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.