The implementation of Saint Paul’s Grand Round has only just begun, and even Minneapolis’ well established and beloved Grand Rounds is still missing a final segment. A pragmatic person might say that now is not the time to consider a metro-wide, bicycle ring road to serve as the cycling equivalent of I-694/494.
But what if it largely already existed, and we just had to recognize it and fill in the gaps?
On this map, green lines represent regional trails that are already built. Blue lines represent roads with wide, suburban style sidewalks that might already meet regional trail standards, or could be upgraded to regional trail standards in the future without significant additional work or funding. The orange line represents the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail, not yet complete but currently under construction and expected to be “substantially complete” by 2018.
Is a metro wide loop necessary? The traffic volume on our freeway loops is one indicator that it is – that’s a lot of traffic that might be willing to commute by bike, but has no decent suburb-to-suburb bike connections. As someone in Saint Louis Park with a job in Golden Valley, the roads with painted bike lanes aren’t very attractive when paired with wide lanes and cars rushing along arterial roads to avoid freeway traffic. But where the right of way is wide enough for eight foot sidewalks, there might as well be striping and bicycle wayfinding. And the major reason why the freeway ring roads are convenient to drivers (direct suburb connections) are just as valid to people on bikes.
The current missing segments from this system are short, odd segments. It’s hard to imagine they’d be filled without the system being identified as an asset and those missing links prioritized by local communities. The difficulty, as opposed to the Minneapolis or St. Paul systems, is this system doesn’t reside in one city, one park district, or even one county. The designation of the “Grander Rounds” would have to come at a higher level, such as MNDOT or the Met Council, and the process of making the collection of existing trails into one cohesive route would be a long one. But with a large stretch of the system already existing, it seems like it’s an idea worth considering.