Make the skyway map great for the first time. Part 2 of the Minneapolis Skyway redesign project.

As pointed out in part 1, current versions of Minneapolis skyway maps are mostly cluttered and confusing – but I can’t really blame the map creators. It’s a confusing system! A literal skyway map is a mess any which way you try to attempt it. Just think of the layers of the skyway, you have streets, buildings, and the actual skyways, that zig and zag through a building.

“Straight and orderly the skyway is not”
– Yoda

Therefore, I’m suggesting we deconstruct the skyway system and I feel best way to do this is to follow the transit (aka subway) map model with a few variations.

As an example of deconstruction, we only need to look at the experience of riding a train – only three things really matter. The stop, the route, and the destination. A train can go around a curve or two but what’s that to you? The train is taking you where you need to go and it only stops at marked stations.

The legendary Massimo Vignelli brilliantly took advantage of this in designing New York’s subway map. You’ll notice he completely ignored streets, distances and curves, instead he used horizontal and vertical straight lines and the occasional 45 degree angle. He also used colors to signify routes, and stations were simple equally spaced dots on the map.

Today we couldn’t imagine any subway system without it this type of map.

Now it is time to apply the principles of Vignelli’s map to the skyway and its jagged edges. And we to need to start by identifying what matters to the skyway user.

1. Buildings: Essentially these are equivalent to a train stop.

2. Skyways: These connect buildings to one another.

3. Destinations: The skyway user doesn’t necessarily need to know North from South or East from West – especially considering that Downtown Minneapolis sits on a NW – SE street grid. Therefore, a skyway users needs to know they are headed in the correct direction and getting closer to their intended location.

However, we do have a few extra use cases to consider that are unique to skyway users:

4. Distance: Skyway users are for the most part, walking. This means we can’t completely ignore the concept of distance. While not needing to provide exact distances we don’t need to be exact either.

5. Streets: The skyway is in many ways an extension of the street and is connected to the street. Therefore, we can’t completely ignore streets. They would also form a good barometer of distance – as measured in blocks.

Taking these five concepts into consideration, I created the following map:


Click to open a PDF version.

That’s so pleasant. Here are some things worth highlighting in the map:

  • The street grid was changed to be completely vertical and horizontal, even though IRL it is not. This is in response to pedestrians not needing to know which way is true north.
  • Skyways are made straight through buildings — UNLESS there is an important jagged edge worth noting to users or multiple paths through a building.
  • I’m introducing routes to the skyway. This would help us to let users know they are moving in the correct direction.
  • I have been unable to walk all 11 miles of the skyway to confirm its accurate enough. I created this version off of old maps. If you have any suggestions for improving the routes please let me know!

Feel free to use the map as you see fit. Admittedly, signage is still a big piece to this project as it may be difficult to use this map without. I address signage in part 3. Onwards!

7 Responses to Make the skyway map great for the first time. Part 2 of the Minneapolis Skyway redesign project.

  1. Adam

    This looks like a huge improvement. A few comments:

    – There is no connection between the HCMC and the rest of the skyway system (as far as I’m aware). The pink route heading east from 4th Ave. does not exist.

    – I’m not sure what the little square on the black route is that seems to be in the Accenture building. You may not need that.

    – There is now a skyway exit from the 5th St Towers across Marquette to the “new” Nic on 5th building and one exiting the Nic to the north into the new Xcel Energy building at 4th and Nicollete (and one connecting the two Xcel buildings, but it’s not open to the public).

    – I think the building you have labeled as “One Financial” is now called Candian Pacific Plaza, which raises the broader question of how to label building whose names may change when the lead tenant changes.

    – The main route of the skyway goes right through the Hilton, it may make sense to depict it that way.

    – I’m not sure of the current state of the skyway you show connecting to Westminster Presbyterian. The tore down the office building that used to connect to the skyway for church expansion, but maybe they plan a direct connection to the church? I haven’t looked recently.

    – The passage through the St. Thomas buildings isn’t so simple, but I don’t know if there’s a way to reflect how you can enter at the law school and then pass through two other buildings.

    – There’s now an Hampton Inn at 8th and Hawthorne that might be worth a label.

    – The Plymouth Building is now an Embassy Suites.

    Seriously, this is a great and a badly needed improvement.

    • Brandon

      @Adam – Thank you! Thank you. I’ll incorporate much of this feedback this into the next version!

      A few notes:
      1. Names will always change, therefore the map would need to be updated often – as the current one is. They use a revision date on it.
      2. I know the HCMC connection is a planned addition. I got ahead of myself there.

  2. Bill

    The new Wells Fargo buildings are missing between 3rd and 4th st and 5th ave/4th ave/park

  3. Bill

    You may want to think about a demarcation at a couple of spots where you have to go down a level and back up. The two I can think of are the connection from the Medical Arts Building (which isn’t listed on your map – it’s just north of Young Quinlan bldg) through to McGladry Plaza and in Nortstar West (you have to go downstairs through the food court and back up to get to Northstar East and the Skyway to Capella Tower).

    These are really great though, nice work.

    • Brandon

      @Bill I thought about this and after going back and forth I decided to not designate these because when you go through them the path is still clear you have follow that specific path. I’m not opposed to changing the “tunnel” designation to represent a level change. I’ll think about it. Thank you for your comment!

  4. Peter

    Adam this is really great. I can offer a couple improvments (maybe). I wonder if there is a way to represent ground level or underground pathways. Two examples are the North Star center to Capella, where you go down to ground level in Northstar to go back up again (you have that as a solid line and it may make more sense.

    The other that’s missing on here, and will become even more critical as the macys building is remodeled, is a ground level passage from US Bank to your red line, only 1/3 of a block down an escalater and up another through a pretty wide passage way.

  5. Jeffrey Goetz

    Your proposed Skyway map is brilliant. As a former New Yorker I understand the benefits of applying the design elements used for New York’s subways to our skyways. My experience in the skyways have always been frustrating because of the confusing signage and or the total lack of signage as well as the non-uniform signage. Perhaps another consideration (and perhaps on separate signs) would be to locate easy access points from the skyway to street level (especially important in the warmer weather and to commercial interests at street level). Thank you for a well though out suggestion. Imagine the benefits if it were in place when we are hosting the Super Bowl so tourists with zero knowledge of the skyways could easily get around. It’s hard to imagine that commercial interests wouldn’t be solidly behind making it easier for customers to find them! Well done and thank you.

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