There’s a new bicycle tunnel in Minneapolis, providing a fast bicycle connection between downtown Minneapolis and the east bank campus of the University of Minnesota and points beyond. The new Bluff Street tunnel (accessed from South 13th Avenue between West River Parkway and South 2nd Street) is phase three of a route that saw its first phase open in 2000 and second in 2013.
The first phase was Bridge 9, a former Northern Pacific railroad bridge, which reopened for bicycle and pedestrian use in 2000. The railroad bridge was first constructed in the late 1880s and reconstructed in the 20th century. When the bridge was first opened to bike/ped traffic, the lack of easy access limited its use. In 2007, 158 bicycles per day used the bridge, according to counts from Bike Walk Twin Cities. The bridge probably received its highest level of traffic after the collapse of the 35W bridge in 2007, when it was one of the prime places to view the recovery effort and rebuilding of the highway span.
Phase two was the summer 2013 opening of the Dinkytown Greenway, a new bike/ped path from Bridge 9 east along the railroad tracks below Dinkytown and University Avenue, connecting to cycle tracks along 6th Street SE (across from TCF Bank Stadium) and to the University of Minnesota bike/bus transitway. The transitway extends to the U of M’s St. Paul campus, the State Fair grounds, and many connecting bike routes. By 2013, after phase two opened, more than 1,000 bicycles used the bridge per day, a more than 500 percent increase from 2007.
Phase three was made possible as part of the 35W bridge rebuild. The design included a culvert with the idea that it would be a future bike/ped connection. The new tunnel vastly simplifies the connection to Bridge 9 from downtown Minneapolis.
Previously, cyclists on the West River Parkway bike path had to ride down the hill under 35W, turn right, cross the roadway, and climb back up the hill to the entrance of Bridge 9. Now, the tunnel leads directly to Bridge 9. Cyclists coming from the river bike path turn right onto 13th Avenue South (where there is a stop sign for motorists) and access the tunnel midway up the block. . Cyclists using the 2nd Street bike lanes (those that run in front of the Guthrie and Gold Medal Park) turn left onto 13th Avenue to reach the tunnel entrance.
While the Bluff Street tunnel and the Dinkytown Greenway finally complete the promise of Bridge 9 as a major bike/ped route over the Mississippi River, there are two phases yet to come for this route — and dreams of even more.
Fixing the 2nd Street bike route at Hennepin Avenue
The Bluff Street tunnel makes an easy connection to bike lanes that run along 2nd Street, with destinations including Izzy’s Ice Cream, the Mill City Museum, and MacPhail Center for Music, to name a few. But, as the route approaches Hennepin Avenue, cyclists have to dismount to cross a short set of stairs at Gateway Park. The City of Minneapolis is working with local property owners to solve this problem, so that the 2nd Street bike route functions better as it extends into the North Loop. The route continues into North Minneapolis, almost as far as Webber Parkway.
Connecting Dinkytown to the Greenway below
When the Dinkytown Greenway opened in 2013, city maps of the area showed as a possible future addition a stairwell or ramp from the surface streets of Dinkytown to the greenway below. The project, involving a way down from 4th Street SE, is in the city’s budget. Look for this addition in 2015.
Stone Arch Bridge to Dinkytown Greenway
This summer, tourists and local residents strolling along the Stone Arch Bridge have possibly seen a bald eagle flying over the Mississippi River. The eagle’s nest is on the east bank, down a service road adjacent to new housing and the Metal Matic company. The pavement ends along the railroad tracks just after the road crosses under the 10th Avenue Bridge. But the route, paved and unpaved, is a favorite unsanctioned cut-through for cyclists, runners, and people out for a stroll. Local residents hope that this could one day become a bike and pedestrian path connecting the Stone Arch Bridge and the Dinkytown Greenway. For more about this vision, visit www.dinkytowngreenway.org
With the first Vikings game at TCF Bank Stadium set for early August, the new Bluff Street tunnel to the Dinkytown Greenway is a great way to bike to the Vikes. As you ride the new route, look around and think about what has changed along the river — and what still could.
Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.
Grand opening celebration
When: Sunday, July 20, 2014, from 1–2 p.m.
What: Join Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and City Council Members Jacob Frey and Cam Gordon for a celebration of the Bluff Street Extension of the Dinkytown Greenway.
Frey and Gordon will lead two rides to the celebration.
From downtown Minneapolis: Meet Frey at 1 p.m. at Gateway Park (Hennepin at 2nd Street South) and join him on a ride to the ceremony.
From the east bank: Meet Gordon at 1 p.m. at TCF Bank Stadium (between gates C & D, on SE 23rd St) and join him on a ride to the ceremony.
Remarks will be at 1:30 p.m. Afterward, join elected officials for a ride through the tunnel.