No more skyways, especially at new stadium

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My last two posts discussed several Vikings-stadium-area development issues (here and here). I’ll wrap up this string of posts with another suggestion for the city: do not build skyways near the new stadium.

Minneapolis’s skyway system opened in the early 1960s. This largely privately owned network now connects over seventy city blocks with eight miles of glass-enclosed tubes.

A U of M research paper notes that building owners initially constructed skyways to form a second layer of retail to supplement street-level shops. City decision makers believed that this second retail level would allow Minneapolis to compete with increasingly popular suburban shopping malls. And for a time, Minneapolis successfully maintained a two-layer shopping district downtown.

But skyway-level retail eventually stole foot traffic and business from the street. The resulting ground-level dead zone endures. Just five years ago, celebrated international park developer Gil Penalosa stated the skyways “suck the public life out of the city” and urban visionary Jan Gehl opined that skyways prevent Minneapolis from becoming a world class 21st century city.

Amidst this criticism, city leaders acknowledged that skyways may be bad for Minneapolis. Mayor Rybak told the Star Tribune he doesn’t “think we need any more skyways” and the Downtown Council’s 2025 Plan agreed that skyways have “drawbacks [and] pull energy and life off the street.”

So why are the Vikings planning to put a new skyway or tunnel in their Minneapolis Downtown East New Stadium Plan?

The Stadium Plan skyways connect parking lots to the stadium. Skyway/tunnel connections to parking ramps do not benefit the city. Parking lot skyways funnel people directly to their cars and thus do not guide people past local retail businesses. As a result, street level businesses are deprived of a critical customer base: pedestrians who walk on the sidewalk from their place of work or leisure to their mode of transportation (it is no coincidence that the top five walkable cities in the U.S. have comprehensive rapid transit networks – rapid transit results in a high volume of people who constantly walk to and from the train or bus station).

Minneapolis should block skyway development and require that those who drive to the city – in this case, those who drive to a Vikings game – walk on street level between their car and destination. If Minneapolis removes these pedestrians from street level, the city will hinder or even block the lively street scene and economic development it hopes to cultivate around the new stadium.