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Breathtaking Bike Infrastructure: Minnesota’s Martin Olav Sabo Bridge

In 2007, in order to route cyclists away from a challenging 7-lane crossing on busy Hiawatha Avenue, Minneapolis built the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge.

The first cable-stayed bridge of any kind in the state, it’s breathtaking, even to the people who have been riding it for years. It provides a safe, continuous crossing and offers up a glorious view of the downtown skyline (especially at sunset!). The sleek Hiawatha light rail line runs beneath it, and there are benches to sit on and take everything in.

Used by an average of 2,500 riders a day, peak use can hit 5,000 to 6,000 per day on some gorgeous summer weekends, according to Shaun Murphy of the Minneapolis Department of Public Works.

The bridge was named in honor of Minneapolis' Martin Olav Sabo, a former U.S. Representative from the 5th District who helped secure much of the $5 million needed to build it. Thanks to the Bikes Belong Foundation for enabling us to feature this majestic piece of bike architecture and to show that investing in cycling and walking is well worth every penny for our communities.

[music] 

Shaun Murray:  [00:17] We’re standing at the Sabo Bridge on the Midtown Greenway in South Minneapolis.  It was built back in 2007 and carries about 2500 bicyclists a day.  It cost $5 million to build.  The reason why we built the bridge is so that cyclists would not have to cross a seven lane major highway at grade.

 

Louis Moore:  [00:35] The bridge is named after my former employer, Congress Martin Sabo, and I did spend 19 years working for him here in his District Office in Minneapolis.  We came up with the idea that we would try to create a bridge up and over Hiawatha to try to avoid the many traffic mishaps that would happen with bicyclists going across the street. 

 

R T Rybak:  [00:55] The Sabo Bridge did not need to look quite so beautiful or quite so spectacular, but we just believe in doing that here in Minneapolis.  The infrastructure should really be celebrated, you know, when you really think about fountains and cities or bridges. 

 

Shaun Murray:  [01:10] I think part of the reason why it does look so beautiful is because we had an engineering challenge with this bridge.  We had to get between, I’m pointing over toward large power line up high and a light rail lying down below, and the light rail line of course runs on electricity so they have overhead wires as well, and that’s the reason for the cable stayed bridge. 

 

Jay Walljasper:  [01:31] It’s not the quickest route to get from Point A to Point B, but I usually take the bridge unless I’m in a really furious hurry because it is just so much fun to kind of go up there and, you know, it’s got the gentle incline and then you get a zoom down on the other side and it’s just cool looking.

 

Joan Pasiuk:  [01:45] The evening view of the Sabo Bridge is not only inspiring to bicyclists and walkers using it, but to the drivers underneath who are hopefully saying wow, I should be on top of that beautiful bridge.  It’s gorgeous. 

 

Erik Lindstrom:  [01:58] I suppose it’s like looking at the Niagara Falls or something, you know, you just, in cycling we don’t have many featured bridges like this so it’s like coming up to a major interstate passway on a car except you’re on a bike. 

 

Jay Walljasper:  [02:10] Well you kind of feel like you’re the kind of the roadway when you’re up there.  I see a lot of people just sitting up, maybe just walk up to sit up there.  I mean it’s just, there’s something about the design of that bridge that is not just about moving people, but it’s kind of about moving their souls a little bit too. 

 

Shaun Murray:  [02:25] On a beautiful day in the summer you probably get, you know, anywhere from five to six thousand bicyclists who ride over this bridge. 

 

S Scott Dibble:  [02:33] You know there’s been some criticism about the amount of money that we spend on some of these bicycle facilities, particularly when they’re off road facilities or dedicated trails.  But when you do the head count and you really do the cost benefit analysis, compare that to how much money we put into the transportation infrastructure for cars that the benefit just in terms of transportation, in terms of connecting communities, in terms of liveability, quality of life and how it makes people feel about where they live, it just can’t even be compared.   

[music]

Transcription Sponsored by: Transcript Divas Transcription Services

Clarence Eckerson, Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • NeighborsforBetterBikeBridges

    We counted the number of cyclists during a large snowstorm this past winter, and found a much smaller number of users than did MDPW's suspect bike "count."

  • http://www.bikehike.com Paul Bikehike

    Nice one! the bridge is really made with great care. Awesome!

  • Barb

    Don't demote Martin Sabo! He was a US Representative for the 5th District in MN!!!

  • Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

    Whoops! Fixed that. Thanks Barb.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    We fixed that!  Whoops!  Thanks Barb.

  • Jeremy Werst

    This bridge sadly puts cyclists into a more dangerous crossing than the original signaled intersection it replaces.  They are trying to make the other intersections safer, but I personally will not use this bridge, it takes you out of your way and puts you into a double threat situation on both sides.  It's pretty and expensive, but is it the best solution for cycling infrastructure in this place?  Hard to say, but I'd say no.

  • Roger Geller

    Thanks Clarence. Nice film. I don't have a bridge more beautiful than that one for bikes, though check back with us in a few years once we've build the nation's first transit, bike, ped-only bridge across the Willamette: http://trimet.org/pm/planninganddesign/slideshow.htmI had the pleasure to be in Minneapolis earlier this summer and greately enjoyed the pathways and the sabo bridge.

  • http://karenlynnallen.blogspot.com/ Karen Lynn Allen

    Makes me want to visit Minneapolis.  I just googled "Minneapolis Bicycle Tourism" and only got info on an upcoming bike tour of Minneapolis on Sept 18, very nice for residents I'm sure but tells me nothing as a potential bike tourist.

    Cities, wake up and smell the bike tourism coffee! 

    As a potential bike tourist, I want to know:

    1) That I can come to your city and absolutely not have to rent a car.  Not have to drive car, not have to find parking for a car, not have to even get in a car.

    2) That I can get from the airport or train station to a decent, well-located hotel swiftly, conveniently, inexpensively and pleasantly without getting into a car.

    3) That I can rent bicycles somewhere near my hotel for a reasonable cost--let's say less than $150 for three days for a family of four.  If you have a bike share system that non-residents can use, great!  Let me know how to use it!  And don't require a credit card with a special chip that I don't have.  (I'm talking to you, Paris.)  The bikes I'm going to rent should have fenders in case of rain, a basket for carrying around stuff, and a way to lock them up. Oh, and they should actually work.

    4) That you have an interconnected, physically-separated bicycle network that is non-stressful to use (after all, I will be on vacation) and is safe enough for children (because I may have some with me.)  What cool things can I take your bike network to?  Does it go to the museums, aquariums, parks, other attractions?  Give me a nice little bike map with major tourist attractions clearly marked so that I will know there are all sorts of fun things to access by bike.  If you have a beautiful bike bridge that is uber-fun to ride over or some other wonderful form of bicycle infrastructure, highlight that, too.

    5) Do you have any pretty bike paths out of town into the countryside or through greenery that would make a nice day or half-day trip? (Perhaps a bike path that connects your lovely city lakes?)  Do you have any fun shopping districts, ethnic neighborhoods, outdoor restaurants I can access easily by bike?  How about at night--what is there to do by bicycle in the evenings? (Paris has a fabulous nighttime tour of the monuments by bike.)  Include ideas for the twenty-something younger set as well as the more staid family set.

    All this info could be put together on a website by an intern in half a week, assuming of course that the infrastructure conducive to bicycle tourism exists.  Don't assume that a basic city bike map, though essential for residents, is adequate for tourists.  I want information that will give me confidence that renting and riding a bike in your city is easy and fun.  A video showing the glories of bicycling in your city would also be quite effective.  Also consider that people attending business conferences might also appreciate an opportunity for a pleasant picturesque evening bike ride after a day spent sitting passively inside under fluorescent lights.

    Congrats to Minneapolis on a very fine bike/pedestrian bridge.

  • Clarence Eckerson jr.

    Karen,  

    Although I have only been to Minneapolis three times, I can tell you that the hotel to downtown on the Light Rail is only about 25 minutes or so.  There are many hotels very close to the rail system (mine was three blocks, so simple 4 minute walk) and then of course there was a Nice Ride MN bike rental kiosk just below in my hotel.  It was the easiest 4 day traveling experience I have had in quite sometime!!

    http://www.streetfilms.org/nice-ride-mn-minnesotas-bike-share-expands/

    For a family, it might be a little more difficult finding all day bike rentals, but as an individual it was spectacularly easy.

  • http://karenlynnallen.blogspot.com/ Karen Lynn Allen

    HI Clarence,
    Thanks for the info. Glad to hear bicycling tourism is so well-developed in Minneapolis! I wonder why they want to keep it a secret rather than brag about it and use it to attract visitors to their city.  (On their main Convention and Visitor Association web page there is nary an image or mention of bicycling, much less a link to needed information.)

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Oops, in my original post I meant to say the AIRPORT to Downtown is only 25 minutes by light rail.  A very simple and easy (and cheap) connection.

    Also, when I was going to travel there, I found everything I needed by poking around on lots of websites.

    This is the best one to get you started:  http://www.tlcminnesota.org/index.php

  • Teri

    A gorgeous bridge in a very bike friendly city.  Love it.

  • http://twitter.com/allderblob Allderblob

    Here in Toronto we have a beautiful bicycle bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Yours reminds me of it...

  • Tom

    I ride the Greenway almost every day and completely disagree.  I will gladly go a few hundred meters out of my way to pedal over this beautiful bridge and enjoy the view.  Crossing at 28th Street is safer and usually quicker than Hiawatha Ave.

  • Anonymous

    Definitely a pretty bridge. What a day it'll be when we'll have to build automotive bridge overpasses because of all the bicycle congestion.

  • Shaun Murphy

    Karen - here's a website we have for visitors on our city's bicycling page:  http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles/visitors.asp.  It doesn't cover everything you mention but might help you with some of your points.

  • Shaun Murphy

    That's not surprising because our annual count occurs in September.  We partner with Transit for Livable Communities and they conduct the count at this location.  The details for the Sabo Bridge are on page A-14 of last year's report:  http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles/BicyclistPedestrianCountReport2010.pdf.  

    Also MDPW counts are 95% conducted by volunteers from the public, so if you'd like to help we'd be glad to have you!

    Also in case you haven't seen our Midtown Greenway count report, this also documents the low numbers in the winter (and the wide fluctuations per season):  http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles/MidtownCount2009.pdf

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Hey!!

    Where is the cattle chute fencing to prevent people from throwing themselves or their bikes on the cars below!

    Where are the 90 degree angled turns with hard, immovable, sharp steal barriers and protrusion that make sure that any navigational error while on your bike would sure to be you last for some time to come.

    Oh wait.  That's right!  This project was built in Minnesota not New Jersey! 

  • http://walkbikejersey.blogspot.com/ Andy B from Jersey

    Actually in all seriousness, I do see a potential design hazard with the design.  There should have been a "rub guard" that prevents errant bicyclists from getting their handlebars hung up on the hand railing or the fencing.

    Otherwise its a really beautiful bridge that seems to be a real pleasure to ride on.

  • Greg

    whoosh

  • Thatcher Imboden

    I assume if you count cars on the road during a large snowstorm, the number of cars on the roads is less too.

  • Justin

    Large snowstorm = very few people out in general.  Did you compare counts from the same month?

  • Ralph G

    It is NO WHERE near an average of 2500 per day.  That is even too high per week.  The average daily usage is under 200.  I know, I did a count on a busy, sunny Saturday summer day.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    This guy is a troll. In an hour on the bridge I saw over 200 while filming. Don't listen to the silly.