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.

Thursday, April 14, 2022 in Governing

Red on white 'Room for Rent, Inquire Inside' sign

In Most U.S. Cities, Archaic Laws Limit Roommate Living

Critics argue laws preventing unrelated adults from living in the same home fail to understand the modern American household.

May 24, 2023 - The Atlantic

Vancouver Chuck Wolfe

Ten Signs of a Resurgent Downtown

In GeekWire, Chuck Wolfe continues his exploration of a holistic and practical approach to post-pandemic urban center recovery, anchored in local context and community-driven initiatives that promote livability, safety, and sustainability.

May 24, 2023 - GeekWire

New York MTA subway station

Off-Peak is the New On-Peak

Public transit systems in major U.S. cities are starting to focus on non-rush hour travelers as pre-pandemic commuting patterns shift and transportation needs change.

May 19, 2023 - Curbed

Nighttime view of Tacoma, Washington skyline

Tacoma Coalition Calls for ‘Tenants’ Bill of Rights’

The group wants to put more power in the hands of tenants, but the city has its own, competing proposal for addressing the housing crisis.

May 26 - The Urbanist

Wind turbines sillhouetted against a sunset sky along roadway in New Mexico

New Power Transmission Line Approved in the Southwest

The proposed transmission line will transfer wind-produced power from New Mexico to cities in Arizona and California.

May 26 - U.S. News And World Report

Aerial view of 238 freeway in Oakland, California cutting through neighborhood with small houses

The Limitations of ‘Reconnecting Communities’

The Biden administration has pledged to correct the damage imposed on communities by highways and infrastructure, but many projects are only committing to minor improvements, not transformative changes.

May 26 - The New York Times

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.