Neighbors at a south Minneapolis block party

The Southside Greenway: Profile of a Work in Progress

Imagine walking down 10th Avenue in Minneapolis from your home to Powderhorn Park, on a wide strip of green space with garden patches and a lush tree canopy, surrounded by shrubs and flowers and trees in the spring and summer. Imagine pulling a sled along a snow-covered trail in the wintertime to hit the hills at Phelps Park, or walking on a clear, wide, ice-free sidewalk in the winter. Imagine biking safely between neighborhoods, to the Midtown Greenway entrances on 10th and 11th avenues. Imagine having a safe route for kids and families to walk or bike to Anderson or Richard Green or Bancroft schools. Imagine having enough space to spread out across the sidewalks — two dog walkers wide (we give enough room on our car-centric streets now to fit four vehicles across). Imagine walking out your front door and having multiple mobility options for getting you where you need to go — by foot, bike (your own or a shared one), bus, electric scooter or another mode.

That is the sort of “people-centric vision” that South Minneapolis resident Marilea Browne says the Southside Greenway concept imagines. (A previous article about the plans appeared in Streets.mn in 2016.)

“One of my favorite things about living in South Minneapolis is biking through our awesome trail system. But even on my best rides, my head is always on a swivel because most of our bike routes are shared with cars. I’d love to see our city prioritize safe routes separate from car traffic. We get glimpses of people-centric design in the summertime when we take over the street for block parties, and in the winter, we see that we are totally capable of sacrificing a lane of parking during snow emergencies. Imagine if we reclaimed some of that space for bikers and walkers and greenery and stormwater management.”

A block gathering near the proposed Southside Greenway route shows the communal benefits of streets with fewer cars.

The Southside Greenway is a proposed new multimodal trail that would follow a north-south alignment through South Minneapolis — from West River Parkway downtown to Diamond Lake Park (route specifics are beneath the first map, below). The proposal is based on many years of resident advocacy and community engagement, and the route has been incorporated into long-range plans by the City of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Unlike the Midtown Greenway, which converted a former railroad line into a trail, the Southside Greenway alignment follows streets, and a variety of designs are possible to match local contexts and preferences.

“Theodore Wirth laid out a visionary plan for Minneapolis’ park system over a century ago with the grand rounds, public access to our lakes and riverfront and a system of neighborhood parks,” says Becky Alper, District 3 commissioner on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation board. “But what we are missing in our inner core — the area of our city that serves some of the highest populations of immigrants, people of color and people with lower incomes — is a ribbon of green to connect all these park spaces.”

Minneapolis is fortunate to have many neighborhood parks, and in South Minneapolis, several of these happen to be aligned such that connecting them with a Greenway is possible. The Southside Greenway route connects the following 12 parks and trails:

  1. West River Parkway
  2. Gold Medal Park
  3. Elliot Park
  4. Phillips Park
  5. Stewart Park
  6. Midtown Greenway
  7. Powderhorn Park
  8. Phelps Park
  9. Minnehaha Creek Parkway
  10. Pearl Park
  11. Todd Park
  12. Diamond Lake Park

The Southside Greenway route also improves access to the 100-acre Veterans Park, which is just south of the Minneapolis-Richfield border. With so many parks along the route, a person biking along the Southside Greenway would reach a new park every three to four minutes, and most people who live along the route would be within a five-minute walk of their nearest park.

Mapping the Route

The proposed route alignment was refined over several phases of community engagement. Below is a map that shows the proposed Southside Greenway alignment in the context of the park board’s South Service Area Master Plan. (The highlighting is ours.)

Among the route’s specifics:

  • Going north to south, the proposed greenway starts on 11th Avenue, where it connects to West River Parkway, next to Gold Medal Park.
  • Continuing along 11th Avenue, it goes past Elliot Park and then reaches Phillips Community Center, which has a gym, pool and other community spaces.
  • At 24th Street, the route makes a half-block jog to the west and continues south on 11th Avenue to Stewart Park, where it shifts one block west to 10th Avenue.
  • The route continues south, passing the entrance to the Midtown Greenway at the Cypro Site and continuing through the cul-de-sac south of Lake Street. The cul-de-sac prevents motor vehicles from continuing on 10th Avenue, but people walking and biking can get through.
  • The route continues on 10th Avenue, and for about three blocks it travels along the western edge of Powderhorn Park and passes through another section that is closed to motor vehicles between 33rd ½ and 34th streets.
  • The route continues south on 10th until 40th Street, and then travels west on 40th Street to Phelps Field Park and turns south again at Park Avenue. It follows Park Avenue to Minnehaha Creek Parkway, then jogs west again to Portland Avenue to cross the creek.
  • The route continues south on Portland Avenue, providing access to Pearl Park, Diamond Lake and Todd Park. Continuing on Portland across Highway 62 into Richfield, the greenway would provide access to the 100-acre Veterans Park. Portland Avenue continues with bike lanes in Richfield and connects to other bike routes south of Minneapolis.

A Southside greenway — an actual linear park — would be transformational and connect underserved neighborhoods on the south side to the river and to key parks, like Powderhorn.

Becky Alper, District 3 commissioner, Minneapolis Park and Recreation board

Most of the route can also be found in the city’s Transportation Action Plan, in the All Ages and Abilities Network Map. This map illustrates the network of routes where the city plans to provide bike infrastructure that would be inviting and comfortable for people of any age and ability — not just experienced bicyclists who find traditional bike lanes sufficient. The map below shows existing routes in green and planned routes in blue (added yellow polka-dots mark the Southside Greenway route).

Several Design Possibilities

The design possibilities for the Southside Greenway vary by context. Some blocks have wider streets with more traffic, while others have narrower streets and less traffic. More details on design options can be found in the appendix of the 2015 Southside Greenway Report (pages 34–46). Neighbors on each block would have the opportunity to weigh in and co-create what the design would look like for that block, accommodating the needs of residents.

One of the potential designs (the full greenway) would involve converting a street into a park, with a bike trail that would be engineered to also provide access to emergency vehicles. Survey results from 2015 showed an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the proposed Greenway concept, with the varying design concepts ranging from streets with some degree of traffic-calming to the full street-to-park conversion.

Below is an illustration from the Minneapolis Street Design Guide showing a full greenway design. The city is open to considering this design option, based on the decades-long success of Milwaukee Avenue in the Seward neighborhood and a few other street-to-park conversions. That said, everything up to this point indicates that the city will consider this option only for blocks where residents express clear, strong support for this design.

Another option (below) is the “half-and-half,” which leaves motor-vehicle access and parking on one side of the street, while adding a trail to the other side of the street.

As part of the Green Central Safe Routes to School project, this half-and-half design is currently being considered for a few blocks of 10th Avenue, between 31st Street and 33½ Street — which are the blocks of 10th Avenue on the western edge of Powderhorn Park. The plans for this Safe Routes to School project are currently being finalized, with construction scheduled for 2024.

A Work in Progress

We have an opportunity to envision and plan for the kinds of people-friendly streets we want our children and their children to enjoy in the decades to come. “Done right, a Southside Greenway can generate economic opportunity, keep people in their homes and improve the health of neighboring residents,” Alper says. “A Southside Greenway of this magnitude, while incredibly challenging to pull off, would certainly be worthy of praise from Theodore Wirth.”

Some of the most important elements are already in place, such as existing barriers that make 10th Avenue a low-traffic street between 28th and 35th streets. The downtown segment already includes bike lanes, and some blocks have curbs to protect bicyclists in the bike lanes from motor-vehicle traffic. As modifications are made along the route (like the proposed Green Central Safe Routes to School project), this provides opportunities to make safety upgrades and enhance the route.

Residents are organized and will be advocating for continued implementation of the Greenway proposal. From your experiences along this corridor, what are the most important next steps to make this a convenient and safe route for pedestrians and bicyclists? Send an email to southsidegreenwaympls@gmail.com to share your thoughts and get involved.

Editor’s note: Marilea Browne and Jason Tanzman contributed to this article. All photos provided by the authors.