A Bicycle Commute to the Suburbs

Until very recently, I held a job in a typical office/manufacturing building out in Chanhassen, MN, a very auto-oriented place that happens to be served by a great regional recreational trail. During the few months where living in Minneapolis aligned with my job, I decided to bike commute out a couple times a week as weather and work schedule allowed.  My route took me from the urban streets just south of Uptown, onto the Midtown Greenway, merging with the Cedar Lake Trail, and finally onto the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail (seriously, we need a shorter name for that one..).  I would end (or begin on the way home) the journey on a path abutting Highway 5, totaling a 16 mile one-way trip.

That may seem like too far for most, but the trail is quite flat, straight, and fairly straightforward making for a very comfortable ride, one I accomplished in about 70 minutes (I wish I were in better shape than I am..).  I highly encourage folks who live near any of the great rails-to-trails paths to try this out, assuming your workplace has a locker room and showers, of course.

I figured it’d be fun to snap some pics of the more suburban parts for those who haven’t traversed, giving a taste of the transition from urban to suburban with some bucolic and industrial sights in between.  My photo tour won’t be nearly as interesting as the ones you’ll see by Wolfie, nor do I stop to interview interesting folks (not that there aren’t any!), but here goes!

(note, it was raining the morning of my last day so I took pictures on the ride home)

Nice walk/bike path along the back patio of the cafeteria.

Nice walk/bike path along the back patio of the cafeteria.

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One rarely encounters others on highway-adjacent paths like this one along Hwy 5/Arboretum Blvd.

Once the bike path links up with the regional trail, you begin to see much better way-finding and higher-end amenities that grade-separate it from auto infrastructure:

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There’s a tunnel off in the distance that continues the trail SW toward Chaska

About half of the trail distance I cover (from basically 169 westward)is gravel, but very well-maintained:

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Scenic golf course overlook

At one point the trail asks you to climb up a hill to ride along a barren sidewalk on an overpass:

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…adding a good amount of distance and effort.

By heading to the left in that picture, you come across an alternative:

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Sadly, not ideal for road bikes or trailers.

Looking back after the bridge, we see the fork as desire lines. I’m not sure what the rationale was for the trail as designed, but this is a nice opportunity to speed up and simplify the journey:

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A few other fun sights:

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The trail runs right along Shady Oak Lake, with a great beach off in the distance

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Bat boxes!

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Washed out learning, former rail-adjacent industrial site, and signs of urbanization on the horizon.

This sight always irks me.  The trail has quite a few crossings with streets, all of which ask you to stop (and for good reason, they usually have poor sight lines with crossing autos). But near Hopkins, you’re asked to stop for an entrance/exit to a Honda car dealership (3 lanes!). I can’t imagine how much traffic this sees each day, but why prioritize what is essentially a private property entrance over one of our few regional bike super-highways?

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To be fair, the park and ride lots next door must also stop for this street.

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A view of Minnehaha Creek before it enters Edina and Minneapolis

I skipped a few photos, and declined taking many to leave the rest to your imagination (and get home somewhat quickly!).  But I love the stark feeling of arrival in the city as you pass large apartment and condo buildings, then head into the Greenway trench. A smartphone camera doesn’t really do justice to how cool it really looks with the bridges crossing it seemingly forever.

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Again, this ride is pretty easy very safe, and offers many opportunities to take in sights and destinations along the way if so desired. I highly encourage some close-in suburban dwellers working downtown or nearby (and urban folks heading out as well) to give it a try for work in the remaining two months of comfortable weather. At the very least it can make for a wonderful weekend outing with the family – ditch the car and make an afternoon of it!

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17 Responses to A Bicycle Commute to the Suburbs

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary August 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Those highway trails — like the one you posted along Hwy 5 — seem to be an inevitability to getting around in newer suburban areas. It would be nice if more effort were put into making them pleasurable and safe places to ride — like avoiding free right turns, adding boulevard trees, and creating trail lighting. Could actually be pretty pleasant and fast with the right buffer.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini August 5, 2014 at 8:18 pm #

      Could not agree more. I didn’t want to get my phone back out at an intersection (though perhaps I should have to illustrate your point), but those islands and free rights are extremely inhospitable, and somehow seem worse to me on bike as slowly maneuvering around in them is more challenging than on foot.

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell August 6, 2014 at 3:03 am #

      Yes! If bicycling is unpleasant people will not want to do it.

  2. acs August 5, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

    Growing up in EP, we always called the trail “the LRT”. We thought it stood for “long range trail”, until we found out it was rail banked for light rail transit.

  3. Ron August 5, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

    Y’all really do live in cycling heaven in the twin cities compared to where 99% of other ppl live.

    • Rosa August 9, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

      Even compared to the Twin Cities 15 years ago. And it’s happening other places too – I’m in small town Iowa this weekend (where I came from before the Cities) and it’s a lot better here than it used to be, too.

      • Froggie August 10, 2014 at 10:22 am #

        Comparing Twin Cities cycling today to back when I grew up cycling all over 20-25 years ago, there has been a *HUGE* difference. Though the parkway systems were pretty well developed before then, the only bike lane I recall was along Summit Ave in St. Paul. Midtown Greenway was still a railroad (though cut off at Hiawatha…that happened early ’90s). There was a push to buy-out the Cedar Lake rail yard to save it from development (resulting in today’s Cedar Lake and Kenilworth bikeways). There was talk about adding bike lanes downtown (Hennepin, 3rd, and 4th) but I don’t recall if they were installed before I left. Where Minnehaha Pkwy met Hiawatha was a mess and the creek bikeway stopped short west of Hiawatha (at 36th Ave IIRC). Gateway Trail stopped at Arlington and didn’t extend past 694. Luce Line didn’t exist east of 494. Though the two Hennepin LRT trails west of Hopkins existed by then, the Big Rivers Trail and Bruce Vento Trail didn’t.

        All in all, a huge change, both on-road and off-road.

  4. Aaron Isaacs
    Aaron Isaacs August 5, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    The up-and-over movement at Co. Rd. 62 is to avoid a level railroad crossing. Obviously plenty of people are ignoring it and making their own path.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini August 5, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

      Thanks, Aaron. I’ve no doubt this is the case. But there is at least one other spot where the trail crosses train tracks (and more dangerous, the roads, IMO). Could it be because of property acquisition or right of way limitation?

      • Froggie August 5, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

        Legal requirements and limiting railroad liability (the railroads really don’t like new at-grade accesses across their tracks, whether public or not) probably played a factor as well.

        The narrow right-of-way plus track spacing/clear-zone requirements are why that desire path will likely never develop into anything more. The only possible option that I can see would be for a separate bike bridge over the railroad that’s a more direct path and not related to County 62. But the power lines that closely parallel the trail would make such a bridge option complicated.

        • Walker Angell
          Walker Angell August 6, 2014 at 3:07 am #

          I’m not familiar with this area, but would it make sense to go under? One major advantage to this is that the change in grade for bicycle riders is much less since they don’t need the height of trains or trucks. Cost difference between a culvert and bicycle specific bridge?

          • Froggie August 6, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

            Going below-grade isn’t really an option. Where the rail line and the path would cross is below-grade, in the cut of a hill. The water table is pretty high too…there’s a wetland immediately north of the “crossing” and a pond just to the east.

  5. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell August 6, 2014 at 3:10 am #

    Great article Alex. It’s really encouraging to see success stories like this. How much of your ride each way was on streets with traffic? Heavy traffic? Bike lanes? Segregated side paths?

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini August 6, 2014 at 8:50 am #

      Thanks, Walker!

      I know I came across a bit curmudgeonly regarding a few spots of the journey, but honestly it is so easy, relaxing, and safe. I spent 3/4 of a mile getting to the Greenway, and that’s it for street-riding. The rest if trail or segregated path along a highway/arterial.

      Based on the access points to the trail, this would be the case for most people, whether coming in to Minneapolis from a nearby suburb or doing a reverse commute, which is why I’m heavily advocating people give it a try (even on the weekends for recreation).

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell August 6, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

        Yes. Just getting people to even think about bicycling as an option to their car, bicycle mindshare, is critical. Hopefully as more people read articles like this, talk to someone who rides for transportation, see people riding in normal clothes to normal destinations, we’ll start to grab some of this mindshare.

        The ride from my house to St Paul (Summit Hill) takes me down Edgerton for a few miles on a shoulder then the Gateway trail. The worst part is from the end of the trail to Summit Hill and this has discouraged several people I’ve encouraged to ride. Hopefully the reconfiguration of the trail with the 35E project will fix some of the worst of it.

  6. Stacy August 6, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    I love stories like this. I’m still trying to get the courage to try my own commute on bicycle (unfortunately, my doesn’t coincide with a regional trail), and this is good motivation. Thanks!

    • Ron August 7, 2014 at 1:39 pm #

      Stacy,
      Google Maps – Bicycling usually shows safer routes in green. Pick a route and show it to someone who commutes by bike and they will be able to see if it makes sense or not.
      Have fun.

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