Lisa Middag bikes across the newly opened Samatar Crossing on her way to work in downtown Minneapolis. Photo by Eric Best

Lisa Middag bikes across the newly opened Samatar Crossing on her way to work in downtown Minneapolis. Photo by Eric Best

Crossing the divide

Updated: September 5, 2018 - 9:20 am

Samatar Crossing is a testament to late local Somali leader, city officials say

The City of Minneapolis has repurposed a former highway ramp to forge a new connection between downtown and the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood for pedestrians and cyclists.

The $1.9 million project is named in honor of Hussein Samatar, a former Minneapolis School Board member who became the state’s first Somali-American to hold elected office in 2010. Samatar Crossing officially opened in late August, five years to the month since Samatar died due to complications from leukemia in 2013.

“Hussein loved this community. He was passionate about uplifting people and connecting communities,” said Ubah Jama, Samatar’s widow, at a ceremony with city officials. “I believe this space will bring people together and inspire us to keep connecting with one another.”

Utilizing the former 5th Street ramp, the crossing stretches approximately 1,850 feet over Interstate 35W to connect either side of 5th Street between 11th Avenue South to the west and 15th Avenue South to the east. On the west side, the path empties out behind U.S. Bank Stadium in the Elliot Park neighborhood and, on the east side, it connects to the Cedar-Riverside light rail station and Currie Park.

Ubah Jama, the widow of Hussein Samatar, cuts the ribbon with Council Members Steve Fletcher and Abdi Warsame and her children by her side. Photo by Eric Best
Ubah Jama, the widow of Hussein Samatar, cuts the ribbon with council members Steve Fletcher and Abdi Warsame and her children by her side. Photo by Eric Best

City officials credit the project for connecting two areas that have been historically separated by the highway.

Council Member Steve Fletcher, whose Ward 3 include downtown, said he only lives a few blocks away, but now the borders between Elliot Park and Cedar-Riverside “just got a lot narrower.”

“It felt like a whole different place, and now it’s a very easy walk,” he said.

Mayor Jacob Frey praised the project’s importance in welcoming immigrants into the city’s urban core.

“This is saying to our Somali population, to our new American population, ‘Yes, you are part of this city, and we want you here,’” he said.

Council Member Abdi Warsame, who represents the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood on the City Council, said the connection is a testament to Samatar’s legacy.

“Hussein worked all his life to connect people and to bridge communities,” he said. “He was an inspiration to many in the city of Minneapolis.”

The crossing was first conceived under former Mayor R.T. Rybak as a vehicle connection as well, but Public Works Director Robin Hutcheson said they decided against it. In that way, the project preserves the “social pieces” of the neighborhood by not bringing in more traffic and cars, she added.

An additional round of work will bring in public art and landscaping to Samatar Crossing. The city is looking for a few artists to create memorable artwork.

Hutcheson said planners asked themselves: “How could we make it a place in addition to a new connection?”

"Good community-minded design causes you to linger a little bit, get lost, lose track of time and stumble home a little bit later than you would otherwise, and I believe that ultimately that’s what this project will bring," said Mayor Jacob Frey. Photo by Eric Best
“Good community-minded design causes you to linger a little bit, get lost, lose track of time and stumble home a little bit later than you would otherwise, and I believe that ultimately that’s what this project will bring,” said Mayor Jacob Frey. Photo by Eric Best

The City of Minneapolis relied exclusively on public staff to design, plan and build the path instead of contractors. The city covered the approximately $1.9 million price tag.

The crossing, which features bike paths and sidewalks that are at times separated, runs parallel to the Hiawatha Trail along the Blue Line. The two trails don’t directly connect.

Lisa Middag used Samatar Crossing to bike to her office downtown a few times in the week after it opened. She said she prefers the connection over Hiawatha because it better integrates with traffic on the downtown side and it doesn’t cross light rail tracks. It will be a nicer entrance into the urban core for people coming from the University of Minnesota and Cedar-Riverside, she added.

“This is a lower stress pathway into downtown, and, especially if you’re going to the southern part of downtown, then you’re not as far north,” she said.

Photo by Eric Best
Photo by Eric Best

South Minneapolis residents Rex Anderson and Ed Loch went to check out the pedestrian path because it’s close to the light rail, which makes it easier to get back home on the Blue Line.

At first Samatar Crossing seemed redundant, Anderson said, but he thinks it will help with game days at U.S. Bank Stadium and with the increasing number of cyclists coming to and from downtown.

“You’re trying to fit a very large amount of people into a small space, and this will accommodate this space a lot better,” he said.

Jama cut the ribbon, officially opening Samatar Crossing, during an Aug. 23 ceremony with her children by her side. She said Samatar was known to say, “We are Somali-Americans, and we are here to stay.”

“Although we grieve and miss him dearly, yet we are thankful for the memories and legacy he has left behind. His positive energy, dedication and sense of helping others were remarkable,” she said.