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The plan to connect the Midtown Greenway to St. Paul

Cyclists envision a Greenway that extends all the way to St. Paul, connecting with trails that extend as far away as Stillwater.

Cyclists envision a Greenway that extends all the way to St. Paul, connecting with trails that extend as far away as Stillwater. Star Tribune

The Midtown Greenway is the Minneapolis biker’s key to the city.

The five-mile, secluded stretch of paths leads to the Mississippi River Gorge, that expanse of blue water flanked by bowing trees. The Short Line Bridge -- a titanic, rusty old thing on a pair of wide stone legs -- spans the water leading into St. Paul. Sunshine on misty mornings forms a golden glaze on the whole thing. When fall arrives, it sets the place on fire.

Midtown Greenway Coalition director Soren Jensen has biked to this bridge countless times. More than once, he’s thought to himself: “Wouldn’t it be great if I could just pedal over it?”

He’s not alone. Barely a week goes by without someone asking when they’re going to extend the Greenway to St. Paul. The winding Minneapolis trail is a cyclist’s treasure: a path all to themselves, without having to worry about the crush of traffic. St. Paul cyclists would love a direct route into what basically amounts to the aorta of the Twin Cities biking scene. There’s only track laid on one side of the bridge – enough room for a 20-foot-wide bike path running along its side, Jensen says. There’s a chance cyclists and the Canadian Pacific Railway could share.

The Coalition raised $45,000 for an engineering study to see what it would take to make it biker friendly. It should be completed this summer.

Everything depends on that bridge study: whether the railroad would let the county purchase it, and how much it would cost to get it ready. But Soren has already thought about what that could mean for biking in St. Paul.

A cyclist could sweep through the Greenway and across the bridge, then zoom along the existing rail line. She’d see grand brick houses and charmingly shabby apartment buildings covered in vines and stuffed with dreams. Then she’d plunk down onto Ayd Mill Road.

Jensen is hoping St. Paul would be into laying a bike path on Ayd Mill -- he thinks it’s wide enough to bear it. From there, the path would connect to the 1-35E bike trail, and straight into the heart of downtown St. Paul.

The trail would also hook up with St. Paul’s existing bike paths, which extend all the way to Stillwater.

Jensen thinks it’ll also do wonders for the daily commute.The Greenway is already creating more bike commuters, studies show. He expects it could do the same for St. Paul.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing?”

All of this is a fond dream for now. A lot stands between the Greenway and the other Twin City, including the Mississippi and a series of ifs: if it doesn’t cost too much to retrofit the bridge, if the railroad is willing to share, if St. Paul will be inspired enough by the possibilities to revamp Ayd Mill Road. Jensen doesn’t expect any of this to happen until years down the line, if at all.

Still… it does sound cool.