Reconnecting North Minneapolis neighborhoods to the Mississippi

Enhancements are planned for seven North Minneapolis access points to the Mississippi River.

Enhancements are planned for seven North Minneapolis access points to the Mississippi River.

The western bank of the Mississippi Riverfront from the Plymouth Avenue Bridge to the Camden Bridge is slated for conversion into continuous parkland over the next 20+ years. That’s welcome news for North Minneapolis.

Yet there would remain a significant problem. Getting to any new green spaces along the Upper Mississippi will not be easy for residents unless major improvements are made for accessing the river from Northside neighborhoods.

One obvious barrier separating Northsiders from the river’s bank: Interstate 94. Train crossings, traffic-exposed pathways, limited public transit, freeway entrances, and industry all also contribute to making entry points to the Mississippi less than inviting to pedestrians and cyclists.

A forum held last month by the Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) brought together community advocates looking to ensure all Northside residents have an opportunity to enjoy what are described as once-in-a-generation enhancements to our city’s most impressive natural resource.

At the forum, FMR officials outlined findings from research conducted in collaboration with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) Research Assistant Eric King. Conducted through spring of this year, this research was undertaken to shed light on barriers keeping Northsiders from accessing the river—and how they can be overcome.

In opening remarks FMR Executive Director Whitney Clark talked about growing up in South Minneapolis parks and noted the special significance green spaces along the Mississippi River held for him.

“If you’re a kid growing up on the Northside today or last year or last generation, that hasn’t been your experience,” Clark noted. “Even though the Mississippi River flows through North and Northeast Minneapolis . . . these neighborhoods have not had access to the river.”

Highlighting inherent inequities in access, Clark noted that many people surveyed during the research thought the east end of the Northside was I-94. These residents did not even know that North Minneapolis featured the river’s banks.

Eric King, a Research Assistant at the University of Minnesota, played a major role in the research project. He spoke with hundreds of residents and examined up close barriers to river access. At the forum, he presented his findings on connections at seven access points along the riverfront in North Minneapolis:

Plymouth Avenue North. Community feedback focused on the need to enhance the pedestrian and cyclist experience. Specifically problems cited by residents: An unsafe crossing at I-94 as well as poor lighting and aesthetics.

West Broadway Avenue. Safety and heavy traffic are major concerns. Community members noted that there are no barriers protecting people from traffic, and they feared crossing to the Mississippi. Unsightly appearance was also cited as keeping people away.

26th Avenue North. Protected bike lanes and lighting improvements were among the major concerns voiced by residents. The need for better direct access to the river was also mentioned.

North Lowry Avenue. People noted the need for river access in this area along the Mississippi. Also mentioned was a large gap in pedestrian and cyclists throughways from I-94 to the river.

North Dowling Avenue. Safety was the major concern cited here. Residents feel “squashed” between traffic and noted that freeway on- and off-ramps made them fear crossing I-94. Lack of bike lanes make cycling dangerous.

41st Avenue North. Improved connections to the river’s amenities were cited in this area. Sidewalks in disrepair, poor lighting, and industrial landscapes were all seen as impediments to accessing the boat launch and other amenities.

42nd Avenue North. Unsafe crossings, cracked sidewalks, and lack of bike lanes were a few of the problems cited in this area. Some residents noted that many people are aware of North Mississippi Regional Park, but they don’t know how to access it.

The hope is that some of the enhancements to the Upper Mississippi connections can be undertaken in the next two years with additional improvements taking place in coordination with the 20-year Above the Falls Master Plan, a vision document that details creating continuous green spaces along the riverfront.

Currently, additional public feedback is being sought on prioritizing enhancements to reconnect North Minneapolis neighborhoods to the river. Visit fmr.org/reconnecting-north-minneapolis-mighty-mississippi to offer your perspective on which projects should move forward most quickly.