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The Midtown Greenway is the missing piece of the St. Paul soccer stadium plan

The plan for the new Minnesota United FC stadium has been approved by all the relevant parties and is moving forward toward construction. Over the course of the next one to two years, a number of ancillary details will need to be worked out. One of these details is providing adequate transportation for fans going to the match. In the city’s own study of the issue, a significant number of fans were expected to arrive via dedicated park-and-ride shuttles from other parts of the metro, which is one of the biggest unknowns about how the Midway location will work. These shuttles do not yet exist and it’s not entirely clear how they will be provided. A third of fans are expected to arrive by rail, which may necessitate upgrades to the capacity of the Snelling Avenue Station and another third by car, which will require arrangements with nearby parking lots.

Alex Schieferdecker

The study also estimated about 2 percent of fans will bike to the stadium. But in contrast to virtually every other mode, there has been very little public discussion about what infrastructure investments could be made to serve this group (and increase this percentage). That’s surprising, because there is an easy, obvious, and very worthy answer to that challenge: expand the Midtown Greenway across the river.

As you likely know, the Midtown Greenway is a biking and walking trail that runs across South Minneapolis from Lake Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska to the Mississippi River, using half of an old sunken railroad route. It is the crown jewel of Minneapolis’ biking infrastructure. Recently, it was determined that Minneapolis had passed 5 percent bike commuting mode share (that is, 5 percent of Minneapolitans bike to work), the second highest of any large American city. The Greenway is one huge reason why.

In that same data, we learned that St. Paul had achieved 2.1 percent mode share, its best result ever. The city is currently in the process of carrying out its own bicycle plan, and should see that number rise in the future. But a decade ago, St. Paul was closer to Minneapolis, and had hopes of having its own Midtown Greenway. That route would continue from the Minneapolis terminus, cross the river on the basically useless Short Line Bridge and continue along the railroad route, into St. Paul along Ayd Mill Road, and eventually into downtown St. Paul.

There was only one problem. Canadian Pacific, the railroad which owned the “right-of-way” (the area around its tracks) didn’t want to let Minneapolis or St. Paul build a bike trail on the unused shoulder of their tracks to the east of the river. The parties negotiated for years, and eventually St. Paul got mad, tried to take the land by eminent domain, everyone sued each other, and the city (and bicyclists around the metro) lost, and the idea has been moribund ever since.

Courtesy of the author
A proposed Greenway extension route.

It ought to be revived immediately. There is no time like right this very second for Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Minnesota United (and MnDOT, Hennepin and Ramsey Counties, and the state legislature) to get together and figure out a way to get this done. The better part of a decade has passed since the issue was last negotiated.

That’s a long time. Too long for such a valuable idea.

The soccer stadium ought to be the catalyst for this project. It is in the interest of the team, fans, and the government to extend the Greenway at least as far as St. Anthony Avenue, where a protected bike lane could carry riders the rest of the way to Snelling Avenue and the stadium site. This segment would build just under 2 miles of new bike route, but it could be a massive benefit to the Midway area and the Union Park neighborhood. It would provide a direct route to South Minneapolis from St. Paul while bypassing the notorious Marshall Avenue hill, which is currently the only route for bicyclists to make this trip. It would provide a direct route from the soccer stadium to a demographically perfect hotbed for fans in Uptown and Lyn-Lake. It would help restart progress on completing the entire length of the Greenway, which has been stalled for so long, and which could help St. Paul’s mode share numbers start to approach Minneapolis’.

Why is nobody talking about this? Perhaps the powers that be have already ruled it out behind the scenes. Perhaps it’s been viewed as more trouble than it’s worth. Perhaps the situation needs to be put in the spotlight. Perhaps fans who would use a dedicated bike trail to reach the stadium should raise their voices in support.

Achieving this long-frustrated goal would not be easy, but good things never are. What’s more important is that it is crucial. If St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Minnesota United FC want to promote bicycling and specifically to promote bicycling to the stadium, this is the one way to do it that will make more of a difference than anything else combined.

If anyone needed an excuse to get this project back on track, that excuse has arrived.

Alex Schieferdecker is a New Yorker who went to school in Minnesota and got hooked on Minnesota United FC. He now lives in Philadelphia, where he’s studying city planning at the University of Pennsylvania. This article was first published by FiftyFive.One, an online magazine that explores the nexus of soccer and culture. Republished with permission.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 09/21/2016 - 09:50 am.

    Points To Ponder

    Stadium or no, this should get done.

    Are the railroad tracks in question currently used by the railroad?

    That aside, Ayd Mill Road doesn’t get one to downtown Saint Paul.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/21/2016 - 10:32 am.

      Agree. Another point or two:

      1. I wonder if that 2% estimate might turn out to be low if the change suggested took place, considering that 2% is based on the current infrastructure.

      2. It’s amazing this is raised by someone living in Pennsylvania!! Are there Minnesotans writing passionately about infrastructure improvements in Philadelphia??

      3. It seems the strongest argument is the enhancement to everyday cycling, and the access to the soccer stadium ancillary. That’s not to say it’s unimportant.

      4. The key to a solution must be a thorough understanding of the value the RR places on that stretch of track from THEIR point of view.

      • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 09/21/2016 - 12:52 pm.

        For discussion…

        1. Yes, even with the current infrastructure 2% might be low. Soccer’s stereotypical demographics include younger people who often choose bike (and transit and walking…) more often than the older age groups typically do. Gaining a mode share of 5% is not unrealistic with some various improvements.

        2. I think it’s more the expats… I know people from Colorado in MN who will at least tweet of Denver transit improvements. Happy that the writer felt such a part of community here that he is still engaged! Hope a return is possible!

        3. BOOM! Yes!

        4. BOOM! 110% YES!

        • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/21/2016 - 01:19 pm.

          More on that 2% business…

          It wouldn’t surprise me one little bit if this enhancement would SWITCH soccer fans from other modes of access being “planned”, as they may turn to biking across for a pleasant alternative to the chaos of the other modes.

          • Submitted by Julie Barton on 09/21/2016 - 02:26 pm.

            If you build it….

            I think you only have to look at the success of cycling to the State Fair to know how well this could be received. The bike corrals were full to overflowing on the weekends, and many of the weekdays. I know people who decided not to bike because they heard how full the bike corrals were.

            This concept would be great – and then connect it to the Gateway Trail!

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 09/21/2016 - 10:36 am.

      Ayd Mill

      does get one quickly to Summit Ave./Grand Ave., however, and downtown by several hills that bring the rider to the Excel, Ordway and new Music Hall, all at Rice Park. Pretty and expeditious route, providing excellent biking to Science Museum and Saints games, as well.

      http://www.visitsaintpaul.com/discover-saint-paul/neighborhoods/grand-summit-avenue/

      • Submitted by Joseph Totten on 09/21/2016 - 12:52 pm.

        Or…

        Even just connecting to Shepard’s trail. A little roundabout, but would get you there on separated trails.

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 09/21/2016 - 10:37 am.

      The road doesn’t

      But the railroad tracks next to Ayd Mill Road continue into downtown.

      • Submitted by John Smith on 09/22/2016 - 11:27 am.

        They’re also still in use. Amtrak runs their trains from Union Depot along them since it’s the best way north for trains leaving downtown going west. Almost all the tracks in the”unused shoulder of their tracks to the east of the river” that are east of Cleveland are still in use. I’m sure the writer means well, but i’m not sure how realistic expecting them to give up that section of track is. Building something near the rails might work, but replacing them likely wouldn’t.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/26/2016 - 08:59 am.

          I may be missing something but…

          I don’t think the proposal is to tear up tracks currently in use. I think the proposal is to build on unused land next to the tracks, the same way the Cedar Lake trails currently run.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/24/2016 - 09:58 am.

    I can’t believe the city lost

    I can’t believe the city a eminent domain lawsuit to take unused land and use it for public infrastructure? And that land was probably gifted more or less to the RR in the first place.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/26/2016 - 09:03 am.

    At any rate yes…

    Alex is making an excellent proposal. Tying the cities together with a bikeway would be a huge improvement and it would make bike transit between cities and beyond much much safer. Right now cyclists have to risk life and limb either on University Ave. or Summit. A dedicated bikeway would increase cycling and safety. I don’t really care what happens to the soccer stadium, this idea is a no brainer.

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