A skyway on the Minneapolis Community and Technical College campus. Photo by Sarah McKenzie

A skyway on the Minneapolis Community and Technical College campus. Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Council to consider bird-safe skyway ordinance

Updated: August 11, 2016 - 10:09 am

The Minneapolis Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Aug. 15 on a proposed ordinance that would require bird-safety measures for future skyways built in the city.

The ordinance would require new skyway owners to use a bird-safe glazing or a combination of physical structures and glass patterns that are visible on the outside. It would not require current skyway owners to retrofit their structures, however.

Council Members Cam Gordon (Ward 2) and Linea Palmisano (Ward 13) introduced the ordinance last year as part of an effort to reduce the crashes with buildings that kill hundreds of millions of birds each year in the U.S.

“It struck us as a reasonable place to start the conversation about bird-safe glass,” said Robin Garwood, Gordon’s policy aide.

The Council members developed the ordinance after efforts by bird groups to get the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to use bird-safe fritted glass on the new Minnesota Vikings stadium. The authority ultimately decided against using the special glass, but Palmisano said she received a lot of positive feedback from constituents who supported the effort.

“Skyways seemed like a logical place to start,” she said of the subsequent ordinance.

Minneapolis has about 130 skyways, including about 100 downtown, Palmisano said. She said the city anticipates 10-15 new skyways in downtown over the next few years.

Birds are unable to distinguish glass from the natural sky, according to the National Audubon Society, so they are susceptible to crash into reflective surfaces. Collisions with windows are the largest manmade threat to birds after habitat loss, according to the society.

Minneapolis sits on the Mississippi Flyway, a key migration and stopover area for birds, according to Audubon Minnesota. About one-third of all North American bird species use the flyway on their spring and fall migrations.

Garwood said the bird-safe glazing makes glass look more opaque, limiting collisions. He said adding texture to a building’s exterior also helps limit collisions.

Jerry Bahls, president of the Audubon Chapter of Minneapolis said the ordinance could set the tone for new construction in the city. He said he hasn’t heard of any real pushback on the ordinance.

The ordinance would also create new city and zoning code requirements for the design of new skyways. It would limit skyways to the second floors of buildings, regulate their placement on streets, temperatures and public hours.

The Zoning and Planning Committee will review and make a recommendation on the ordinance on Sept. 15. It will come before the full City Council for final approval on Sept. 23.


— Nate Gotlieb