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37th Avenue Greenway

Several months ago, I wrote a post about the Minneapolis Bicycle Master Plan setting a vision for the creation of greenways. At that time, I quoted the following from page 184 of the plan:

Create a network of “greenways” or “green streets” where roadways are converted to bicycle and pedestrian only corridors. Milwaukee Avenue is a good example of this concept. “Greenway” corridors may be constructed in collaboration with stormwater management projects. Care must be taken to ensure that the street grid is not severely compromised. (ENG-19)

The City has now completed construction on the first of these greenways, known as the 37th Avenue Greenway. Click here to see a project layout. The project includes a total of 5 city blocks, 3 of which implement a greenway by removing the roadway entirely, 2 of which maintain motorized vehicle access on narrowed one-way streets.

I had an opportunity to snap some photos of the project this past weekend. Here are some photos along with some of my thoughts.

I think the project looks great overall. I liked it a lot more than I thought I was going to. The block between Knox and Logan is one-way eastbound, though the sign indicates that cyclists are allowed to go westbound. I was happy to see that the City was comfortable allowing cyclists to travel against motorized traffic without messing around with contra-flow bike lanes  or anything formal. Actually, now that they’ve closed the rest of 37th Avenue and this block is only necessary for the people living in the three houses with driveways onto 37th, they could probably allow two-way traffic on this 14′ roadway without causing any problems.

@ Knox Avenue looking west

The rain gardens are very nicely done. This roadway space is probably much better used for stormwater detention than for moving traffic.

@ Logan Ave looking east

Three of the blocks (between Logan and Oliver) are closed completely to motorized traffic (although alley traffic is permitted to cross the greenway. These blocks don’t have traditional sidewalks, just an asphalt trail that meanders through the block.

@ Logan Ave looking west

@ Logan Avenue looking west

The only part of the project that wasn’t aesthetically pleasing were the temporary-looking fences around the rain gardens. I hope they’re temporary fences to keep people out until the vegetation mature or something. Otherwise, we should have invested in something a bit more attractive.

@ Morgan Avenue looking east

@ Morgan Ave looking west

Since the 37th Avenue Greenway didn’t close any of the north/south roadways it crossed, there are several locations where the trail crossed roadways. I was a little disappointed that bumpouts weren’t included in these locations, but, these are hardly treacherous crossings anyway. I was a little thrown off that the crossings of Newton and Morgan Avenues are nearly identical, but have opposite traffic control devices. At Newton Avenue, stop signs are placed facing the trail (trail yields to roadway), but at Morgan Avenue, the stop signs face the roadway (roadway yields to trail). In particular, the stop signs at Morgan Avenue result in what feels like a mid-block stop sign. I suspect that compliance with these stop signs will be even lower than typical.

Mid-block stop sign along Morgan Ave.

The western-most block (between Penn and Oliver) is also a one-way roadway, but this time, there’s no exception for bikes. I’m not sure if that was an intentional omission or not. At any rate, I suspect bikes will continue to travel whichever direction they feel like with or without signs. Note the sidewalk along the left side of the photo has  a metal railing to keep people from falling into the rain garden. I was actually surprised I didn’t see more railing like this along the corridor – it’s plain, but not unattractive.

@ Oliver Avenue looking west

In terms of providing real benefits for cyclists, I don’t think I’m being overly-critical if I say that this project doesn’t really accomplish that. But like I said, that was never a primary objective of this project in the first place. I think the greenway idea has much potential, but this project is too short to have much impact, and we’re going to need to consider closing the cross-streets if we really want to provide cyclists with real benefit.

Overall, I really like the project. As I’ve mentioned , it’s pretty clear that the primary objective of this project was to create rain gardens and address flooding issues in the area rather than to provide any real benefit to pedestrians or cyclists. The three blocks that were transformed from a roadway to a greenway are nice & I hope they are well received by the community. I don’t know what kind of vegetation is ultimately envisioned for the rain gardens, but it seems like an excellent opportunity to really make something beautiful. The bike/ped trails definitely look like a nice place for an evening stroll, and I bet kids will have tons of fun riding bikes and generally playing in this new park space. I love that kids on these new extra-long blocks will be able to reach these pocket-parks without crossing any streets.

5 comments to 37th Avenue Greenway

  • Nice write-up. I took a quick ride on this greenway about a month ago and I was wondering if I just missed the exemption on the western-most block. It seems like some of the incongruities of this project stem from the fact that it is primarily a stormwater management facility. While bump-outs or raised crossings like the 18th Ave NE trail have would have been a good idea, they also would have taken more money and especially coordination that I don’t think happened here. Hopefully with the success of this prototype there will be more coordination in future greenways.

  • The following info was submitted via the contact form:

    From: Kurt Leuthold, Barr Engineering

    Hi Rueben.
    I was one of the designers of this project so I will answer a couple of your questions.

    You are right that the project is primarily for flooding and water quality improvement.

    The fences are temporary and will be removed in a few years once the vegetation gets established.

    All the walls will have railings just like the ones currently installed. The contractor ran out of time last fall.

    Thanks for the great write-up. Glad you like the project. Hopefully there will be more to come.


  • Also interesting from your pictures that this project contains that rare sight in Minnesota: a yield sign! Not sure how legally precise it is, since I’d be inclined to call that off-street path a “sidewalk” and thus a bicyclist riding on it a “pedestrian”. But, no matter — it’s still one step less silly than placing stop signs on trails.

  • It’s also interesting how certain street aesthetics prevail no matter what. Why is there curbing in this picture? The function of a curb is to:

    1. direct stormwater to a stormdrain — but obviously that’s silly; it’s next to an infiltration ditch.
    2. protect pedestrians on the sidewalk from straying cars — but, again, there’s a large ditch
    3. provide a guide for parallel-parking cars — but, presumably you can’t park on this narrow road

    Anyway, a bit odd, but it would be very exciting to see if Minneapolis’ local streets of the future resemble this more, and the 32-34′, drain-it-to-the-Mississippi standard less.

  • @Sean – nice catch. I didn’t even notice the yield signs.