Me with the sibkid on the tag-along.

Fix the One-Way Trails, Please

Me with the sibkid on the tag-along.

Me with the sibkid on the tag-along.

My 7-year-old sibkid “K” spent a week with me in the Big City so she could go to day camp. I registered K at a “nearby” program (that K loved). But Lake Harriet Upper Elementary School isn’t THAT nearby.

I’d hoped we could practice riding bikes initially, as K is still working on that skill, but approximately 5 miles is WAY further than the 50 yards that are still tough to eek out on K’s own bike, so I snagged a tag-along bike to extend our range.

Here is the route Google Maps recommended -- both directions. Note the difference in distance by side of lake.

Here is the route Google Maps recommended — both directions. Red arrows denote one-way trails along the routes. Note the difference in distance by side of lake, circled in blue.

The day before camp, I got bike directions on Google maps. I instantly realized… Google was sending me the wrong way on the one-way trail around Lake Harriet on the way there, AND the wrong way on the one-way trail around Bde Maka Ska (the middle one) and Lake of the Isles on the way home. None of these parkways even has a bike lane painted for people who need to bike counterclockwise.

Riding by myself, the extra mile each way is no big deal – the extra distance would add joy to my day. However, hauling K on the tag-along, given the wobbly/distracted balance and the extra 70 pounds and inconsistent pedaling, is mildly nerve-wracking when I’m not so used to hauling her.

I had three choices:

  1. ride the wrong way on the trail (a personal pet peeve),
  2. ride the extra mile, or
  3. take the parkway lane.

On the way south, I chose to take the parkway lane. The traffic is usually fairly light, and at 9 a.m. any rush-hour impatience is usually history. But it left me nervous, as there were always a few cars and the two of us traveled more slowly than I usually do when taking a lane. You never know when someone will try to squeeze by, despite the lack of space.

I grudgingly chose the long way around Bda Maka Ska on the way home. The parkway on the east side of that lake is hectic, and it forces you through the nightmare merging intersection of of the parkway/Lake/Lagoon.

When we got to Lake of the Isles, I chose option 4 for the route home: every day I found a different destination so I didn’t have to navigate around Isles. One day, we took the Midtown Greenway to a park. Another day, we rented a canoe for an afternoon paddle. You get the idea. One extra mile was enough for both of us.

Best I can tell, the MPRB commissioners assert the trails are “a recreational bike path system and not a commuter system.” Watching the MPRB Citizen Advisory Committee to the Calhoun-Harriet Master Plan members, the majority seem to strongly agree. They even claim “environmental” reasons while being blind to more egregious environmental stormwater and carbon offenders of streets and cars. (See section f. pp4-5 of these committee notes for additional detail.)

This blindness, on the part of the MPRB and of Minneapolis’ park-watchers, averts discussions of how to ensure they serve park users’ needs. For K and me, trying to access an elementary school, it meant they were adding uncomfortable miles to our route, preventing us from safely getting home, and forcing us to mix with drivers who wished we were elsewhere.

It’s time to make space for people biking in both directions.


The red highlights the hairpin turns. The blue shows the route we took.

The red highlights the hairpin turns. The blue shows the route we took.

Post Script: I noticed other ways the trails don’t work so well for those with less-than-practiced biking skills or unwieldy bike steeds.

There is a challenging uphill double hairpin turn heading south along the Isles/Bde Maka Ska channel, exiting the tunnel (circled in red at right). The last bend also requires yielding to riders coming downhill from the west. There was no way K and I were going to make that hill climb + hairpin turns, so I opted to ride on the walking trail and across a swath of sidewalk (in blue) to get back to the bike trail — where we belonged! We simply couldn’t manage the technicalities safely, so we didn’t.

I want to “follow the rules” and be a respectful rider so others know what to expect of me, my bike, and my riding crew. But to do, that MPRB needs to design trails that are ridable by us, and that don’t send us 20% further than the direct route.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

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