The Pandemic Has Not Been Kind to Pedestrian Skyways in the Twin Cities

Already a source of eternal controversy for their effects on street life and local business, pedestrian skyways have proven even more problematic during the pandemic.

2 minute read

April 18, 2022, 10:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


A series of pedestrian bridges, linking buildings on either side of the street, are illuminated int he night in downtown Minneapolis.

Sam Wagner / Shutterstock

Jake Blumgart reports on the latest developments in the planning of pedestrian skyways—the effects of the pandemic adding new questions about the effects of skyways local retail and public safety.

Blumgart helpfully notes the history of skyway planning and development in the Twin Cities, where this story focuses its attention:

Minneapolis inaugurated the skyway era in 1962 and eventually built out a system with 9.5 contiguous miles of second-story connections between office buildings, hotels and housing towers. St. Paul soon followed, and has five miles of its own. The idea was to compete with suburban office parks and shopping malls, giving aged downtowns an edge — especially in the winter months.

The results, however, have underwhelmed:

From the beginning, skyways were controversial. Critics feared they would imperil existing sidewalk-facing businesses. Today, the streetscape of the two cities is remarkably quiet. With consumer dollars focused on the second floor, street-level stores and restaurants suffer. (It’s worth noting that downtowns as varied as Baltimore and Los Angeles manage a similar deadening effect without skyways.)

The pandemic has accelerated some of the less desirable effects of the skyway approach to downtown circulation. With office emptied out, like they are in so many other cities, the skyways in the Twin Cities have become dark and filled with litter, cigarette smoke, and encampments, according to Blumgart.

The future of the skyways depends on how many people return to the office if and when the public health situation improves, according to the article. While the trends indicate a return to the office, the daytime office population of the Twin Cities is still far below the pre-pandemic precedent.

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