Public goals clash with private crime concerns in St Paul skyways

By Bill Holloway
The Twin Cities are home to two of the largest skyway systems in the U.S.  Although the skyways operate as streets for the many residents, workers, and visitors in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the systems are managed very differently between the two cities, and in the past few years St. Paul’s system has been facing new conflicts related to crime and loitering, as noted recently in the Star Tribune.
In contrast to the skyways of Minneapolis—privately owned, with owners allowed to set hours in different sections—St Paul’s system is public, and all sections are open between 5:30am and 2:00am. But while St. Paul’s system is public, the buildings along the skyway route are required to provide connecting paths between skyways, as well as security through patrols or video monitoring.
With more people living in downtown St. Paul and a new light rail connection, more people have been using the skyways and conflicts have been increasing between residents, teenagers looking for a place to hang out, and homeless people escaping the weather. While the local government has plans to significantly increase the number of residents living downtown and using the skyways—which they believe will increase safety—the system currently has few late night users.
Crime fears have led some building owners and managers to push for earlier closing hours on the skyways or exemptions for their building that would allow them to close their skyway entrances earlier. Local government leaders have so far denied requests to change the hours of the skyways or allow for exemptions, arguing that such earlier closing times would reduce the number of people using the system, and exempting certain buildings would create dead ends that could create further safety problems. Both sides of the debate are hoping that new residents and businesses, along with new services for homeless people in the area, will help to alleviate the system’s recent issues.
Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.