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The Greenway Was Bad. It Got Repaved. Now It’s Worse.

Great job, Minneapolis!

Nope, it's not supposed to look like that.
Midtown Greenway Coalition

The first section of the Midtown Greenway trail opened to cyclists and pedestrians in August 2000. Since then, the bike highway has become a nationally and internationally recognized piece of cycling infrastructure.

But when it comes to the condition of the trail itself?

“It’s well past its ‘best by’ date,” says Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

Several years ago, Jensen and other members of the coalition approached the city of Minneapolis about the need for re-paving. They were told that the funding had to be approved by the Capital Long-Range Improvement Committee (CLIC). So they lobbied the city, eventually getting the project approved in the five-year budget. “And they really meant five years,” he says. “We had to wait five years.”

Finally, this fall, the re-paving happened. It was so bad when Jensen rode on it for the first time, he thought it wasn’t done yet.

“First of all, they missed a lot of places,” he says. “Just from an overall aesthetic, for a professional-looking trail, it was kind of a mess.” In some areas there’s a crack running through the middle (the one pictured above). More frustratingly, the whole surface felt rocky and bumpy—not smooth like a freshly paved path should feel under your tires.

CLIC approved the repaving project using a “mill & overlay” maintenance technique, according to their 2016 report. That’s what you see on Minneapolis streets for cars: Workers scrape off a few inches of the roadway, then add a new layer of bituminous pavement of it. (The city of St. Paul website has a pretty thorough explainer, complete with video, about what the process entails, if you’re curious.)

“They didn’t do that,” Jensen says. Instead, he explains, the city went through and cut out some of the cracks, resurfacing those areas with a slurry seal made up of crushed rocks. (Jensen describes it as “thin asphalt with lots of little stones in it.”) It makes for a shaky, “jarring” ride.

“Everyone’s telling us that things are falling off their bikes because it’s so bumpy,” Jensen says. “It’s a terrible experience.” And that’s for cyclists on road bikes. Wheelchair users, rollerbladers, and skateboarders will have an even worse time.

Jensen says he’s seen some cyclists sneaking into the pedestrian lane, where the pavement is a little more even. Others have told him they’ve been avoiding the Greenway entirely since the new surface went down, defeating the purpose of the re-pave.

“Probably the most embarrassing and damning thing that we’re hearing is that the trail was actually better—with all the cracks and everything—before public works came in and put down the new trail surface,” he says.

The Greenway Coalition published a change.org petition to get the attention of the Minneapolis Public Works Department on Friday. Re-Do the Greenway Re-Pave has almost 1,100 signatures from frustrated Greenway users so far.

“I brought my 11 year old to rollerblade there this past weekend and it was way worse than my street,” says signer James Porter. “Please fix it!”

“I had to ride on it yesterday and was sort of surprised it was no better than what was there before it was closed,” says Claire Milldrum. Adds Nolan Wages: “The Greenway is usually one of the safest and most enjoyable places in Minneapolis … By botching this repaving job, the city has practically thrown away this important infrastructure.”

There are 100 more frustrated comments over on the Greenway Coalition’s Facebook page.

Jensen says he’s been in touch with Minneapolis Public Works, and they’ve admitted there are parts that don’t look good. But they’re telling him they think it will (somehow, magically) feel better in the spring, and they’ll come and take a look at their options then. He thinks it’s more likely that ice and snow will get in between the rocks and cracks, breaking open the trail and making things worse.

(Racket, too, reached out to a city spokesperson to ask what went wrong here, and we haven’t heard back.)

You may remember a similar Minneapolis paving fail from October, when Victory Memorial Parkway was repainted with lines that wobbled in uneven squiggles all down the path, leading to robust and well-deserved online mocking. The city’s Park and Recreation Board quickly tweeted that those lines “[did] not meet our standards/specs” and would “be covered and re-striped to MPRB standards ASAP.”

“Minneapolis Public Works won’t say that,” Jensen says. “As a taxpayer, as a resident of Minneapolis, and, of course, as the executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, it’s disappointing that they can’t just say, ‘You know what? We blew it. We’re gonna make it right.'”

This is only the first phase of the 5.5-mile Greenway re-paving project, with the next phase stretching from Fifth Avenue to Hiawatha and the final leg spanning Hiawatha down to the Mississippi River. Jensen feels like maybe Public Works doesn’t understand the extent of the problem, and he wants to make sure it gets done right the first time. Because it’s not just frustrating for him—it’s embarrassing. 

“This is not worthy of a nationally and internationally known trail,” he says. “The Midtown Greenway Trail is one of the reasons Minneapolis is known as one of the best biking cities in the world. It spurred our biking renaissance. And to put down a substandard, sloppy trail like that and not admit it… that’s not right.”