quite “you tried” – more like “there was an attempt”.
N Dowling Ave Aaaaaaa.
Lowry Ave N I always love it when the bike lanes go right up to the bridge, disappear, then reappear on the other side like you’re supposed to teleport across somehow.
N 26th Ave Zzzzzzzzz.
W Broadway This looks like a quarter mile of hellscape to me.
Plymouth Ave Well-maintained bike path, but walking here probably sucks.
East Lyndale Ave N I think this is only for cars, though a friend told me she would bike on it when she was late to work, which, WHEW that’s gutsy.
N 7th St This whole street feels weird and unnecessary, like it used to be a rail line or something? Idk.
Olson Memorial Hwy No.
Glenwood Ave I think people live in this underpass?
Cedar Lake Trail Yay for trail access tunnel, boo for me getting lost and turned around in this exact spot like every damn time I’m near it.
394 Hisss.
Dunwoody Blvd Inadvisable.
Loring Greenway Nice and scenic, connecting two parks. Too bad there’s a freeway underneath it.
Lowry Hill Tunnel!! The best place for a freeway is underground where no one has to see it ever.
Oak Grove/Vineland Lots of lanes of cars to manage here even though the freeway is underground.
Groveland Ave Lots of lanes still. And the drivers feel very entitled here. Lyndale…
Another thing labeled “Loring Greenway” but which we all know is the Bryant Ave Bike Bridge I’d like to love this bridge more, but one time in May before they’d done a sweep, I took the hairpin turn a little too fast and wiped out on some sand. Lots of deep road rash.
Groveland Ave Again, apparently? You’d think I’d have known about this one, but I did not. Further inspection reveals that holy shit this is horrible, the sidewalks may not even be wide enough for wheelchairs??? Wow! No wonder I never knew about it!!!
Lasalle Ave Some of the highest-stress dashed lane-indicated access, but still useable.
Nicollet Ave Calmer than LaSalle if you get in full “I’m A Vehicular Cyclist, Dammit” mode. Not great to walk.
1st Ave Ehhh.
3rd Ave See above praises!
35W Hisssss.
Portland Ave Extremely boring.
Park Ave Bog-standard matching bridge.
Chicago Ave I am once again reminded that there was a redlined community here that was literally bulldozed to build a freeway.
11th Ave At first pass, this is my least favorite bridge. Narrow sidewalks, fast cars, views to the east are of a huge void of car lane spaghetti where there used to be homes, chain link fence. This whole thing just… It feels like no one cares about this part of the city when you cross this bridge.
Hiawatha Trail Love the trail. Today I learned that that huge concrete roof that shows up around the train storage area is actually the freeway. Oh, there’s a community garden nearby? Hmm.
Cedar Ave That’s a no from me.
20th Ave Looks gnarly. Would avoid.
Murphy Square Park I haven’t used this ped bridge myself, but hey, it’s a bridge connecting apartments to a park. Seems nice. [Editor’s Note: This bridge, called the 22nd Ave. bridge by MNDOT, was damaged beyond repair last summer by an overheight truck on 94. Inexplicably, the truck continued east down the freeway and also damaged the 25th Ave. and Riverside Ave. overpasses. The 22nd Ave. bridge was replaced by a temporary wooden structure, which will be there indefinitely. The other two have already been repaired.]
25th Ave S No thank you. Two freeway onramp roads in addition to the freeway itself? Ew.
Riverside Ave Bike lane is a solid painted effort. Still looks rough.
Franklin Terrace Hey look, there are two parks right here.
W River Parkway/Multi-use trail Plus points for being next to the river, minus points for bringing noisy and smelly cars to the river.
E River Parkway/Multi-use trail Same, but now I’m laughing thinking that all these massive concrete structures over my head on these paths are actually car infrastructure.
27th Ave SE I almost crossed here once on a bike and decided my life was not worth that little.
Franklin Ave SE Nice, because you get to go across the Franklin Ave bridge over the river nearby, which is SUCH a nice bridge over the river with the little sense-of-community crossing counter.
Chergosky Park Another ped bridge originating from a park. Seems nice but why are there so many parks next to the freeway?
Pelham Blvd Bonus for crossing some train tracks too. That’s probably cool to look at.
Vandalia St A golf course? That’s different.
Cleveland Ave N Painted buffers in the bike lanes! I wonder if they get snow protection seasonally.
Prior Ave This one has a community garden nearby. I guess as long as you’re not gardening vegetables for people to eat? And another park on the other side. I didn’t expect this post to start laying in to putting parks for kids to play in next to a prime producer of pollutants in our cities, but here we are.
Fairview Ave I am confused about why Fairview Ave N doesn’t continue straight through here. There could have been houses on this land, but instead there’s a wide road. Hmm.
Aldine St/Concordia Ave Wiggly pedestrian bridge. Looks cute and maybe a little higher budget than the catwalk-with-chain-link-fence style.
Snelling Ave I cross this often enough to have developed a hate for it; see Pat’s post for why.
Pascal St I’d say “avoid” but you don’t have better options nearby.
Hamline Ave You’d think Concordia students would want to be able to get to the Target safely but maybe this bridge works good enough for them.
Griggs St Little pedestrian bridge with, you guessed it, a park.
Lexington Pkwy No thank you.
Chatsworth St Pedestrian bridge, no park though. Wonder who got it installed, then!
Victoria St Community garden.
Grotto St Pedestrian bridge, no park.
Dale St Walking, maybe. There’s a park.
Mackubin St Looks like it’s to connect to a school just on the other side. I wanted to “street view” this bridge to provide a better review but of course, there’s coverage on the freeway but none on the ped bridge. Anyway, the bridge looks nice enough.
Western Ave Sure, okay.
Marion St/Kellogg Blvd Yuck.
John Ireland Blvd Basically a small freeway lid with planted grass, and for that I respect it.
St Peter St This isn’t “for” anyone not in a car (though the capitol city bikeway project may soon be changing that!)
Wabasha St Cedar St is right there. Just don’t.
Cedar St Train crosses here AND the protecting windows/ceiling make this a top-tier bridge. Just what you’d expect from the one you can see from the capitol building!
Minnesota St A trap. Doesn’t go through to the capitol complex despite it looking like it should. You can’t go back once you start that direction and you’re forced on to the glorified freeway onramp that is 12th St. The sidewalks are fake – they don’t connect to anything at all on either side of the bridge. Sincerely, avoid Minnesota St at all costs. This might actually be my least favorite bridge.
Jackson St Nice bikeway!! And it’s on the west side of the bridge so you don’t have to face the obscene car-lane spaghetti that you do on 11th St in Minneapolis.
9th St E Hellscape-ish. There’s apparently more St Paul downtown over here, isolated from the rest of downtown by two freeways. Oof.
E 7th St Some kind of bridge to … Somewhere.
Hwy 52 ????? Hissss.
Kellogg Blvd It’s ridiculous that a single street has to bridge the void twice.
Mounds Blvd I can’t tell if this is a freeway or a street, so.
Maple St/Mound St Small pedestrian bridge.
Earl St Satellite has bridge looking in real bad shape. Streetview shows a real snoozer of a bridge.
Johnson Pkwy The cars probably go real fast here. Idk, it might be a nice little tunnel though.
Etna St This might actually be a freeway?
Hudson Rd Pedestrian bridge – this looks to be the 100% CLASSIC chain link enclosure in disrepair. Punk in its own way, but punk is not typically what one wants out of a bridge.
White Bear Ave This intersection belongs out in white bear lake imho.
Ruth St N Very suburban.
McKnight Rd Scenic overlook of a retention pond. Mmm.

And we’re out of Saint Paul!

After compiling that list, I present to you the top 5 Best and 5 Worst ways to cross the screaming void that is 94.

Best:
3rd Ave in Minneapolis
Cedar St in St Paul
Hiawatha Trail
Jackson St
Franklin Ave SE

Worst bridges that you can technically use when you’re not in a car:
Minnesota St
East Lyndale Ave N
27th Ave SE
11th Ave S
Groveland Ave

Further reading: Bill Lindeke’s post on Rethinking I-94.

Did I leave your favorite bridge off the rankings? Sounds off in the comments!
Stay tuned next time for a ranking of bridges over 35W/E!

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13 Responses to A Non-Definitive Ranking of Paths Over and Under I-94 in Minneapolis and Saint Paul

  1. Bob Roscoe March 2, 2020 at 10:31 am #

    I agree with you about the Third Avenue Bridge. I have understood by various sources that the bridge in part is Frank Lloyd Wright influenced. It is inspiring to have such a graceful structure offer its curving slender structures and pairs of red articulated poles serve as a striking transition from Elliot Park’s brick apartment buildings across the freeway to one of the entries to downtown.

    • Nicole Salica
      Nicole Salica March 2, 2020 at 5:16 pm #

      Technically, that’s not Elliot Park, it’s Stevens Square. Elliot Park is north of 94 and east of the convention center. but yes, I’ve heard the same thing!

  2. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller March 2, 2020 at 10:55 am #

    The bridge on 3rd Ave is nice, and the shoulder sorta works for a bike facility, but then you get across and get dumped into parked cars and/or taking the lane.

    You missed a decent crossing in St. Paul, where there’s a tunnel that connects to Payne Avenue and the Swede Hollow. I’ve only used it for recreation, but despite being windy, I think it’s a viable commuter route from the East Side to Lowertown and downtown

    • jared c March 3, 2020 at 9:34 am #

      Agreed, I’ve commuted that way many times and it is quite pleasant. Most of that route is probably a bit of a detour for most commutes but the tradeoff is worth it to be nowhere near cars for a little while.

  3. Luke March 3, 2020 at 7:23 am #

    I disagree on Pelham and 27th Ave SE. The Pelham bridge is surrounded by potholes and is butted on one side with the frontage road where people go way too fast and aren’t looking for bikes.

    27th Ave SE, at least 5 years ago was a nice sleepy way to get into campus if going west on Franklin and wanting to avoid the terrible intersection. I’m sure with developments there now that it’s much busier though

  4. scott March 3, 2020 at 11:51 am #

    The Maple St/Mound St pedestrian bridge, while impossible to find, and despite being hideous, has a great view of downtown St. Paul.

    Etna should be on the worst list. You would have to have a death wish to even attempt that crossing. I’m getting anxiety just thinking about it.

  5. Russ Booth March 3, 2020 at 3:33 pm #

    E Lyndale Ave N over 94 deserves some love.

    Traffic is very quiet on 5th Ave N as you approach. By the time you take a left on 11th Ave N you’re in a barren streetscape near a fire station surrounded by seeming dead ends.

    Getting on the bridge is a short “dodgeball” moment because the crosswalk abuts the freeway entrance, but with a good sightline and one way traffic which makes it feel pretty safe.

    The bridge itself has had light traffic when I’ve been there weekends mushing. (Sled dog pulling me on a scooter. )

    • SurlyLHT March 3, 2020 at 4:19 pm #

      I discovered this shortcut recently and use it everyday during my commute. It’s a safer and quicker way to get into Downtown than Plymouth –>Washington N or via 7th St with the intersections. You’re also protected by the wall near the sidewalk and it seems mostly cleared.

  6. Stefanie B March 3, 2020 at 10:39 pm #

    As a pedestrian and an explorer I dig this post. Nice job!

  7. Steve Gjerdingen March 4, 2020 at 12:35 am #

    Etna seems like a solid place to perform some legal freeway spelunking. I was there once on my bike. I agree that it’s pretty scary.

  8. Gladys Kelly March 4, 2020 at 10:18 am #

    I am from Toledo, OH and visit my daughter and her family in suburbs of St Paul . Enjoyed this article so much. Driving in St Paul and Minneapolis is such a hoot. It’s like a box of chocolates! Snelling has been orange barrelled for 6 years, obviously not working on repairs. After reading your article I will continue to stay in the car to explore. I do love visiting your beautiful cities.

  9. Dana DeMaster
    DanaD March 4, 2020 at 3:35 pm #

    Hwy 52 has a really nice bike/walking path complete with lighting and benches. On the north it connects to Swede Hollow and downtown behind the CHS Field. It’s great. On the south it is sorta confusing in a car wasteland near Water Street but it is easy enough to get to better places.

    • Pete Barrett March 4, 2020 at 8:58 pm #

      Too bad it doens’t connect more directly to E. 7th Street.

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