Building a Better Bloomington for Bicycles

A recent post reviewing Bloomington’s Four Lane Death Roads covered the benefits to bicyclists and pedestrians. To follow up, I’m expanding the topic to Bloomington’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in general. First up is a photo tour of some of the worst of Bloomington’s existing infrastructure.

A Photo Tour of The Worst of Bloomington’s Bike / Ped Infrastructure.

Isabella No

The Death Road Sidewalk

This illustrates three issues: Zero boulevard space between a 4-lane Death Road and a sidewalk, narrow sidewalks, and frequent street furniture and overgrown trees blocking what width there is. Note also the lack of protected bicycle infrastructure on a key east-west street.

Sidewalk by Death Road

Narrow sidewalk by a Four-Lane Death Road


The Bloomington Jog

Boulevard space varies widely from “none” to “enough play a soccer game” depending on standards in place at the time a road was constructed, and future plans to widen the street. It’s a nuisance to pedestrians to keep walking from side to side; frequently there are desire paths where the sidewalk jogs a huge distance from the street.

Sidewalk Jog

Boulevard or Soccer Field?


Where the Sidewalk Ends

Although thankfully uncommon, there are a few jarring examples of a sidewalk ending abrubtly at a property line. This is on 12th Ave.

Where the Sidewalk Ends

An Homage to Shel Silverstein


The Public-Private disconnect. 

In some places, there’s no logical way to get from public sidewalks to private sidewalks put in by developers. Here a new sidewalk built when the strip mall was remodeled for a Harbor Freight curves around ending at the corner of the parking lot; there’s no connection from the corner of the parking lot to the public sidewalk immediately adjacent to the street corner.

Harbor Freight

Harbor Freight Strip Mall – Portland & American

Another example, an overhead view from Google maps, is found at the townhouses at 98th Street and 3rd Ave.

3rd And 98th

Townhouses at 3rd Ave and 98th St.


The Alleged “Path”

Here’s a multi-use “path”, if you can call it that, on Old Shakopee Road. It’s only as wide as a narrow sidewalk and in pretty terrible condition.

Osr Trail

Old Shakopee Road “Trail”


The River Bottoms Mud Pits
I’ve covered the River Bottoms trail issue before (which came to the notice of trail opponents) so I won’t discuss this topic too much. Although the Minnesota Valley State Trail has been authorized since 1969, making the dream older than I am, the Bloomington segment, which should be a regional amenity along the lines of the Big Rivers or Minnehaha Creek Trails, is still nothing but mud pits and stinging nettles. Some some funding has finally materialized to build the Lyndale Ave to Old Cedar Ave segment, which will start next year.

A nice place for a family bicycle ride?


No Sidewalks at All.
Here’s a typical street. It’s Pleasant Ave, but it could be just about any street. There are no sidewalks, so pedestrians have to walk on either the street or the grass.

Img 1665

Not A Pleasant Avenue.

So how can we do better? More sidewalks would be nice, but we need something more than that: real protected bicycle infrastructure.

The Ultimate Goal: Shoulders Plus Multi-Use Paths (MUPs)

In the previous article I wrote about how great road diets were in many cases. But such a three lane road with shoulders is still limiting. Bicycling around Bloomington (which I rarely do because the infrastructure is so poor), I’m still stuck with the same sidewalks as when I was a kid. And as a kid we were taught the bicyclists were to use the sidewalk. We’d catch it at home if we ever got caught riding in the street if there was a sidewalk available, and I still have a key chain that a police officer gave me when he saw me riding on the sidewalk instead of the street at about age 8.

Even with the new shoulders, most children and adult bicyclists still use the sidewalks. At this point I’m sure people are going to cite statistics that it’s actually safer for bicyclists to be on the street than the sidewalk. I don’t want to get onto a tangent on that topic, but I’ll note that just because fear is incorrect or irrational doesn’t make it unreal, and that Bloomington has used its option of having a local ordinance override the state law. Bicycles are specifically allowed to use sidewalks in business districts in Bloomington, as well as where they’re allowed statewide in other areas.

Instead of just regular streets,  bicycle lanes and sidewalks, what we need are true curb protected bicycle paths: MUPS. Not lanes “protected” with a thin layer of paint or even plastic flim-flam sticks that look like they can be knocked over by breathing on them, to say nothing of a car, but paths separated by concrete and preferably by a boulevard too. Here too there’s also been progress. The flagship of these is the Nokomis-Minnesota River Regional Trail, going from the Grand Round over the Old Cedar Bridge. Very early plans south of Old Shakopee Road called for simply an unprotected lane going uphill, and a sharrow going downhill, but now it’s going to be a full off-road trail, requiring extensive engineering to implement. And rebuilding the trail along France Ave to modern standards will happen next year.

Here’s a map of the proposed system. Note the lack of a protected path where a lot of bicyclists might want to go, along Lyndale Ave. Also note the proposed trails where the railroads are now. It’s not like railroads are keen on sharing, but the east-west line through the city sees one train of a couple of cars a day so even as a short-line railroad one questions how long it will be financially viable.

Bloomington Trails 2

When Portland Ave gets completely reconstructed it will still not have a protected path like in Richfield. Outrages like the Best Buy headquarters that destroyed close to a hundred irreplaceable affordable houses are a thing of the past. But Bloomington won’t even do acquisitions of small strips of property for clear transportation purposes.

The Best of Bloomington Bicycle Infrastructure Isabella Yes

Here’s a few photos of the best of Bloomington’s bicycle infrastructure. Although the Old Cedar Ave bridge is currently closed, construction on the trailhead and reconstructing the street, although delayed by the weather, is ending the home stretch and it should reopen by the end of fall.

Hyland Trail 1

Hyland Park Trail

Hyland Trail 2

Hyland Park Trail

Nokomis Minnesota River Trail

Nokomis-Minnesota River Regional Trail.

14608694 10154699968314875 7278928296407388354 O

Old Cedar Ave Bridge


Build it for Isabella

Here are two graphics I like, the “Four Types of Transportation Cyclists” and “build it for Isabella”.
4 Types Of Cyclists Orange2

The first is a graphic focused on bicycling for transportation purposes, although I’d expect similar ratios to apply to recreational bicyclists. Not many people in Bloomington can bicycle to their job, and of course our weather is much harsher than Portland. But it’s still illustrative and we do have some nice weather and bicycling down to Taco Bell instead of taking a car still counts as transportation. 33% of people aren’t going to consider taking a bicycle, no matter what. Another 1% would no matter what, even at the height of the death road era in Bloomington. The 7% enthused and confident are who the new unprotected on-street lanes are for. Build protected infrastructure and you’ve picked up a whopping additional 60%.

The second graphic is the idea that we should build bicycle infrastructure that anyone could use, even a 12-year old. Painted on-street lanes just feet from zooming cars doesn’t qualify. This graphic and the two previous icons comes from PeopleForBikes. Their Green Lane project advocates building true protected bicycle lanes. Build bike infrastructure a 12-year old can use and many more adults will ride too.

Ultimately I’m proud of the progress my city has made so far, but there’s so much more that can be done. We need to build protected bicycle infrastructure for Isabella and everyone. 

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.

23 thoughts on “Building a Better Bloomington for Bicycles

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I’m sure you’ve made this point, but Bloomington officials just need to copy Richfield. The new stretch of Portland, featuring a road diet, has sidewalk on one side, on-street bike lanes (not merely shoulders) in each direction and a MUP on the otherside. 76th is the same for bikes and peds.

    I sometimes feels like overkill when I’m biking there and there isn’t any traffic, but, as you say, Isabella could bike or walk on the MUP, and it’s not all that much more than a sidewalk, which both sides of the street should have anyway.

  2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I am so glad to see documentation of “the Bloomington jog”. Many of these items are common throughout the region. The Bloomington jog (along with the Bloomington right) is a distinctly Bloomington… thing.

    My best guess is that they are doing to reserve future right-of-way for roadway expansion, it being easier to get it when a new development is being platted than later. But it leads to wildly incongruous sidewalks, and really inconvenient paths. Sometimes there are multiple parallel sidewalks, and one of them dead ends (but which one? you’ll find out soon!).

    I am surprised you did not mention the Bloomington right as a barrier to walking and biking. Although they certainly aren’t the only city to use it, they use it far more than any other city in the metro. Even, exceptionally, at some stop-controlled locations.Here is a free right and “on-ramp” acceleration lane” to get from SB Nicollet to WB 95th. AADT of 95th is 3000, and speed limit is 30. What purpose does this serve?

    For bicyclists in particular, the use of the Bloomington right makes road crossings more difficult. If you are riding on the right-hand side MUP, you need to do almost a 180-degree turn to see cars entering the free right behind you before crossing to the porkchop refuge island. If there are multiple bikes crossing at once, the refuge islands get crowded quickly, especially with new APS push button stub posts.

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      I was intending to mention the reason for the jogs in article, but forgot. Bloomington seemed to have the idea that 1) Most of the streets were going to be widened, and when that happened if they built the sidewalk back far enough they wouldn’t be redoing the sidewalk at the same time, and 2) simply different standards at different times.

      As for pork chops, although it’s true most of them aren’t even close to justified based on geometrics or traffic volumes I actually don’t find them that objectionable on a bicycle since they shorten the distance you have to cross the main road, and one of the motorists you cross in front of is unlikely to be trying to make a right turn on red.

  3. Eric Ecklund

    Just a few points:

    -I think its an understatement to say the east-west rail line only has a train with a couple cars per day. Based off where the train drops off/picks up cars on the west side of Bloomington from Canadian Pacific, then the train can be 5-15 cars long. Its not a major operation, but unless we have their financial data (which we can’t because they don’t have to release that information) we don’t know for sure.

    -I’ve said this before and I’ll continue to say it, let’s not assume the railroad will abandon these routes and we can swoop in and build a trail. Let’s focus on improving the pedestrian infrastructure along streets.

    -The Minnesota River isn’t a place people need to go to. As mentioned in that graphic, Isabella wants to bike to school, the library, and the ice cream shop. Is building the Minnesota River Trail, which will be unusable for parts of the year, taking away money that could be used to improve pedestrian infrastructure in places where people need to go?

    1. Monte Castleman Post author

      Well, technically people don’t *need* to go to the ice cream shop either. Although the Green Lanes project really isn’t about recreational bicycle riding as opposed to getting to school or an ice cream shop, it’s not a stretch to think Isabella might want to go riding just for fun. West Bloomington has Hyland Park, but there’s essentially nothing on the east side of the city. I grew up slightly more than a mile from the river bottoms, but there was no way myself or any other kids I knew were going to take one of our 10 speeds down there.

    2. Mike

      River bottoms as a paved trail is a terrible idea for all the reasons that have been discussed publicly for a while. It’s a shame to lose a true “natural” area for a misguided access plan which will ultimately be proved unsatisfying due to washout and other things that happen when you hang out near the bottom of a river.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        Say what you will about whether it is preferable or not — I am really tiring of the armchair engineering about how the river bottoms flood. Yes, they flood. This is a factor known to the people actually designing this trail and estimating its cost. The ability for humankind to build a paved surface over a wet or unstable soil is something that we mastered centuries ago.

        If it’s a bad idea — fine, say that you think that. But stop acting like proponents and engineers have not considered this issue.

        1. Brian

          If civilization mastered putting pavement over wet or unstable soil centuries ago how come so many highways in southern states built on wet/unstable soil are failing?

        2. Scot Gore

          This isn’t an arm chair assessment. The paved portion of this trail south of the Ferry Bridge washed out the first flood season it was there. Remained as an unpaved patch for a few years, got fixed and subsequently washed out again and has remained an unpaved patch for years now. It’s a demonstrable fact that paved trails don’t hold up in precisely the place they want to build it.

          1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

            Again I would point to Lilydale as a counter example. the paved trail has held up fairly well, I’d argue, even in difficult and frequently flooded place.

            Personally, I’m against paving the trail because I like the river bottoms and I can think of better uses for the money. I’m just saying that engineering should not be the justification here.

        3. Mike

          good point – engineers have never been mistaken about a project, so because they have thought about it I’m sure it will work perfectly.

          -another engineer

        4. Eric Ecklund

          The problem isn’t just if the trails will buckle after flooding. There’s the fact that the trails can’t be used when they’re underwater. If these trails aren’t being plowed in the winter, then the trails won’t be usable for around half the year. Does that sound like a good investment?

  4. Cole Peyton

    This is perhaps the most dangerous kind of content on the internet for the average casual reader. Presented as unbiased documentation, this article is anything but. This entire website is paid for by special interest and lobbyist money but nowhere is that disclosed. In fact the About Us intentionally skirts around the subject.

    Along the entire river bottoms the ground regularly washes out, trees fall and debris piles up quickly. And your idea is that we should pave that so that 12 year olds can bike it? Do these trails have special fallen tree forcefields? Are they installing raised paths with pilons into the bedrock? No, you want to pave it and walk away while it goes to crap and becomes unusable over the next 10 years and the landscape is forever scarred with your hubris.

    The tone of your writing makes it sound obvious that we should tear up every street and trail and pave it again. I wonder why that is. Perhaps because there is money in it for you?

    1. Eric Ecklund

      I’m against the river bottoms trail as much as you, but I think its a stretch to call this a conspiracy.

      We don’t need to rebuild every street and trail in this city, but we need a massive overhaul if Bloomington ever wants to come close to being considered bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

    2. Julie Kosbab

      Hi Cole. is a “public charity” exempt from Federal income tax under 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions are deductible under section 170 of the Code. We are nearly wholly funded by our readers. Most of our donations are in $5 and $10 amounts.

      Our page covers these topics.

    3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      All writers are volunteers and writing as individuals. If Monte has any interest in paving the flats (other than as an potential trail user), policy requires him to disclose that. I rather doubt there’s any money in it for him.

      Frankly, the most dangerous content the internet is likely that which alleges conspiracy with no basis.

      Full disclosure: I have no opinion on whether paved trails should be added to the flats, although I’d probably use them once a year or so if they were.

      1. Mike

        Let’s see what type of interest someone could have.

        Besides being the actual paving company (or the company that re-paves every year or so) maybe he’s planning to setup a concession at the trailhead to hose down bikes and riders who head down the trail unaware it’s flooded and muddy and who return to their cars too dirty to leave. It could be a goldmine!

  5. Ben

    E78th street between Portland and 12th could really use a path of some kind for folks walking from walmart to their apartments on the other side of 494. Though it might lead to a larger pile up of shopping carts on 12th, lol.

Comments are closed.