The Case For A Protected Bike Lane On Marshall NE

This is a first in a series of posts to examine potential protected bikeways in Minneapolis to help inform planning efforts. If you would like to write a piece or help write a piece about a protected bikeway you'd like to see in your neighborhood, email us at [email protected].

As Minneapolis ponders where to align its protected bikeways, I have one proposal that might not be high on the radar but I think should be: Marshall Street NE. Marshall has an industrial feel, especially toward the north, but also runs through the Northeast Arts District and has its share of unique attractions and landmarks.

This past weekend I took a tour of the street from Hennepin Avenue to Saint Anthony Parkway, snapping some photos with my phone (apologies for the quality). Though ugly and rundown in places, the street has plenty of charm and significant potential. To skip to the tour see below. As for now, let my lay out my argument for a protected bike lane on Marshall.

Earlier Advocacy On Marshall NE

This isn't the first time, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition has argued for improved bike facilities on Marshall.  

"The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition encouraged the County to add bike lanes as part of a recent repaving project," Coalition president Ethan Fawley explained. "While bike lanes were extended farther north, the County decided to look into the issue further before adding bike lanes in the narrower sections. Adding on-street bike lanes in the narrower section would have required either 1) taking parking from one side of the street (not a problem really, except near Psycho Suzi's where there is a lot of opposition to removing parking) or 2) narrowing driving lanes to 10 feet with a 5-foot bike lane and 7-foot parking lane (a configuration that the County has resolutely opposed although it has been done in many other places)."

These seem like minor sacrifices to make in order to turn a riverfront street into a more multimodal friendly one. Hennepin County didn't see it that way.

Fitting Into The City's Master Plan

Beyond improving the street and immediate neighborhood, a protected bicycle lane would serve the city’s bike network well. When the city finally convinces the railroad authorities to let it use railroad right of way to connect the Dinkytown Greenway to the Stone Arch Bridge, Marshall NE and Main St SE would be a great connection from Northeast, especially if the protected lane ran all the way to St. Anthony Parkway. Even now, a adventurous biker can make the connection by using a limited access road (first right after crossing the bridge) and offroading across some rail tracks for a few yards to link up with the Dinkytown Greenway, but the MBC does not advise trespassing, officially speaking.

Although the West River Parkway goes as far north as Broadway on the west side of the river, the east side lacks a proper riverfront bicycle trail. Fawley said the biggest thing Marshall has going for it is that is in the RiverFirst plan and is identified as part of the Mississippi River Trail.

RiverFirst is an ambitious project to remake the Mississippi riverfront above St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis. Several riverfront parks would be vastly upgraded and a few biohaven floating islands would be created from scratch. The plans include a continuous riverfront trail and are pretty stunning. RiverFirst aims to raise $178 million to make its projects come to life. The important take away for Marshall Street is that the Minneapolis Park Board visualizes the street as a pedestrian and bicyclist thoroughfare.

Bus Route Access

One thing Marshall Street does not have is a bus route. The nearest route, the #11, runs down 2nd St as far north as Lowry, where it jogs west to Grand Avenue NE and continues north as far as 29th Avenue, where it takes a zigzagging route to eventually end up at the Colombia Heights Transit Center. The lack of a bus route could make planning a protected bike lane easier since designers won’t need to contend with bus stops.

On the other hand, the lack of an immediate bus route does make living car free on Marshall somewhat less convenient. Near Hennepin, 2nd St. NE is only one or two blocks away. Farther north, however, as Marshall follows the path of the Mississippi, 2nd St and the #11 get progressively more distant (about 7 blocks or a .3 mile brisk 5-minute walk near 22nd Avenue). Even when it jogs over to Grand at Lowry, the route is still a few blocks away (about a 3-minute walk). (Geeky side note: the #11 traces a historic streetcar line on 2nd st/Grand NE.)


Fifth Street NE is a bike boulevard and I suspect it works into the city’s plans for improving its bike system, but 5th Street NE is generally about .6 miles away from Marshall so I don’t think a Marshall bike facility would double up on this corridor. The spacing seems about right to me.

2nd St NE has an on-street bike lane but the road ceases at 27th Ave when it hits a rail yard rather than offering a convenient connection to the St. Anthony Parkway and other points north.

University also has possibility and has more commerce along it, but its traffic volume is higher and it's four lanes for longer sections. Removing a lane of traffic/parking to make space for a protected bike lane on University would be a tougher sell, I reckon.

Game Changer

A protected bike lane on Marshall Street NE could be a game changer for an eclectic street going in perhaps opposing directions (industrial versus urban mixed use with a riverfront park system). The road could certainly use the traffic calming and the existing on street bike lane is already fairly well used. A protected bike lane could build on these successes and signal the way for dense infill development in Northeast, making the whole area more vibrant and bike and pedestrian friendly. Moroever, it would feed access to the planned park expansions on the east side riverfront and fit well in the RiverFirst plan for a continuous trail along the river.

Obstacles In The Way of A Protected Bike Lane

Parking considerations, especially in the Psycho Suzi's stretch, derailed plans for an on-street facility after Marshall's recent repaving. Much of the street parking otherwise is very underused and it seems reducing parking to one side only would still offer plenty of free government subsized parking. We will have to convince Hennepin County and Psycho Suzi's owners and motorist patrons to accept less parking to make a full scale protected bike lane a reality.

Marshall is a truck route given its access to the power plant, concrete plant, warehoues and railyards. I could imagine Hennepin County's resistance to narrowing the road might have something to do with paranoia about impeding freight. Nonetheless, freight and a bike lane could easily coexist in the corridor, and advocates will have to make the County see that.

There is always some balking about the cost of bicycle improvements, but a wide enough street space already exist for the majority of the road. The main cost would be the barrier to car traffic, which could be pretty minimal depending on what material the County chooses.

The Tour

I started my tour at the Hennepin Bridge, a much used connection point to downtown Minneapolis for pedestrian, bicyclist, transit rider and motorist alike.

Marshall Street passes by the Ukrainian Center at 3rd Avenue. The center hosts events for the sizable Ukrarian community in the St. Anthony West neighborhood.

As you can see, Marshall is a Hennepin County Road. This could make gaining approval for a protected bike lane more difficult given their skepticism toward pedestrian and bike facilities. Then again the county did recently approve a protected bike lane on Washington Avenue, perhaps signaling changing attitudes.

Near 5th Ave NE, we meet B.F. Nelson Park. Trails running through park continue on to Boom Island and are a popular destination for runners.

B.F. Nelson Park is also home to this epic statue. As one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, St. Anthony West was home to many a pioneer.

The corner of Marshall and Eighth Avenue is held down by Elsie’s bowling alley and a quintessentially Nordeast dive bar, the Yacht Club.

The west side of Marshall between Eighth Avenue and Broadway is eaten up by a sprawling warehouse and surface parking lot complex used by Graco, a billion dollar company that manufactures fluid handling equipment. Kudos to them for their success, but this is not an inviting sidewalk.

At 1029 Marshall fittingly stands the 1029 Bar. The bras hanging from the rafters inside let you know immediately upon entering this bar, that it lays no claim to class. The 1029 does have a decent karaoke night, good drinks specials and Smack Shack does their food.

The Northeast Bank sits at the corner of Broadway and Marshall. Across the street, a blue fence surrounds a plot owned by the asphalt road paving company, Modern Roadways. The owner of Minnehaha Liquors proposed to open a liquor store at the site, but the St. Anthony Park West Neighborhood Association voted down the project at its February 13 meeting. Read more here.

Minneapolis has branded the area as the Northeast Arts District. The city has turned the former Grain Belt Bottling Room into affordable art studios and office space. Grain Belt brews their beer out of New Ulm, Minnesota these days.

This wing of the historic Grain Belt Brewery complex has been transformed into the Pierre Bottineau Library, which is actually in the Sherdian neighborhood. Bottineau is the neighborhood just to the north.

The Grain Belt office building still stands across from the Bottling Room

This sign would indicate the Grain Belt Terraces are soon to be under construction at the corner of Marshall and 13th Ave.

This is the Grain Belt Terraces design which would renovate the Grainbelt Office building and put two new apartment buildings containing 151 market-rate units in the near. The project has the green light, according to this Star Tribune report.

Dusty’s Bar is another beloved Nordeast dive bar, which, sadly, this writer has not had the privilege of patronizing. It’s on my to do list. Paired with the antique restoration shop next door, its a vibrant little block.

In contrast to the Dusty’s bar block, the next block down is a vacant building that appears to be under some state of renovation.

Across the street, stands in contrast yet again. The River Run Apartments seem modern and trendy in comparison. Check out that fancy rock and steel rod sculpture!

A little father down the road, we arrive at Psycho Suzi’s. As soon as spring arrived, Minnesotans flock to the patio here like the swallows of Capistrano. On a sunny summer day, the two large bike racks outside the bar can be completely full.

In a yet another juxtaposition, right across the street from Psycho Suzi’s, a large warehouse eats up street space and offers no windows or interaction with the sidewalk.

Just past Psycho Suzi’s, the Gluek Riverside Park offers a recreational space on the banks of the Mississippi.

On the other side of Gluek Park, The Sample Room offers probably NE Marshall’s most upscale dining option. Even with it fancy fare, they have a solid happy hour, basically a must in Northeast.

Snow obscured the sign announcing Edgewater Park near the Lowry bridge.

I got pretty cold on Saturday so I went home and finished up my tour Sunday when the light was muted by clouds. The intersection of Lowry and Marshall is the connection point to McKinley neighborhood in North Minneapolis. Tony Jaro’s Rivergarden is on the left.

The Marshall Concrete Products plant dominates the blocks just past Lowry.

We reach Marshall Terrace Park at 27th Avenue. The neighborhood also goes by the name Marshall Terraces.

At 28th Ave NE we approach the Riverside Generating Station, a natural gas plant run by Xcel that can generate 511 megawatts of power. The power plant eats all of the riverside land up to 31st Avenue and I suspect Xcel owns all the land up to St Anthony Parkway since it seems to be unused.

Two roads diverged in a grey woods... Past the power plant, Marshall goes pretty fully industrial and suburban. 

Here we arrive at the St Anthony Parkway, which offers a fine off-street bike facility that carves through Northeast Minneapolis on a snaky course, eventually linking up with the Minneapolis Diagonal Trail. A fitting place to end my tour.

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