The Riverview Corridor’s Policy Advisory Committee reviewed three options on February 24 for getting pedestrians and bicyclists safely across the Highway 5 (West Seventh Street) bridge near Fort Snelling. That included concepts which would separate bikers and walkers from traffic on elevated paths above the bridge deck.

Getting bicyclists and pedestrians from the bridge to the trail system at Historic Fort Snelling is one of many challenges the 11.7-mile modern streetcar project faces as its engineering studies continue. 

Bicyclists and pedestrians are being encouraged to take a survey on the river crossing concepts by March 25 by visiting bit.ly/bikepedsurvey.

One question asked in the survey is if respondents currently feel safe crossing the bridge. Another asks what would improve safety, with suggestions including more physical separation from vehicles, a wider pathway to walk or bike, ramps instead of stairs to access the crossing, and better signals and signage.

   

The Highway 5 bridge was built in 1961. It was rehabilitated in 2003 and recently had its bridge deck replaced in 2015-2016. Cyclists and pedestrians currently share a sidewalk on one side of the bridge, separated from two lanes of motor vehicle traffic in each direction. Preliminary plans would put the streetcar where the sidewalk is.

“Rock disturbance is a big issue,” Laabs said. That already has led to decisions to keep the streetcar and motor vehicles traveling through the existing tunnel. Bikers and walkers would still be routed above the tunnel, but in a new way.

riverview crossing
The three draft concepts (from left, switchback ramp, truss design and separate structure) for getting bicyclists and pedestrians safely across the Highway 5 bridge with the addition of the proposed Riverview Corridor modern streetcar.

A stairway currently used to get from the bridge to Fort Snelling does not meet federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements, said Jessica Laabs, a project consultant with Kimley-Horn. Access also must be provided without disturbing the fort, which is a designated historic site.

 

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Another issue is Bdote, which means “where waters come together” in the Dakota language and is the area at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. A designated site of remembrance must be preserved as part of the Riverview Corridor crossing. Original rock, considered by the Dakota to be a sacred part of the landscape, must be undisturbed or carefully relocated. Project consultants have been working with tribal representatives on planning for the area.

“Rock disturbance is a big issue,” Laabs said. That already has led to decisions to keep the streetcar and motor vehicles traveling through the existing tunnel. Bikers and walkers would still be routed above the tunnel, but in a new way.

The bridge is located in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), which is overseen by the National Park Service. MNRRA issues can come into play when a project affects river views.

Three options are under study to get bicyclists and pedestrians across the bridge and to the fort area trails. One would use an accessible switchback ramp and elevate the bike and pedestrian sidewalk.

A second option is an elevated bike and pedestrian path above the existing bridge deck using a truss design. A third option would have an elevated pedestrian and bike path on a separate structure adjacent to the bridge.

Project consultants and staff are still looking at how to get motor vehicle traffic and streetcars through the tunnel and routed on the fort side. The team has rejected the notion of a “transit flyover,” citing space limitations and impacts on the historic site. They continue to look at two options that call for reducing motor vehicle traffic lanes to provide dedicated space for streetcars.

One idea would have streetcars running in mixed traffic on Highway 5. That would require having a gate or device to stop traffic so transit vehicles could enter and exit the highway. It would also mean slowing traffic in that area from 50 to 35 mph.

— Jane McClure

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