Complaint filed about narrowed skyway width in St. Paul

A complaint alleges that a skyway route in downtown St. Paul’s Galtier Plaza has been illegally narrowed.

The allegation is made in a papers served on Mayor Chris Coleman Thursday. It notes that the city skyways are required to be 12 feet wide, to easily accomodate pedestrian and wheelchair traffic, but in rebuilding some office space for Cray Inc. — the supercomputer maker that is moving into the downtown building — the skyway was narrowed without getting proper permits or variances.

At its narrowest spot, it is just more than 8 feet wide, the complaint says. Total lost skyway space on that stretch is 124 square feet.

Filing the action were downtown building manager John Mannillo; Rick Cardenas, a downtown resident who uses a wheelchair; Elizabeth Frederick, who owns Lowertown Foods; and Jeanne Hall, a downtown condo owner.  It hasn’t yet been filed in court, in hopes that the city will resolve the problem outside the legal system, they said.

But Bob Kessler, the city’s director of Safety and Inspections, said he was surprised at the news of a pending lawsuit on the matter.

“I thought this was all resolved; it’s such a small thing — it’s really de minimus — such a minor thing that it isn’t worth talking about or worrying about,” Kessler said. “And the work done has made it really a classy addition to the skyway system. I walk by it every day on my way to the Y[MCA].”

Mannillo’s group also says that while researching the skyway changes, members discovered that Galtier building owners also gave away another stretch of skyway, totaling about 500 square feet, about 10 years ago.

All that lost square footage belongs to the city skyway system and shouldn’t have been given away, Mannillo said.

He doesn’t want walls torn down but thinks the building owner should set aside the money it is earning from the tenants for those 600 or so square feet and put it into a skyway fund that can be spent on skyway improvements.

Margot Imdieke Cross of the Minnesota State Council on Disability said the integrity and width of the skyway system is important for access for people who are disabled.

“The skyways are critical pathways; many people who use wheelchairs use the skyways to get to their destinations, particularly in the winter,” she said.

And Cardenas, who uses the skyways regularly in his wheelchair, said there’s a concern that if one building owner can start whittling down the skyways, then others will try, too.

But Kessler said that skyway governance rules would not allow any meaningful impingement on the 5-mile skyway system.

“There are some areas that might be off a few inches or a half-foot, but the idea is to look at it as a system, and maintain that system for everyone’s use,” he said. “We’re going through a long process of educating the building owners about the system, because many of them are new.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Lisa Foote on 11/09/2009 - 04:42 pm.

    Only after Mr. Robert “De Minimus” Kessler navigates the St. Paul Skyway system for one week in a wheelchair can he characterize this as “such a small thing.”

    Until then I will simply say: “such a small person.”

  2. Submitted by Gary Lee on 11/10/2009 - 11:37 am.

    A change from twelve feet to eight feet may not seem like a big deal, but during busy periods it is a huge difference, particularly if you are in a wheelchair or on a motorized mobility device, and even if you are simply one of the many of us who have difficulty on our feet. Skyway traffic reacts to congestion and choke points very much the way freeway traffic does. Reducing the skyway width at one point tends to cause congestion on both sides when people are hurrying, for example to and from lunch.

    Perhaps Mr. Kessler is suggesting that people with mobility problems should not be using the skyways during regular hours. Should we restrict ourselves to creeping around when we won’t get in the way of others? That is somewhat difficult for those who might want to work downtown, or even do some shopping.

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