As part of the SWLRT construction, the Cedar Lake Trail is now closed between Hopkins and Minneapolis. For two to three years.
Never fear, there is a detour. Let’s take a look at it.
These detours certainly get a cyclist from one side of the closure to the other. The portion I’m focused on—between Hopkins and France Avenue along Minnetonka Boulevard—is 5.8 miles. The closed portion of trail is 3.6 miles. The detour is 2.2 miles longer—60%. An 18 minute trip will now take 30 minutes, and that’s assuming your goal was simply to pass through from one end of the closure to the other.
I would note that there are some aspects of the detour that are unclear on the SWLRT official map. For example: it’s not clear how riders will get from this point along Toledo Avenue South onto Minnetonka Boulevard.
Will trail users be provided more than wayfinding signs to navigate this smoothly and safely? Especially since the portion of Minnetonka Boulevard east of Lake Street in that image are not designated to be bikeways (West of that point, in satellite images the “designated bike lanes” identified by the SWLRT map appear to be shoulders.)
Moreover, people use the Cedar Lake Trail for more than passing through. As someone who has relied on the Cedar Lake Trail as a transportation corridor to go to a point between the two end points of this closure and south of the trail this alternative route is even worse than that.
I need to get here:
A point just 0.5 miles south of the trail, and 2.8 miles from the Minneapolis side of the closure. Entertaining briefly the idea that I would take the detour and then bike back to my destination up Excelsior Boulevard, my detour would be 7 miles, for what is ordinarily a 2.8 mile route segment. I’m not going to use it. It isn’t a real alternative. (And if you’re looking at whether I should turn south off Minnetonka Blvd. on Louisiana Ave., Louisiana Ave. is not a designated bike route.)
The planned detour smacks of a “solution” that does the bare minimum (putting up detour signs) for one specific use case (going from one end of the closure to the other) after thinking very narrowly about both the problem and the solution space. It provides uses like mine with effectively no real planned alternative. Destinations and trail users between the two ends of the closure, especially south of the trail, were not seemingly considered as part of the planned detour.
Fortunately, there is a ready, obvious, low-cost (in the context of the entire budget of SWLRT) solution available and waiting to be implemented. As a bonus, it is apparently the unspoken, intended solution for reaching these points south of the trail: Bike on Excelsior Boulevard. That is to say, you are either expected to bike on Excelsior Boulevard to get to and from these neglected destinations, or not bike at all.
Project planners should provide a route alternative that functions more like the route that’s being replaced, and using Excelsior Boulevard is an easy way to accomplish that. But “bike on Excelsior Boulevard,” by itself, is not a plan. In Excelsior Boulevard’s current configuration it’s effectively volunteering for vehicular homicide, or a decision to shut down certain bike trips entirely for two to three years.
Here is a plan: temporarily take part of the Excelsior Boulevard right of way, protect it with jersey barriers, and create a protected Bikeway during the closure.
Excelsior Boulevard parallels this stretch of the trail, is near to both ends of the closure for easy routing on to and off of the detour, and can continue to function to carry automobile traffic even if some of it is given, temporarily and over this 3.6 mile stretch, to bikes and other trail users. I’m ready and willing to bike on Excelsior Blvd. to get to where I need to go. I just want to be able to do it safely.
Put up some jersey barriers to protect one lane of Excelsior Boulevard and use it to provide users of the Cedar Lake Trail a genuine, useful substitute. The already-planned scenic detour can be kept as well. One detour for north of the trail, and one for south.
This proposal also ensures that the pain of closing 3.6 miles of trail for two to three years (really, they couldn’t have phased work in that portion or planned for shorter, targeted closures?) is seen and shared by all transportation modes. If you’re going to close a transportation corridor for years, we shouldn’t be sparing automobile users from experiencing some of that loss.
The right of way on Excelsior Boulevard belongs to all of us. We should put some of it to an important use during this significant, region-wide construction project, spread out the discomfort of this significant closure, and fix this bare-minimum, deficient bike detour. Everyone should share in the necessary compromises.
Causing car drivers to share some of the pain could also motivate project planners to value more highly the burdens being placed on cyclists and other trail users for this planned closure. And, possibly, motivate them to reconsider their choice not to exercise more thought about whether and how long to close a major transportation corridor with a bare-bones alternative just because the users are considered less important, and to have unlimited, less-valuable time.
Finally, if your objection to this proposal is that it would cause automobile congestion on Excelsior Blvd., there’s no reason some of those road users can’t go up to Minnetonka Blvd. (or Highway 7) as an alternative.
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