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Should Nicollet Mall drop its skyways?

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A photo from last February shows what happens to Nicollet Mall during the winter.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Would Nicollet Mall be a more attractive destination without its skyways?

Sam Newberg thinks so. The real-estate consultant and writer suggested in a recent blog post, and again Monday on The Daily Circuit, that planners working on the mall's redesign should get rid of the four skyways that cross it.

As he spoke, temperatures were in the single digits, but headed for a high in the teens or 20s.

"This morning is a very nice day to take a stroll down Nicollet Mall," he said. 

But he's not just a fair-weather advocate of moving the foot traffic down to the ground.

"Great cities include walkable streets and buildings that relate well to the streets, that have windows and doors and are pedestrian-friendly, and the third thing is people — people going about their daily routine," he said. "Skyways are one part of what prevents great streets from happening in Minneapolis, and I would argue are one of the keys that have prevented Nicollet Mall from being the street it could be. It hasn't lived up to its potential."

Newberg conceded that Nicollet is capable of drawing crowds — "on a good day, in nice weather, when the Farmers Market for example is on Nicollet Mall." But even on "one of the nicest days of the year, when there is plenty to do on the street level, people still don't go to the street to meet their everyday needs. 

"We're missing out on thousands of people who populate our streets. It's not just Nicollet Mall. It's especially pronounced on a lot of the other streets in the downtown core." 

When a caller pointed out that some people with disabilities move downtown expressly for the skyways, because "they cannot negotiate the sidewalks and the mounds of snow," Newberg countered that the city and property owners should do a better job of snow removal. "I understand that is an issue," he said. "We should be addressing that on sidewalks downtown and all over the city."

In addition to getting rid of skyways, Newberg wants to change city code to promote the right kind of buildings along the mall.

"We have a pretty good code, but to some extent it's not good enough," he explained. "It boils down to ensuring that there are more doors facing our streets and our sidewalks."

"The street alone isn't enough to make it pedestrian-friendly. You have to have buildings that interact well with the street."

Newberg wrote an opinion piece in which he offered similar advice to the planners working on the renovation of Nicollet Mall. The skyway conundrum is one of the issues he addressed in his recent post at streets.mn

"Unless we implement a form-based code so buildings relate better to Nicollet Mall and seriously consider removal of at least a couple skyway connections to better populate that street," Newberg wrote, "our well-intentioned efforts to make Nicollet Mall one of the most vibrant public spaces in America will remain seriously hobbled. Start with one example — remove the skyway between Gaviidae Commons and City Center, put in five retail front doors in City Center facing Nicollet Mall (find retailers or temporary art galleries), add some moveable chairs, another vendor or two and that outdoor fire pit on the sidewalk and see what happens. I guarantee we'll like the result."