Obstacles to Accessing Bloomington’s Trails

This weekend, I awoke early to grab some time-lapse sunrise photos on the Minnesota River banks across from the Port Cargill-West Elevator. I hiked the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail to a nice clearing then let my cameras click away as I listened to ducks quack and watched a beaver and muskrat paddle around. The morning couldn’t have been more lovely. It’s a shame transportation planners are doing all they can to keep people like me away.

The Normandale trailhead for the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail

The Normandale trailhead for the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail

The southern terminus of Normandale Boulevard is a textbook example of how misplaced priorities undermine a city’s amenities and increase costs. It’s characterized by features that tell everyone but immediate neighbors they aren’t welcome to use a trailhead that should be a regional asset.

Signs tell people not to stop by the Normandale trailhead for the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail.

Signs tell people not to stop by the Normandale trailhead for the Minnesota River Bottoms Trail.

As soon as drivers turn off the main road, they’re greeted by a sign that says there’s no parking on the street leading up to the trailhead. Both side of the street have no parking signs. The trailhead itself is off a cul-de-sac where the quarter-mile section of street ends, but there is no other place to stop. It’s as if the eight duplexes and two single-family homes on the street are saying, “Keep out! This is mine!” This isn’t due to heavy traffic or lack of space. There’s enough room for two vehicles to drive comfortably beside one another with a healthy amount of space left over for parking. A short hike wouldn’t be such a problem in an urban area. Here, though, trailhead access all but demands a car because sprawling single-family home subdivisions surround the rest of the area. I’m not sure who exactly owns this stretch of pavement. Google and Bloomington’s city map say the street is the terminus of Hennepin CSAH 34. The county map says CSAH 34 ends at Old Shakopee and that this is a city street.

City of Bloomington

City of Bloomington

Hennepin County

Hennepin County

In either case, this is a publicly funded roadway. The county state-aid highway system uses a mix of state and local taxes to cover costs. For Bloomington streets, owners of single family homes and duplexes are only assessed for 25 percent of project costs. Local governments also pick up the tab for plowing and street sweeping. In all likelihood, some local government is paying tens of thousands of dollars for a small bit of pavement that only 10 families can use. This isn’t fiscally responsible. By removing on-street parking, these suburban homeowners are essentially doing the same thing that urban homeowners owners do when they demand more on-street parking for their personal use. Both cases see a small, localized group of property owners asking other taxpayers to fund some asset that the larger community is effectively barred from using. In Bloomington, homeowners get access to a great trail and don’t have to deal with unsavory characters like myself tramping past their front doors — even if Bloomington might benefit from more out-of-town visitors. The end result in both cases is that local governments have effectively privatized a public good.


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8 Responses to Obstacles to Accessing Bloomington’s Trails

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary April 20, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    “By removing on-street parking, these suburban homeowners are essentially doing the same thing that urban homeowners owners do when they demand more on-street parking for their personal use. Both cases see a small, localized group of property owners asking other taxpayers to fund some asset that the larger community is effectively barred from using.”

    This is a very interesting point. Bloomington has particularly widespread parking bans, including on streets like this that are both very wide and very low volume. And for exactly the reason you guess: the homeowners would prefer to not allow anyone to park on the street, not even themselves, than to allow Others to park there. (Or perhaps the homeowners don’t actually feel this way, but city leaders and employees assume they do and react as such.) Yet if that’s really the way they feel, you’d think the roadway designs would reflect it, and they’d make it 20′ wide or something. Instead it’s like a runway of empty asphalt.

    This segment of Normandale is definitely not a county road; in fact, it’s not even on the MSA system — although the main segment that turns into Auto Club Road is. That said, a public street is still public, even if solely local funds pay for it. Even residents of Bloomington don’t feel any more welcome than non-residents to this cul-de-sac.

    Even more grating is “River Bluff Estates” just to the north, which has a sort of gateway monument — complete with literal gates around the sidewalks — despite being all public streets within. This illusion of exclusion should not be be allowed on public rights-of-way, period.

  2. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary April 20, 2015 at 11:04 am #

    One other question: is that really the main trailhead? There’s a very public-feeling trailhead at the Old Bloomington Ferry crossing, complete with a parking lot, not too far to the west.

    • James Warden
      James Warden April 20, 2015 at 11:29 am #

      Thanks for the clarification on road ownership. It is not the “main” trailhead. There are actually others with full parking lots. But it was closest to the location I wanted to visit and is a legitimate trailhead. If you look at the map above, you’ll see that the caption for the access point reads, “Note: there is no parking on the small strip of Normandale Blvd. east of this point.”

  3. Matt Steele April 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    Then maybe the neighbors would like to put automobiles back on the swing bridge over the MN River and using their street as access? http://www.johnweeks.com/bridges/pages/mn05.html

  4. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman April 20, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

    I don’t agree with this, but it seems like a fairly common for homeowners to want to keep the street for themselves. Witness the parking restrictions around the side entrance to Hyland Park, to say nothing about all the “Permit Parking only” areas in the cities, the “No State Fair” parking signs.

    • Sean Hayford Oleary
      Sean Hayford Oleary April 20, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

      What’s bizarre to me about this is the sort of “cutting off your nose to spite your face” aspect of these bans. Like, permit parking seems like a sweet deal if you can get it — you get to use your section of the street like a private extension of your property. (Although I don’t think they’re fair in a general policy sense, unless it’s a private street.)

      But these all-out bans mean you can’t use the street parking either. There are some examples of this in Richfield, too. One ridiculous one is on the Edina border, behind the Southdale YMCA, where parking is prohibited on both sides of Xerxes Avenue — I assume to prevent YMCA member parking. Is it really worth losing guest parking in front of your own house, just to prevent the extraordinarily unlikely possibility that the massive Southdale YMCA parking lot is completely full, and a few cars end up on your street instead?

      • brad April 20, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

        Plenty of parking on those giant driveways. Plus, do you think the parking ban there gets much enforcement unless neighbors call to complain? I doubt police make the effort to drive down there on their own to check.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary April 20, 2015 at 8:48 pm #

          I wouldn’t chance that if I lived there. How’s a dial-happy neighbor to identify your guests from shifty folks like James who might be parking to use the trail? Yes, there’s capacity in a driveway, but I personally hate parking in somebody’s driveway when I visit them. It feels intrusive, and risks getting blocked in if it’s a large gathering. Street parking seems considerably more convenient.