Rash of armed robberies plagues Midtown Greenway, Hiawatha trail UPDATED 12-12

Bikers will 'Take Back the Greenway' with ride on Dec.13

Take Back the Greenway
Saturday, Dec. 13, 4 p.m.
The ride begins at the Midtown Greenway entrance near Calhoun Beach Club, travels the greenway past the Sabo bridge, then turns onto the Hiawatha LRT trail and finally ends at Grumpy’s Bar, 1111 Washington Ave. S. in Downtown East.

The Minneapolis Police Department’s (MPD) Third Precinct has issued an alert regarding a series of robberies/assaults taking place on the Midtown Greenway bike trail and the adjacent Hiawatha light-rail transit (LRT) trail.

According to the MPD, victims have been surrounded by groups of 2–3 or more younger males, pushed off their bikes and robbed of wallets, backpacks or purses. The assaults have occurred after dark. In some instances, knives and guns have been used.

Reports of such attacks and attempts, posted on the Midtown Greenway Coalition’s website, date back to the middle of the summer.

The most recent attack took place on Dec. 4 at around 8:30 p.m. along a dark and secluded stretch of the Hiawatha trail just south of the Franklin Avenue LRT station. The victim told the Midtown Greenway Coalition that three young men “formed a pattern” in his path, ordered him off his bike and onto the ground and then stole his backpack. Afterwards, a gun was held to the victim’s head and, the man with the gun said “I’m going to shoot this nigger.” The assailants were gone soon after.

Another victim was referred to using that word in a separate incident on Nov. 21, in which the victim was threatened with a box cutter after stopping along the trail near Minnehaha Avenue.

Despite this similarity, reports of the various incidents describe suspects ranging from white to medium-to-light-skinned to black, and police believe that more than one group may be perpetrating the crimes, according to a Dec. 11 Star Tribune article.

The article reports that 10 attacks have occurred in recent weeks on the greenway and its on- and off-ramps, as well as at least four on the Hiawatha light-rail transit (LRT) trail that runs from the east end of the Sabo bike bridge, where the greenway crosses Hiawatha, past the Franklin Avenue and Cedar-Riverside LRT stations and into Downtown, near the Metrodome.

The isolated path, which runs between the LRT tracks and the backs of warehouses, is unlit in most spots and is very dark at night. In an Aug. 20 report to the West Bank Community Coalition, Robin Garwood, aide to Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon, stated that Gordon supports Rybak’s budget item investing $2.1 million in lighting for the Hiawatha LRT bike trail beginning in 2013. Garwood advised the board, however, that the Cedar-Riverside LRT and Downtown trails are not likely to be lit up anytime soon.

Don Greeley, the MPD’s 3rd Precinct crime-prevention specialist for the area, confirmed that police have stepped up patrols in the area. Greeley said patrols have, in the past, driven their patrol cars onto the greenway, but that area patrols have been asked to “spend more time down there” when they are not on other calls. No patrols have been specifically assigned to the greenway.

Greeley noted that, since this summer, the MPD has designated the greenway as a street, which has made reporting and tracking crimes there more accurate. Greeley was involved in the original safety planning for the greenway; he conducted a “crime prevention through environmental design” survey of the area to determine the amount of lighting and other safety features that would be needed.

While some high-profile instances stand out, such as a brutal beating in 2007 and the recent rash of robberies, Greeley said crime on the greenway has generally been low, although he acknowledged that reporting was not as accurate before the street-designation change this summer. It is certainly better than before the greenway existed, according to Greeley.

“I used to down there all the time,” he said of the abandoned, pre-greenway trench. “It was a war zone.”

As for the unlit connector path, the Hiawatha LRT trail, Greeley said that there is “definitely a need for more lighting there.”

The MPD and Midtown Greenway Coalition offer these prevention strategies:

— Avoid the Greenway after dark.

— Ride and walk with others, rather than alone.

— Look for a “Bluelight” phone on the Greenway that will connect you directly with 9-1-1.

— Carry a cell phone and call 9-1-1 if you need help.

— Pay attention to your surroundings. Exit the Greenway at the nearest ramp if you feel comfortable or nervous about people you see ahead of you.

— If you are assaulted, try to stay calm and give the attackers what they want. The more you resist, the more likely it is that you will be injured.

— Wear a bike helmet while riding to reduce considerably your chances of injury.

— When calling 9-1-1, give the operator your location. The Greenway is now listed as a street: Midtown Greenway East is the name of the stretch east of Nicollet Avenue to the river.

— Take time to familiarize yourself with the addresses of the cross-streets over the trail to help ensure quicker police response.

— For questions or more information, call Crime Prevention Specialist Don Greeley at the 3rd Precinct, 612.673.3482, or email Donald.greeley@ci.minneapolis.mn.us.

last revised: December 12, 2008