Sidewalk by Death Road

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.

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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.