Fremont Bridge Closure Caps off Crappy Season for Minneapolis Bike Trails

Construction rubble on the Greenway at Fremont

Photo courtesy of Matt Decuir

If you’ve ridden the Midtown Greenway through Uptown in the past month, you’ve probably noticed that it’s closed for reconstruction of the Fremont Ave Bridge. The closure began August 28th and is predicted to last 10 or 11 weeks, which if you’re counting, takes it through the end of the fair-weather biking season.

The Fremont bridge has been closed to vehicle traffic since it was deemed structurally unsound in 2016. The primary goal of this reconstruction project is to rehabilitate the bridge so it can be reopened to vehicles (something that we’ve demonstrably been just fine without for three years, but okay). The project announcements also promise improvements to the trail surface and lighting, but the project renderings don’t contain any details about what those will be. In addition to the bridge work, a water main running next to it is being replaced, and it’s this replacement that is responsible for most of the long duration of the Greenway closure.

Hennepin County is in charge of the project, and to their credit, they did a pretty good job of planning for the impacts of this closure (unlike Centerpoint’s botched job). They communicated details well in advance, and have planned and signed a proper detour, including re-striping the bike lane on 28th to accommodate two-way traffic. They responded when I reached out to them and did their best to provide answers to the clarifying questions I asked. They formed an advisory group in advance of the closure, although this is where their planning came up short—communication with the advisory group apparently failed to factor in the water main work, leading to a last-minute change of plans from a couple short, low-impact trail closures to an 11-week full closure.

Is it still a bike path if no one can bike on it?

If it happened in some other year, this closure would be an inconvenience but nothing more notable than that. 2019, however, has been a year where Minneapolis’ best bike infrastructure has felt besieged. The Midtown Greenway has seen periodic short closures on different sections throughout the summer, culminating in the two-week Centerpoint bungling I wrote about earlier. The Dinkytown Greenway closed in May (reportedly without advance notice), initially slated to reopen in July but then extended through August. The Kenilworth and Cedar Lake trails closed this summer for “two to three years” to accommodate LRT construction, and the official detours have received substantial criticism from trail users. If you want to count acts of nature, there have been a vast number of trail closures along the river corridors due to flooding and subsequent cleanup and repair. The connection between Minnehaha Falls and the Hiawatha and Minnehaha creek bike paths is about to be closed for a multi-year sewer pipeline project. All we need is one good detour around the chain of lakes to round out the closing of every premier bike trail in the city.

Notably, none of these projects are improving the bike trails themselves. All of them are the result of other construction needs taking precedence over keeping bike trails open. It’s hard to know if these are legitimate and unavoidable, or if agencies simply feel that they can do whatever they please with bike infrastructure. For example, Hennepin County insists that the water main construction is necessary and there was no other way to complete it—that it couldn’t be delayed until winter, couldn’t be completed in less time, couldn’t be completed in low-traffic hours with the trail remaining open during peak times. I have no way of validating the credibility of these claims because I am not a civil engineer, but when we hear the same “can’t”s over and over, it starts to get hard to believe.

I love Minneapolis’ bike infrastructure. It’s truly some of the best of any major U.S. city. But it doesn’t count if we can’t ride on any of it. We need bike paths that remain open, through sleet and snow and road construction. The city and county are generally supportive of bike infrastructure, but we need to insist that this support extends further than ribbon-cuttings. We need advocates for trail users during the hard, boring, everyday work of reviewing project plans and drafting budgets and reviewing timelines. We need someone to challenge project engineers on which impacts are truly necessary and which are merely convenient. And we need someone to occasionally put a foot down and perhaps say no, an 11-week closure is not “good enough”.

Here’s hoping for a better 2020 for Minneapolis cycling. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

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29 Responses to Fremont Bridge Closure Caps off Crappy Season for Minneapolis Bike Trails

  1. Jeff L. October 2, 2019 at 9:12 am #

    The one thing that unites pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers….complaining about construction.

  2. Reid October 2, 2019 at 9:36 am #

    Adding to the cluster**ck, try continuing west past The Depot. Riders like myself – who regularly commutes from Eden Prairie – are given the wonderful option of the narrow sidewalk on the south side of Excelsior Boulevard, or if you’re a real risk-taker, Excelsior Boulevard itself. Does it get better once you get to MN River Bluffs Trail at Shady Oak? Kinda. The trail/tunnel at Highway 5 is detoured because of municipality work. Riders are pushed to the Eden Prairie Road and Highway 5 intersection and onto the sidewalk on south side of EP Road. Looking to continue your ride all the way to Chaska? Nope. Trail has been closed at Pioneer Trail for 1.5+ years due to a washout. The idyllic route from Minneapolis all the way to Chaska on one continuous path is a far-fetched idea right now and likely for another two years. Major bummer.

    • Jake N October 2, 2019 at 3:45 pm #

      yeah, I didn’t bike commute much this year because of this stretch….

  3. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke October 2, 2019 at 10:00 am #

    I do believe you are right, and accommodating bicyclists is the last thing on the priority list for project managers. Car drivers have a robust network of alternatives to deal with detour and closure issues. Cyclists do not.

    • Aaron S October 2, 2019 at 4:01 pm #

      That’s really the main issue. Our alternatives as cyclists quite literally put our lives in danger – whereas a typical detour for a driver is just inconvenient.

  4. Philip October 2, 2019 at 10:13 am #

    Same goes for bike lanes downtown. Almost every single bike lane had a closure at some point that forced riders to dangerously merge into speeding traffic this summer. Some bike lane closures are understandable due to space limitations, but more often than not, bike lanes were closed willy nilly to preserve three lanes of car traffic.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller October 2, 2019 at 10:57 am #

      It’s weird that the renovation of the Rand Tower, pushing construction stuff into the parking and bike lane, got a restriped bike lane. Seems like that should be standard, but I can’t think of another project that did so.

  5. Pat Thompson
    Pat Thompson October 2, 2019 at 10:24 am #

    When they take out/replace a bridge over one of the car highways, they do it on a weekend between rush hours. Why does this small bridge this take 2-3 months? (I imagine it has to do with cost and how much the traffic below is prioritized relative to the cost.)

    • Ian Young October 2, 2019 at 12:59 pm #

      Yes, this is my general suspicion. If a water main under Chicago Ave needed to be replaced, would they close the street to traffic for 11 weeks? I doubt it. But bike trails, even the most heavily-used bike trails in the state, are apparently expendable.

    • Brian October 3, 2019 at 6:27 am #

      When has a car bridge ever been replaced in a weekend? The Maryland Ave bridge over 35E was built off to the side and then moved into place over a weekend. However, it was still closed for about 30 days.

      • Adam Miller
        Adam Miller October 3, 2019 at 9:51 am #

        35E was closed for 30 days??

        • Brian October 3, 2019 at 7:15 pm #

          No, the Maryland Ave bridge was closed for 30 days.

          • Adam Miller
            Adam Miller October 4, 2019 at 10:38 am #

            Right. No one is complaining that the Fremont Avenue bridge is closed.

            • Brian October 4, 2019 at 4:10 pm #

              My comments were in response to the comment that said car bridges get replaced in a weekend while bike routes are closed for weeks. I am not aware of a car bridge ever being replaced in a weekend in Minnesota.

              • Adam Miller
                Adam Miller October 7, 2019 at 10:17 am #

                The roads the bridges cross are closed briefly and generally during evenings and weekends.

  6. Jakob October 2, 2019 at 10:47 am #

    Aside from construction woes, this year there have been a greatly increased number of unsheltered camps along the Greenway and increased open drug use, decreasing the real and/or perceived safety of this bike infrastructure. On my commute this morning there was a needle in the middle of the trail just before the 15th Ave underpass.

  7. Adam Miller
    Adam Miller October 2, 2019 at 10:54 am #

    For what it’s worth, the Kenilworth Trail was “open” last week when I went by, but just one of the three paved trail surfaces. They had ridiculous “dismount and walk bike” signs up, presumably because it was just the pedestrian trail, but there wasn’t much traffic and it was no problem to bike through (don’t think I even passed any pedestrians).

    Not sure of current status because I don’t go through regularly.

    • Phil October 2, 2019 at 12:03 pm #

      Right, event the construction of the City of Minneapolis’ own office building has rendered bike lanes on both 4th Ave and 6th St unusable.

      • Kyle October 3, 2019 at 2:07 pm #

        Going South(east) from this area of town has been pretty miserable all summer due to that construction. 8th Street, which would be a fine alternative to 6th is ALSO under construction for a few key blocks and 7th street doesn’t have bike lanes at all, otherwise you could use those to get up to 3rd to access Washington or the 4th Street lanes to get out of downtown.

  8. Mary Arneson October 2, 2019 at 11:15 am #

    2019 has been a challenging year for Twin Cities Adaptive Cycling. We’re on the Midtown Greenway at 5th and offer cycling options for people with a wide range of disabilities, many of whom can’t handle steep hills or confusing detours.The detours offered for trail closures have been impossible for our riders — too steep, too much traffic, too narrow, too many sharp turns, too confusing — and we’ve been cut off from many favorite ride options,especially the chain of lakes. Disabled riders need options that are safe and rideable!

    • Ian Young October 2, 2019 at 2:05 pm #

      😞 I can believe it. Many of those detours have been near-impossible for cyclists of any ability. I personally got lost several times over the summer because of inadequate signage. If you haven’t already, I hope you’d consider reaching out to the city and county to tell them about the obstacles your riders have faced this year. Planners should understand the full impact of their decisions.

      • Aaron S October 2, 2019 at 4:43 pm #

        I totally agree with Ian. I think hearing from TC Adaptive Cycling would be a powerful way to get the message out. I’m sorry your riders have had to deal with that.

  9. Jenny Jenkins October 2, 2019 at 11:37 am #

    In addition, the Midtown Greenway in “Midtown” AKA Phillips, and the Hiawatha LRT trail between the Greenway and the zigzag at 15th now feel very unsafe to me, due to the presence of opioid addicts (I have seen several shooting up right on the asphalt of the Greenway!), bike thieves, inebriated men shouting harassing statements, kids throwing rocks (at an Airbnb guest of mine, in broad daylight on a Saturday afternoon). Etc., etc. I no longer use them in these areas.

    • Jake N October 2, 2019 at 3:48 pm #

      Yep, I used to love this stretch of trail… I avoid it now…

  10. Gabe Ormsby October 2, 2019 at 12:19 pm #

    Though the bulk of the Dinkytown Greenway is indeed open (finally), its most immediate connection to the trail on West River Parkway remains closed. There is a very short linking trail from the parkway to the Greenway connection on the west end of Bridge 9 (or what Google Maps calls the “Bluff Street Bikeway”) that has been fenced off all summer and fall–not just “closed” officially but quite impassable. One can connect fairly nearby at 13th Street, but if northbound on the Parkway it means a bit more hill climbing. On very rare occasions when riding past, I have actually seen people working there, but mostly it looks like an abandoned worksite.

    • Nick M October 3, 2019 at 11:33 am #

      I believe that this work site is a staging area for an underground project to replace a city water main under the river. That’s probably why it looks vacant most of the time. Whether the city could find a way to allow traffic to continue through during the project, I don’t know.

  11. Dave October 2, 2019 at 2:06 pm #

    Let’s just put it this way: whenever I see a “road work ahead” sign (and there are thousands) the thought of making it our new state bird, enters my mind.

  12. Ian R Buck October 2, 2019 at 8:53 pm #

    Come ride in St Paul! We’d love to have you! 😝

  13. Andrew Evans October 4, 2019 at 8:36 am #

    So a person riding through on the Greenway can’t get off around The Mall, cross Hennepin, and take 29th to Bryant?

    That’s similar to me going through the North Loop and by the post office because that part of the River Parkway is closed to traffic while they are doing work. But I guess on the bright side they kept the bike and walking paths open, and allow traffic on the weekends.

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