We Can Make A North Cedar Lake Trail Crossing Safer With Just Paint

A friend recently attempted a bit of tactical urbanism to make the North Cedar Lake Trail crossing at W 36th St in Saint Louis Park safer. The popular Cedar Lake Trail is closed and detoured to this section of the North Cedar Lake Trail, trail use has increased quite obviously here. He tweeted about it and how a city employee didn’t seem to appreciate his tiny effort at making the lives of trail users safer.

I biked to the streets.mn picnic at Boom Island which took me through this crossing right after reading his tweet so the unfortunate geometry, and unsafe distances and curves. It’s been like this for so many years I guess so many of us just accept how long we have had dangerous crossings, how hard it is in North America to get trail intersections to get equal considerations with street intersections.

Having been born in Saint Louis Park and lived in the Saint Louis Park and Hopkins area for nearly 40 years has meant seeing a lot of changes. Changes like the creation of Belt Line Boulevard, removing stoplights on TH 100, extending Louisiana Avenue south to Excelsior Blvd, and extending County Road 18 (now called US 169) to sever Mainstreet Hopkins from Excelsior Boulevard. But also the Rails to Trail projects that created the Cedar Lake Trail and North Cedar Lake Trail.

These Cedar Lake Trail crossings in Saint Louis Park and Hopkins have been dangerous and a source of controversy among cyclists. In four locations the Cedar Lake Trail crosses four- or five-lane roads at Belt Line Boulevard and Wooddale Avenue in Saint Louis Park, and Blake Road and 11th Avenue in Hopkins. Wooddale has since been reconfigured to a 2 lane road. With the SWLRT construction, the parallel Cedar Lake Trail will be reconstructed to go under Blake Road and Wooddale Avenue and go over Belt Line Boulevard. Grade separation will increase safety and speeds for drivers and people using the trail.

North Cedar Lake Trail has not had the quantity of dangerous crossing as the Cedar Lake Trail. But there are two that create anxiety and safety challenges to drivers and people using the trail. The North Cedar Lake Trail crossing at Virginia Avenue, and the North Cedar Lake Trail crossing at W36th Street. I’m going to stick with the crossing at W 36th Street.

First Some History

To know why the W 36th Street crossing is like it is today we need to go back at least to when Hennepin County created the freeway-style County Road 18. When County Road 18 was extended south to the western side of Saint Louis Park in the late ’60s early ’70s, it was connected to the then-thriving Knollwood shopping center where commuters would also be able to access the bustling industrial jobs along Blake Road and the rail corridor through Hopkins.

Here is an aerial image from about 1968 showing the freeway-style County Road 18 being built to connect to Knollwood and Blake Road.

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County Road 18 being connected to Knollwood

Connecting the freeway-style County Road 18 to Knollwood, Target, and Blake Road brought with it wide roads and widening of existing roads. By 1971 the area where the North Cedar Lake Trail would come in decades later would look like this.

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1971 Aerial image close up to the W 36th St crossing

By the early 1980s, County Road 18 would be extended south to connect to MN 62, where homes were cleared in Hopkins and Mainstreet was severed from Excelsior Blvd. But the wide four lane configuration of W 36th was left behind for us today.

Now

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The Knollwood area in 2018 showing the trail in orange in where the crossing is located

Knollwood entered a period of decline when Ridgedale and Eden Prairie Center were constructed giving people living further west shopping options closer to where they lived. The traffic amount for the streets affecting the trail crossing have plummeted far below 8,000 AADT. We see in 2018 W 36th carried 7,500 vehicles west of Aquila and 6,700 vehicles east of Aquila. We see Aquila carried only 6,200 vehicles for its four lanes of traffic.

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Traffic volumes on W 36th St. and Aquila Ave are well below 8,000 AADT today

7,500 in 2018 is a recent high point, in 2005–2007 W 36th was down around 6,100 vehicle per day. But it has been remarkably low traffic for so long. A city that put a higher value on bike safety and bike networks across the city would have done something with this excess road space.

I forget when it happened, but the city did repaint W 36th to the west of the trail crossing to remove a lane for vehicles and stripe in a bike lane. The result was a single lane for motor vehicles that is ridiculously wide leading to the obvious result of speeding drivers. Worse, because W 36th curves it means people using the trail who are trying to cross do not have sufficient visibility for oncoming traffic to try to cross effectively four lanes of pavement. Here are some Google Streetview screenshots to give you a sense of the trail crossing and the views users will have.

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Google Streetview of the North Cedar Lake Trail crossing at W 36th, looking west.

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Google Streetview of the North Cedar Lake Trail crossing at W 36th, looking east. Also showing the unsafe high-speed rounded corner for Philips Parkway.

Then, like a bolt of lightning that no one was prepared for, out of the blue with no warning, the Green Line Extension construction started, closing the Cedar Lake Trail and detouring all trail use to this stretch of North Cedar Lake Trail. A light rail line coming out this way was so sudden that … you get the sarcasm.

Maybe there is an aversion to changing streets and roads until they need full reconstruction. Whatever the reason is we end up with  infrastructure problems that last 40-50 years until we can completely rebuild the perfect replacement. Sometimes it means we don’t even try cheap temporary efforts like repainting or putting out traffic cones for a weekend.

I don’t think there is any case for keeping this stretch of W 36th Street and Aquila Avenue as far as W 37th Street as four lanes. W 37th is the main access to Target Knollwood.

I think there is a case for removing a lane in each direction and reusing that space for bike lanes.

  • Bike lanes here would fill in a necessary gap in the bike lanes on W 36th.
  • Bike lanes here on W 36th would link Knollwood to the regional bike trail.
  • More apartments are under construction down Philips Parkway, adding trail users.
  • An Aldi is under construction next to Target, bike lanes on W 36th would create a short safe connection from the affordable apartments by the school 4 blocks to the north and the shopping at Target and Aldi.
  • Buffered bike lanes on W 36th Street will effectively narrow the trail crossing making any crossing by trail users safer because they will have better visibility to oncoming traffic and it will be much shorter to cross.
  • Filling this bike lane gap goes a very long way to creating a superior Cedar Lake Trail detour than Minnetonka Blvd!

So I went and spent an evening doing some amateur sketching how we could just use paint and reconfigure W 36th Street for a safer North Cedar Lake Trail crossing and fill in the bike lane gap on W 36th.

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W 36th St buffered bike lane concept to fill the W 36th St. bike lane gap

 

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W 36th St buffered bike lane concept to shorten the North Cedar Lake Trail crossing

If I wanted to expand the just-paint-it concept to make better use of Aquila Avenue I’d make the southeast bound lane on Aquila into a two-way bike lake as far as W 37th Street. It would take a bit more engineering to complete a bike connection to the new Blake Road multi use trails. But 6,200 vehicles on Aquila Avenue is far below needing 4 lanes anymore.

Just paint. Let’s test it.

We have a multi-year major trail detour right now. How long will trail users have to wait for process to happen to make them safe?

We can start with paint. There are other next steps we can add when we decide it is worth making it more established, like planters in the buffer or bolting in parking curbs.

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13 Responses to We Can Make A North Cedar Lake Trail Crossing Safer With Just Paint

  1. Elizabeth Larey July 16, 2019 at 2:44 pm #

    One of the things I like the most about this blog is the history of what streets once were. Thanks for the informative article

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke July 16, 2019 at 2:47 pm #

      Same here!

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson July 16, 2019 at 3:34 pm #

      Thanks! You’ll sometimes catch me calling it County Road 18 every now and then.

    • Quinn Haberl July 16, 2019 at 6:44 pm #

      I agree. I think the history of when roads were built in the cities are very interesting.

  2. Sheldon Mains July 16, 2019 at 4:07 pm #

    The history is GREAT!

    Actually, the trail crossings in Hopkins are pretty good– not nasty sign about not being a crosswalk– and even a flashing yellow warning on 8th and a great connection to downtown. Regarding those obnoxious “Not a crosswalk, all users must stop” signs in SLP; I’ll admit that the state law could be interested that way. But all SLP needs to do is to paint the crossings as crosswalks. (In the case of the two that cross private driveways, they are crosswalks whether or not painted).

    • Jacob July 17, 2019 at 5:04 pm #

      Depends on the crossing. The Minnetonka regional trail crossing at 17th ave in Hopkins has one of those obnoxious “Not a crosswalk” signs. And I think there is one or two more, but I can’t think of them now.

      Yeah, I’ve used the crossing in the article many times, granted it’s usually not too hard to get across (not nearly as bad as the wooddale one), but with the increased traffic I agree that some paint would be good thing to try.

      Loved the history lesson, I like learning about my new home region.

  3. Nicole Salica
    Nicole Salica July 16, 2019 at 6:01 pm #

    Just Paint It™

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson July 16, 2019 at 6:41 pm #

      I thought about referencing the sort of work a similar-population Dutch city would have accomplished in 30- 20- 10-years. The comparison is fun but a Dutch city or similar population wouldn’t have the same quantity of miles of infrastructure they need to pay for.

      Plus Saint Louis Park has comparably only recently begun building out its Connect the Park program. Kind of impressive for a Minnesota suburb to year after year add sidewalks and bike routes.

      The sidewalk and bike routes cost money and each year’s Connect the Park area of focus is planned and budgeted a few years ahead. So I get that this has been neglected and that it will probably take the better part of a half-decade before something is done.

      I don’t think it has to be that long to happen, the trail detour makes this more urgent, and paint is pretty cheap.

  4. Eric Ecklund July 17, 2019 at 1:15 am #

    Off topic, but the rail corridor that is now the North Cedar Lake Trail was Burlington Northern’s Hopkins Spur which I believe wasn’t abandoned until the 70s. When the freight reroute controversy was still going on there was consideration (though I don’t know how serious) of rerouting freight trains on the Hopkins Spur instead of the St. Louis Park reroute.

    • Eric Anondson
      Eric Anondson July 17, 2019 at 6:58 am #

      Which freight reroute controversy? The freight reroute for SWLRT?

      • Matt Steele
        Matt Steele July 17, 2019 at 10:44 am #

        Yes. Originally the plan was to route TC&W trains north at St. Louis Park onto the Canadian Pacific (old Dan Patch) then east on the BNSF Wayzata Subdivision via “the iron traingle” just west of the West End Lifetime.

        The TC&W originally went east on the Greenway corridor and across the Short Line Bridge into St. Paul. This was the route of the Milwaukee Road freight mainline. The connection via Kenilworth (which was originally Minneapolis & St Louis Railway’s yard and approach to downtown) was only supposed to be temporary after MnDOT’s built that gross interchange at Lake and Hiawatha resulting in a disconnection of freight rails across Hiawatha Ave.

        But then St. Louis Park decided they didn’t want TC&W freights routed north after all, and put up a stink about it. And now we have a $100 million shallow tunnel as a “compromise.”

        Nick Magrino has some good background here: https://streets.mn/2014/08/08/a-southwest-light-rail-explainer/

        • Eric Anondson
          Eric Anondson July 17, 2019 at 11:39 am #

          I’m not sure if the Hopkins Spur behind Target was ever seriously considered because the right of way was redeveloped with large houses and apartments.

          You know, if they can fit apartments in that old rail ROW, they can fit apartments in the unoccupied space between Flag Ave and W 36th by the 169 on-ramp.

          • Eric Ecklund July 17, 2019 at 6:54 pm #

            Since they were proposing a giant berm through St. Louis Park as part of the reroute, the idea of rerouting to the Hopkins Spur may have been more serious than we think. Another crazy idea was rerouting on a long abandoned Milwaukee Road line from Cologne down to Chaska and across the river to Shakopee.

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