Ramsey County is replacing the concrete roadway and catch basins along Shepard Road between Randolph Avenue and Warner Road through the end of June. As part of this project they are replacing the pedestrian ramps with accessible ramps. This is great. The current ramps have a sizable lip that is jarring when you bicycle over them and are difficult to navigate in a wheel chair.
I discovered this the hard way, however. Biking home along Shepard Road I came across this:
Trail closed. No detour or pedestrian/bike access. Just closed. As I stopped to take that picture eight bicyclists passed. Most navigated through by biking on Shepard Road between the tall, thin cones and the wider ones. Others went to the right, behind the work vehicles.
Then the next day I ran into this at Eagle Street:
And then, this the next morning at Randolph Avenue:
None of these sudden closures had pedestrian or bike detours or access. None had warning prior to the closure to avoid the trail. I met a panicky bicyclist, biking to work for the first time that day. She had mapped a route along Shepard Road to Randolph Avenue to the Jefferson Avenue bike boulevard, but was not familiar with the side roads. She was about to bike back downtown and call for a ride when I met her. I was going the same direction so I led her to Jefferson Avenue.
Shepard Road is a bit difficult because once you are on it, there are very few other options. It is similar to an interstate, with on and off ramps and nowhere to go in between. These closures are akin to closing I-94 100 feet before Snelling Avenue off ramp with no warning, leaving drivers to turn around and drive on the shoulder back to the last exit.
After several people emailed the project manager, the County instructed the contractor to make sure a temporary pedestrian access is installed. Hopefully it will be soon.
This situation, however, illustrates how public works departments tend to think about pedestrians and bicyclists – as afterthoughts. The project information on the County website mentions detours for motor vehicles, but makes no mention of bicycles and pedestrians despite this being a heavily used trail. It is unthinkable that a major road used by motor vehicles would simply be closed, but bicyclists are used to this as a matter of course. My first thought when I came across this was not anger or frustration, only resignation.
The mission of Ramsey County’s Countywide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan is to “Improve the overall quality of life for all by creating a community where it is easy to walk and bike, engage in physical activity, access resources, enjoy nature and interact with others.” If the County is serious about this, bicycles and pedestrians cannot be just an afterthought. Project plans need to address alternative access during construction before the work begins. All closures need to be signed in advance of the closure so users can plan ahead. Access issues like detours and temporary access during construction is critical.