Share The Pain: SWLRT Related Trail Closure

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SWLRT Construction’s massive transportation impact

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.

Trail Closure And Detour

Official SWLRT Trail closure and detour map

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.

Minnetonka Blvd

SWLRT Detour at Toledo Ave. and Minnetonka Blvd.

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:

Detour Distance

The Official Cedar Lake Trail detour, and where a trail user might want to go.

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.

Christa M

About Christa M

Attorney. I do law stuff, ride bikes, and paint murals. Member of Hourcar & Nice Ride, and customer of Freewheel Bike and The Hub Bike Co-op.

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24 thoughts on “Share The Pain: SWLRT Related Trail Closure

  1. Kyle Olson

    I like your proposed solution a lot. It’s an important trail and it’s really a shame that it is going to be shut down for so long.

    What I can’t figure out is why the trail needs to be closed for the full three years of construction? I’m no expert in construction staging, so maybe I’m just blowing smoke here, but surely there will not be so much going on every single day for the whole time that the trail (or even a temporary asphalt trail next to the construction site) couldn’t be used for much of those three years.

    Alas, since it appears that is the reality, we should expect a better detour.

    1. Dave Carlson

      The original plan was to keep all or most of the Cedar Lake Trail open during LRT construction. But budget cuts seemed to be the primary factor in changing that and the contractor was worried about liability and safety, and I believe efficient access and staging for equipment and workers was also at play. Plus, at least a good portion of the trail will be moved or reconstructed as the LRT tracks are squeezed in with the existing freight rail operations. The trail is supposed to be restored similar to the existing conditions (12′ width) with the very desired addition of a trail bridge over Beltline Blvd. and tunnels under Wooddale and Blake Road. I’d like to see the addition of separated pedestrian facilities (a parallel sidewalk to the bike trail (especially near the transit stations) as this trail will become even more popular in the future.

      I helped look at possible detour routes and there were no easy or logical options. Hennepin County has recently enhanced the bike lanes along Minnetonka Blvd. The continued access at France Ave. connecting to the Midtown Greenway was sort of a compromise to allow trail users some kind of access to that trail. The North Cedar Lake Trail provides a good alternative to downtown Minneapolis from Hopkins and western St. Louis Park (although the area of the Cedar Lake Trail near Glenwood will also be closed due to a new bridge construction). 28th Street also has relatively new bike lanes or sharrows from Virginia (and the trail crossing) east to almost Hwy. 100 and is less busy than Minnetonka Blvd.

      1. Christa MChrista Moseng Post author

        In a way, I think this comment confirms my basic thesis, which is that the social cost of the trail closure was undervalued.

        Closing the trail entirely for two to three years is viewed as a cost savings precisely because it wasn’t properly valued. The true cost of the closure is, I would argue, equal to that of the adequate substitute (taking a lane of Excelsior Blvd.).

        Undervaluing the trail happened because the responsible authorities are permitted to cobble together whatever inferior substitute (“no easy or logical options”) could be found for as low a cost as possible, and the losses will all be hidden from view and unmeasured.

        I imagine there will be no effort to quantify the lost and displaced trail usage, or increased use of other, costlier and less sustainable modes, so there will be no way to establish that the true cost of the inferior “cheaper” substitute actually just created a lot of externalized costs and lost value that will never be accounted for.

        1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

          This is very well put. Cost / contractor convenience should not supersede more important aspects like sustainable transportation and safety.

          1. Lou Miranda

            Agreed. I live south of the trail in this area. The workaround is simply unworkable. And unforgivable.

  2. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    As ticked off as I am at the Minneapolis Parks and Rec Board for ditching proposals for trails along Excelsior Blvd and at Hennepin county for pushing off and off and off the modernizing Excelsior Blvd between Blake Rd and Louisiana Ave (leaving it with substandard or nonexistent sidewalks/trails) I think closing off a whole lane of traffic along the entire route would have problems and be very controversial where there is on street parking allowed.

    There was a post a few years back after a cyclist was driven over and killed, I think by Adam Froehlig, making a great case that Excelsior between France Ave to Lake St have traffic counts (15,000 per day) that could be served with a 4 to 3 conversion.

    That was three years ago. It is really disappointing that that death plus SWLRT shutting trail use for years, that Minneapolis and Hennepin county didn’t accelerate such a 4 to 3 conversion of this death road section. We had 3 years to do it and be ready for today. A short-lived 4 to 3 conversion through Minikahda would work.

    I’m in Hopkins and I’ve used the trail to get to destinations in Saint Louis Park near the Walker-Lake district or to near 36th and Wooddale. For a route to get closer to those coming from the west, I’ve pointed some to taking North Cedar Lake trail/36th/Walker. It has traffic volumes far lower than Minnetonka and much much lower than Excelsior… it has lanes along most of it and the parts that don’t have lanes generally are wide enough to be on the side. Disadvantage is that if I wanted to continue into Minneapolis it still zigs through the moronic Bass Lake trail route that adds so much extra time and distance.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Seems like something like this would also create even more backlash against new transit and bicycle lanes / trails in the suburbs than there already is. For the record I’m generally in favor of 4-3 conversions (as well as these light rail projects), but you’d think they sky was falling when Portland, AADT well under 10,000, was converted. Just waiting to hear the reaction on Facebook when Nicollet gets done in the next few weeks.

      Although quite a few people were actually supportive of the Portland project, anything that inconveniences motorists as much as taking a lane away from them on Excelsior (AADT over 20,000) might well cause people on the fence or mildly supportive to turn against new proposed bicycle infrastructure and transit projects.

      Having said that these detours need to be better thought out than they are. MnDOT closed the Hastings bridge sidewalk (the only bridge between downtown St. Paul and Red Wing for no good reason (it wasn’t directly impacted by the construction) for the duration of the project.

      1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

        There would be outrage because reducing lanes to what’s just necessary always does.

        However there might be unexpected allies. The neighborhoods of Minikahda Vista, Minikahda Oaks, Browndale, and Excelsior and Grand have loudly complained that traffic from Minneapolis through to points west have been so burdensome as to be a reason to prevent new residents along Excelsior in SLP. A narrowing to Excelsior through Minikahda Golf Club would be a purposeful signal that if you want to drive through SLP then County 25 makes more sense instead of the commercial street lined with apartments and shops.

        I know there is a lot of call to target County 25 for freeway removal, but if we’re going to keep County 25 as freeway design then I feel like incentivizing Minneapolis’ drivers using Minnetonka Blvd or Excelsior Blvd as through routes to prioritize through-driving over on the freeway instead then helps us make Excelsior and Minnetonka safer for the residents lining it.

        1. Brian

          Drivers will take whatever route gets them to their destination fastest. I don’t live or drive anywhere near County 25, but I presume it is probably congested during rush hour. Drivers probably are not seeking alternate routes because they like the scenery better.

          1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            One would think that, but it doesn’t take much observation to see drivers using direct routes over faster routes, especially in the city.

      2. Lou Miranda

        All that an ADT of 20,000 represents is that we have 10,000 too many cars using this route.

        We should not make it easy for cars to drive places, and then claim the “demand” (which is really just “usage”) forces us to keep up the multiple lanes.

        We need to design our infrastructure for our goals, not based on “demand”. In the age of climate change, we should convert one lane of Excelsior Blvd. in each direction to a bike lane. Motorists will adapt.

  3. Dave Carlson

    Reply to Christa Moseng re: Toldeo Avenue:
    The map you show in the article is several years old and out of date… the Hwy. 100/Minnetonka Blvd. intersection and bridge have been completely rebuilt. The new bridge has 6′ bike lanes in each direction on Minnetonka Blvd. and there is a trail built along the noise wall that goes south (along Hwy. 100) from the SE corner of that intersection. That trail swings around to the SE and eventually crosses over Hwy. 25/7 on a bike/ped bridge to Beltline Blvd. in the vicinity of where the Cedar Lake Trail now intersects. The detour continues south on Beltline and then around the north end of Bass Lake and joins up with France Avenue north to the trail. The detour is pretty well signed at each turn.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Good point about the Minnetonka bridge. Apple’s Maps shows the updated design. As does mapquest. It is pretty nicely connected, it’s just a significant zig and zag.

      Minnetonka east of Raleigh has vehicle counts low enough we could have done a 4 lane death road conversion to 3 lanes and fit SWLRT detour lanes alongside.

      1. Dave Carlson

        I believe St. Louis Park and Hennepin County are studying Minnetonka Blvd. between Hwy. 100 and the intersection with Hwy. 25/France Avenue to see if a 4-to-3 lane conversion with bike lanes is feasible. There currently is no parking along this stretch so that would not be a factor (or controversy!). But any changes will, alas, probably be sometime after the LRT construction…

  4. Brian

    If we should convert part of a road to a bike path due to the bike path closing does that also mean that motorized traffic can use a bike path when a road is closed?

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Bike routes are driven on and parked in today and there isn’t a shortage or closures of routes for motor vehicles. So we got that going for us.

      1. Brian

        I wasn’t really being serious about cars on bike trails.

        There are huge shortages of roads for cars right now. About 50% of 35W from Forest Lake to Burnsville is under construction right now with lane closures all over. There are probably 100,000+ commuters affected every day by this.

        I am glad I take the bus to avoid the 35W mess from Roseville to Lino Lakes. Metro Transit has come up with alternate routes for buses that save time by using the shoulders. Regular cars don’t really save any time taking alternate routes. It was taking twice as long as normal for the bus to get home using 35W.

        35W will get worse because the lane closures are not all in effect yet.

          1. Brian

            I am specifically talking here about bike trails, not bike lanes. I already mentioned I was never serious about cars using bike trails for detours.

  5. Eric Ecklund

    Good thing I only used Cedar Lake Trail for recreation (I’m a Bloomington resident), so my detour is just recreational biking on the North Cedar Lake Trail or any other trail instead.

    However, your idea makes sense. Unfortunately for the county and cities they can’t fathom giving walkers and bikers a real alternative route. We can’t even get proper pedestrian crossings on county roads in Bloomington, but that’s a rant for another day.

    I knew there had to be people who use Cedar Lake Trail to reach actual destinations, but it appears the powers that be have assumed everyone who uses Cedar Lake Trail is just using it for recreation or their destination is conveniently along the detour route.

  6. JMColby

    “The planned detour smacks of a “solution” that does the bare minimum…” Welcome to the world of SWLRT planning and community relations.

    Please note the trails between the Greenway and Cedar Lake Trail in Minneapolis (Kenilworth) were at risk of not being replaced after construction. People had to organize and advocate to save the trails, and were sometimes maligned for doing so. Even if shared street lanes are protected, single-use bikeways are much safer, more effective, and more pleasant. People are still using the trail, and I suspect they will continue to do so until there’s a real reason not to.

  7. Lynne

    I ride out to Excelsior on the trails and limestone (prefer that to the north/south cedar lake/greenway loops as it has far fewer road crossings and is much more bike friendly). Since I live in the Excelsior and Grand area south of the trail and almost directly off of Excelsior, I’m not seeing a viable option to get to the limestone in Hopkins other than Excelsior. There is no viable route to get to the limestone without adding a large amount of mileage and a whole lot of street crossings.

    Even the smallest concession of requiring vehicles to stop for the numerous road crossings between Louisiana and The Depot on the North Cedar Lake trail is too much to ask, apparently. I feel fairly certain that at least on weekends the seasonal trail use in that area matches or exceeds vehicle use of the residential roads it crosses, but don’t quote me on that.

    Nothing demonstrates your commitment to public transportation and reducing single vehicle usage like placing the entire burden of construction on cyclists and trail users vs the single vehicles.

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