Could a rail merger project finally connect the twin cities by bike?

Most of us who live and cycle in the urban core aren’t just limited to Minneapolis or St. Paul. Thus, the question becomes how to cross the Mississippi River with the least amount of vehicle traffic (an ever-increasing challenge on the Ford Bridge), pedestrians (who tend to scatter over the multimodal lanes of the Avenue Bridge Franklin) and broken glass (a particular problem on the Lake Street Bridge).

Soren Jensen, Managing Director of Downtown Greenway Coalitionhas the obvious but so far seemingly impossible answer: converting the existing rail bridge over West River Parkway at the east end of Midtown Greenway into a car-free multimodal crossing that could also accommodate the once-a-day train operated by owner of the bridge Canadian Pacific Railway.

Canadian Pacific Railway Bridge over the Mississippi River north of Lake Street. Photo courtesy of Midtown Greenway Coalition

Although the coalition’s years-long effort to extend the greenway 5.5 miles across the river has been heavily studied and chronicJensen sees a new possibility – a flickering light on the waters – in CP Rail’s plans to acquire Kansas City Southern Railway.

This move, Jensen told a U-bike virtual gathering sponsored by the Twin Cities Bike Club (TCBC) in early October, “would move $15 million in wages from downtown Minneapolis to Kansas City.” He wants to capitalize on this economic loss in a deal with CP Rail to convert the bridge into one that also accommodates cyclists and walkers.

A bridge too far? Or a vision that could finally become reality? “The key is Hennepin County,” says Jensen, whose energy and tenacity have driven the nonprofit Midtown Greenway Coalition for more than 11 years. “The whole bridge is in Minneapolis. We are now developing a strategy to get rid of Hennepin County and play a leading role in this area.

Citing Saint-Paul Bike Coalition co-chair Andy Singer’s writing as “the reason we started this effort,” Jensen had already formed a 40-member Extend the Greenway partnership. He upped the ante on October 7 with a strongly worded two-page letter to the Surface Transportation Board in Washington, DC (with copies required for 275 people, he notes wryly) that cites the potential loss of 207 jobs and calls the railroad merger “a terrible deal for Minnesota.”

The letter asks CP Rail to mitigate its potential damage to the local economy with “public ownership (or shared ownership)” of the Midtown Greenway Extension Spur, as well as the Highland Park Spur, the Hiawatha Industrial Spur and the Paynesville/14 Subdivisione Street spur. Other Extend the Greenway partners, including Sierra Club North Star Chapteralso sent letters to the Surface Transportation Board.

Jensen himself calls Hennepin County Commissioners to “sit down and negotiate with CP Rail and live up to [the county’s] beliefs about greenhouse gas emissions.

“CP Rail is not helping Minnesota at all,” he later told Streets.mn. “They are draining millions of dollars from our downtown at a time when we need more people downtown. What we’re saying is: Work with us so we can share the bridge over the river. We don’t have to stop a single train a day.

Why the Midtown Greenway Matters

For fair-weather cyclists (and I’m one of you), the cycling season is winding down as the weather gets colder. But given the growing number of year-round green cyclists and commuters, as well as neighbors who use the trail for exercise and to help keep it clean, now seems a good time to consider the impact from Midtown Greenway.

Why is the Midtown Greenway important? “Thousands of people use it every day. It’s how people get to and from work,” Jensen said at the Bike U event. “The greenway is as important as I-94 and 35W. It’s one of the reasons Minneapolis is known as one of the best places to ride a bike, not just in the United States, but in the world.

With 5,000 cyclists per day and one million trips per year, “the greenway is so popular because it is the protected cycle route par excellence. It is separated from traffic,” says Jensen. As a father, he adds: “I would never cycle with my three little children on a painted cycle path; they are too wobbly.

Describing efforts to diversify his board – “there are an awful lot of white male cyclists out there” – Jensen told the TCBC audience that biking is often cited as the only perk of the Midtown Greenway, but “it’s It’s also about walking and economic development.” Last year, the coalition commissioned a study claiming a total increase of $1.8 billion in property values ​​within 500 feet of the greenway since it opened more than two decades ago.

Who runs the Midtown Greenway? Hennepin County owns the trail, but the city of Minneapolis is under contract to maintain it, which includes providing a lighting system, snowplow crew, and blue emergency phones , which over time stopped working well.

“We tested the phones,” Jensen told the TCBC rally. “There was a creaking and grinding noise. You couldn’t hear the 911 operators. So he “embarrassed” the city by threatening to go public with the malfunctioning phones, and now “we see the maintenance crews testing them.”

“We are an advocacy group,” he explained, noting that as a 501c3 organization, the coalition cannot lobby elected officials. “Sometimes we have to push the government to do the right thing. We try to partner, but sometimes we have to push.

The most visible advocacy campaign involved grassroots organizing and media pressure to persuade the city to redo the repaving of the original section of the greenway, from west of Bde Maka Ska to 5e Street. The city budgeted $1.5 million but only spent a third of it, Jensen says, with a “micro-surface” process that didn’t work.

When “car-focused” city officials said the new sidewalk was in good shape, “we raised it,” Jensen said. Tall and talkative and at times surprisingly outspoken, he garnered more than 2,200 signatures on a petition, a front-page article in the Tribune of the Stars and television news coverage. More importantly, the repaving ultimately lived up to Jensen’s standards. “Protecting and promoting the Greenway: that’s what I think about every day.

Public art is welcome, but graffiti “is a constant battle,” said Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, at a rally of cyclists in early October.

Is the greenway dangerous, especially at night? “I don’t usually feel safe on a game,” said one woman at the TCBC meeting, “but there has been better policing there this summer.” Jensen hears of “on average” one incident per year and says the Greenway has more cameras than any other Twin Cities bike path. “It’s as safe as any bike lane in the metro. Does that mean you should cycle alone at 1 a.m.? On Lake Street, you could get hit by a car. Ride a bike at night with a friend, he suggests, and report any incidents you see. “Sometimes young people throw things from the bridges onto the path.”

What other types of issues require advocacy? When one of the 37 bridges that cross the Midtown Greenway needs to be replaced or repaired, Jensen urges the city and county not to divert cyclists from the trail. “It’s a huge deal. It’s dangerous, it disrupts the timing of their journey. It puts them in the middle of the cars,” he said. When a new Fremont Avenue bridge was “badly done”, he informed the media (again).

Jensen also persuades developers not to “shade” the Greenway with buildings that block sunlight from the trench. Developers of a project on Lyndale Avenue told him they would lose their funding unless the building was built. They even offered to shovel the trail where the sun wouldn’t shine. “Non-cyclists don’t understand it,” Jensen said at the Bike U event. “We ride bikes year-round and the ice doesn’t melt. For year-round commuters, it is very dangerous to have these shadows.

He asked attendees to note how the buildings “move away” from the south side of the trail: “It’s to let the ice melt.

How can walkers, cyclists and local residents support the Voie Verte? Thousands of trees have been planted. The waste is picked up. The graffiti ends up being erased. Some of this is government work, but the Greenway also relies heavily on volunteers, including its board of directors. And financial donationsof course, are always welcome.

Jane Nides, Jensen’s only employee, coordinates the Downtown Ambassadors, an initiative that includes organized bike rides and walks. Originally known as Trail Watch, Midtown Ambassadors has since adopted a neighborhood-wide mission. “The goal is to bring joy and happiness and to say hello to people and provide directions,” says Jensen. “We stop at businesses. We don’t intervene in crime, but more people on the streets help prevent crime.

Learn more: Click here to rewatch Jensen’s 90-minute Bike U reunion on Oct. 6 with the Twin Cities Bicycling Club.

Top photo courtesy of the Midtown Greenway Coalition; uncredited photos are by the author.

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