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Thread: Skywalk systems

  1. #1
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    Skywalk systems

    I am curious, why have Minneapolis and Saint Paul established significant skyway systems, yet larger cities such as New York.

    Skyways have many advantages, the biggest is that people are removed from traffic, making streets safer for both cars and pedestrians. Another advantage from my point of view is that downtown seems more interconnected and working in downtown Saint Paul I am able to get places quicker.

    Thoughts?

    Moderator note:
    (Dan) Changed the thread title from "Skyway Systems", so people don't think we're talking about long highway bridges.

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Personally, I think they are an absolutely terrible thing. I have not experienced the Minnepolis/St. Paul ones, but I have used the ones in Milwaukee and I feel they rob the street of necessary vitality and activity.

    There are sidewalks and on-street parking to separate pedestrians from cars.

    I also dislike spending too much time in HVAC controlled environments.

    God bless New York and Chicago for not having them.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian DCBuff's avatar
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    Denver had a Skywalk system, but almost all of the orginal Skywalks, that conected builds on 17th St. have been removed. I think the system lacked users, because they didn't know how access it and most people like being outside. Skywalks can work very well in cold climates, but people when give the choice they would rather by outside.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian the north omaha star's avatar
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    I always thought the skyway system in Minny/St. Paul were to protect people from the elements during the winter seasons. How many lunch time restaurants and shops would stay open if the temperature was -15F without the windchill?
    I am recognizing that the voice inside my head
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  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Some problems with skywalk systems:
    • They remove street life, shifting pedestrians from the sidewalk to internal skyways. They leave streets less vibrant and busy - and thus less safe. In Charleston, South Carolina, the skywalk system resulted in segregating street life; white office workers walked above the streets, while surface level sidewalks were relegated to blacks.
    • They block vistas along street corridors, removing the visual appeal of a well-planned downtown. Let's say you have a system of streets that meet in a square with a dominant monument or public building. Add skywalks, and you block the view of the terminating feature. You get the same result with 1970s-style superblocks.
    • They damage the architectural integrity of older structures. Imagine a modern glass and steel skywalk poking out of a Louis Sullivan-designed skyscraper.
    • They're just not possible in many cases. For a skywalk system to be feasible, you need large buildings on every block, so there is widespread connectivity. Those large buildings should not be set back in a plaza, and sections of the second stories should be devoted to passage. Building owners would have up some otherwise revenue-generating GLA for the passage halls that accompany a skywalk system In a post-9/11 world, federal government buildings can't be used. Surface parking lots (or, as they call them in Buffalo, "shovel-ready sites") and registered buildings will disript the skywalk grid, and make an above-ground path from point A to point B far more circuitous than just hitting the sidewalk.

    In short, cities without sidewalks don't have them because they aren't feasible, or aren't seen as desirable.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  6. #6
    Cyburbian abrowne's avatar
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    Toronto has a successful system, and Vancouver has a small skywalk system. Toronto's is a good idea given the winter weather, but generally I'm not a fan of the idea.

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    Toronto has a successful system, and Vancouver has a small skywalk system. Toronto's is a good idea given the winter weather, but generally I'm not a fan of the idea.
    I dont' buy into the "because of the weather reason". Toronto in too far south to have siginficant long stretches of sustained sub 10F days to really warant them.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  8. #8
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by abrowne
    Toronto has a successful system, and Vancouver has a small skywalk system. Toronto's is a good idea given the winter weather, but generally I'm not a fan of the idea.
    Toronto's system isn't a skywalk - it's an underground pathway. Same idea though. It's great in the winter, and sometimes in the summer on those hot hot muggy days. But I'd love to see the increased levels of pedestrian activity you'd get on the streets if it wasn't there.

    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    I dont' buy into the "because of the weather reason". Toronto in too far south to have siginficant long stretches of sustained sub 10F days to really warant them.
    You're right, Toronto rarely gets a sustained run of weather that cold. But Toronto winters are brutal because of the damp chill - especially downtown, where the tall buildings really limit sun exposure and create some pretty windy conditions.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally posted by Tranplanner
    Toronto's system isn't a skywalk - it's an underground pathway. Same idea though. It's great in the winter, and sometimes in the summer on those hot hot muggy days. But I'd love to see the increased levels of pedestrian activity you'd get on the streets if it wasn't there.



    You're right, Toronto rarely gets a sustained run of weather that cold. But Toronto winters are brutal because of the damp chill - especially downtown, where the tall buildings really limit sun exposure and create some pretty windy conditions.
    Toronto has a high enough density of pedestrian traffic to support enclosed walkways without too much damage to the street. However the negative effects are apparent even in this very busy city. The streets down around the financial center (under the Miese towers) where much of the underground malls and walkways are concentrated the streets are much less populated and Young Street along the Eaton Center edge is a bit dead. One great thing about Toronto is that these walkways tie directly into the subway making seamless transitions between buildings and transit.

    In my brief experience with Minneapolis it seemed like the outdoor street level was very dead. Though there did not seem to be many vacant storefronts but the streets could have been used as bowling alleys.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Calgary has an extensive amount of skywalk systems throughout the city, and Edmonton has some (many underground systems) as well. I've only been in one underground walkway, on the Legislature grounds... obviously in that case, it's not robbing the street of pedestrians since there are no streets between the buildings on the Leg. grounds. But overall, I'm not a big fan of skywalks for the reasons Dan mentioned above.

  11. #11
    I had a professor at Ball State that referred to them -- derisively -- as *gerbil tubes for people*. I agree with Dan's comments about skywalks.
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  12. #12
    spokanite's avatar
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    Spokane often touts it's 'modern system of skywalks' as a plus. The reality is they absolutely kill the views from one end of downtown to the other and fewer and fewer people are interested in using them. A recent article in the Spokane Journal of Business describes their plight. I for one, would like to see them come down.

    Empty Spaces Plague Skywalk...

    it used to be a big deal. Spokane’s downtown skywalk system, once thought to be the second most extensive in the country, teemed with retailers, and shoppers walked it like a mall.
    Today, more than 40 percent of the spaces in the 15-block skywalk system are empty, and real estate sources says it’s becoming difficult to fill them with retailers as the city’s retail core shifts to the street level and River Park Square.

  13. #13

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    Charlotte imported the Minneapolis model in the mid-1970s. Funny thing, North Carolina doesn't have the same climate as Minnesota.

    The conglomeration of skywalks (called the "Overstreet Mall") has been the subject of great debate here in the Queen City for nearly 15 years now. It seems someone finally figured out that such a system takes people off the street and discourages street level retail. Even with planners railing against the mall, only two of the skyscrapers (out of 8) built here over the past 10 years have decided against connecting into the Overstreet.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian spunky2's avatar
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    Vegas has 'em all over the Strip. They are a necessary evil. Otherwise you'd hear about drunk tourists being rundown every day. Now you only hear about it every other day.

  15. #15
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    I had a professor at Ball State that referred to them -- derisively -- as *gerbil tubes for people*. I agree with Dan's comments about skywalks.
    Funny, I've heard that exact term used as well during my time in Muncie....
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  16. #16
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    In Atlanta they're called "Honky Tubes". As you might guess, the name was given to them because they were built during the white flight period as a way to keep the mostly white office workers off the streets that were the domain of the mostly black inner city residents . I've heard we have more elevated walkways per capita than any other large city. I hate them. They're ugly and they did create a lot of damage to the streetscape. But I don't think they're used all that much anymore. Newer buildings haven't connected into the system and many of the tunnels are private between particular offices. Hopefully one day they'll all be removed (well except the one on Peachtree that connects two buildings about 20 or 30 stories up).
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  17. #17
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    Looks aside, the convenience is a huge plus. For instance, the other day I had to go pick something up from Saint Paul Companies, across town. I simply took the skyway from Galtier Plaza (where I work) over to the Minnesota World Trade Center. Saint Paul Companies is the only skyscraper downtown that doesn't have skyway access, so I took the escalator down to street level, and had to wait at the 7th Place intersection for cars to pass. Most inconvenient. With being interconnected, people and businesses benefit. I'm more likely to get lunch in a different building or shop at Marshall Field's because it has skyway access.

    The crime rate argument really depends on where you are. Minneapolis and Saint Paul have low crime rates compared to other cities.

    As far as aesthetics, Saint Paul is considered to be a beautiful city. Various descriptions point out that modern glass towers peek over the tops of historic architecture. The building I work in (Galtier Plaza) is a shining example of this. It incorporated 3 historical buildings in it's design. I'll take some pictures, but I don't believe that the skyways take away from any beauty of architecture.

    Is it really so bad if there isn't as much street level retail? In Minneapolis and Saint Paul there certainly are retail places on street level, and many on skyway level. They've been able to increase the amount of retail with this system.

    The skyway system also appears to have helped Minneapolis garner an award as being the Top Tech City in the United States. Source.

    For me, I am more likely to use a skyway because of the safety (cars don't have to worry about as many jaywalkers and people don't have to worry about as many reckless drivers). Loads of retail on ground level doesn't seem to be a necessity to me. And I like the convenience and interconnectedness of both downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul.

    I found a great article describing the "Ying and Yang" of a skyway system. Highly recommended read! It's a Google archived page though, so I'm not sure how long it will be sticking around. http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache...&client=safari

  18. #18
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Pretty much what everyone else said with the removal of street life being the biggie. However, in places with extreme winter weather (Des Moines, St. Paul, etc...) I can see the benefits of a skywalk system.
    Quote Originally posted by Dan
    *]They remove street life, shifting pedestrians from the sidewalk to internal skyways. They leave streets less vibrant and busy - and thus less safe. In Charleston, South Carolina, the skywalk system resulted in segregating street life; white office workers walked above the streets, while surface level sidewalks were relegated to blacks.
    I may be way wrong here but I wasn't aware that Charleston ever had a skywalk system other than the small one connecting the hospitals on the Medical University of South of South Carolina (MUSC) campus. For one, excluding hotels, there are very few building over four floors high in height in the city's downtown.

  19. #19
    Does anybody have any photos of these in Minneapolis? I'd seen these in Atlanta and Charlotte but I never knew that they were public!

    Could I take the skyway from my apartment to go pickup Chinese food on a cold day? Is this a fairly common use for them? Or is it mainly the suit and tie crowd on their lunch breaks ducking out of the office?

  20. #20
    spokanite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by passdoubt
    Does anybody have any photos of these in Minneapolis? I'd seen these in Atlanta and Charlotte but I never knew that they were public!

    Could I take the skyway from my apartment to go pickup Chinese food on a cold day? Is this a fairly common use for them? Or is it mainly the suit and tie crowd on their lunch breaks ducking out of the office?
    Here are some pics of three that we have. These are your more basic "Hamster Habitrail" variety. Some are pretty retro and harken back to the days of Expo 1974 (sigh...). None of the skywalks are connected to any living areas in the CBD here. They're traditionally used by shoppers and the office workers getting to and leaving their offices.





    This one is a view of the entire system in the city. Very elaborate!



  21. #21
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    Quote Originally posted by passdoubt
    Does anybody have any photos of these in Minneapolis? I'd seen these in Atlanta and Charlotte but I never knew that they were public!

    Could I take the skyway from my apartment to go pickup Chinese food on a cold day? Is this a fairly common use for them? Or is it mainly the suit and tie crowd on their lunch breaks ducking out of the office?

    Yes, this is a common use. People ues the skyways during all times of the day, not just at mealtimes. For instance, yesterday I had to drop off a deposit for my company, and I was able to quickly make it across town to Wells Fargo Place to deposit it. The task was done in a matter of minutes. Had I taken the streets the task would've taken twice as long.

    I work in Saint Paul (the Twin City right across the river from Minneapolis). I'll take some photos of the skyways both in Saint Paul and in Minneapolis, hopefully today.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    I believe that Ottawa has at least one skyway. The skyway connects the Rideau Centre (the downtown shopping mall) to the HBC (Hudson's Bay Company - a large department store). It has become a quick way to go from the Byward Market, a farmer's market area, to the Rideau Centre.

    Also, Montreal has an underground system, although it is not as large as the PATH system in Toronto.

  23. #23
    Quote Originally posted by Hceux
    Also, Montreal has an underground system, although it is not as large as the PATH system in Toronto.
    My intention is certainly not to revive the old Montreal/Toronto competition (I actually think that both cities are amazing in their own ways), but Toronto has 27 km (16 miles) of connected underground pathways (see http://www.city.toronto.on.ca/path/ ) , Montreal has more than 30km (30km or 32km, depending on the source)

    Anyway, both systems are quite large, as you can see.

  24. #24

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    Quote Originally posted by biscuit
    I may be way wrong here but I wasn't aware that Charleston ever had a skywalk system other than the small one connecting the hospitals on the Medical University of South of South Carolina (MUSC) campus. For one, excluding hotels, there are very few building over four floors high in height in the city's downtown.
    I think he meant Charlotte. We have a problem with the "CH" factor here. Charleston, Charlottesville, Charlotte.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian biscuit's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    Quote Originally posted by Pride of Place
    . We have a problem with the "CH" factor here.
    I'd blame the Swiss.

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