While reading Brandon Lust’s recent post about the new Plymouth Road trail in Minnetonka, I noticed several small gaps that I wished to fill. With his (and StreetsMN’s) gracious approval, I’m doing so in a post instead of via comments on the original post. Thank you both, and thank you reader for bearing with me!
As Brandon describes verbally and pictorially, the new trail segment runs through a mostly residential area (this is Minnetonka, after all!), but it does make two important connections – to the Lake Minnetonka Regional LRT Trail (and several restaurants at Minnetonka Mills as well as a couple transit stops) on the south, and to the aging bit of trail that connects Hilloway Park all the way to Ridgedale (with its restaurants, shopping, and transit stops) on the north. While Plymouth Road served reasonably well as a connector for confident bicyclists between the two endpoints previously, having the trail separated from traffic should definitely increase comfort levels and get more people biking and walking along the trail to one or both of the endpoints. And this is the primary reason for the trail being built – the City of Minnetonka has for some time known there were gaps in its biking and walking network and has struggled to identify funding to connect those gaps. This project is one of the last where funding was identified before a new program to fill in identified gaps in biking and walking infrastructure in the city was implemented.
Quick side note – the new program identifies 71 gaps in the current network and prioritizes them based on numerous criteria including community access, cost-effectiveness, and nature of use. The program is funded by an increase to the franchise fee that the City charges companies (Xcel, Centerpoint, Comcast, etc) to use City right-of-way for routing their utility infrastructure. The increase was approved by the City Council in September 2018.
Back to the trail – additionally, the new trail segment connects three Minnetonka parks (Hilloway and Meadow Parks on the north and Big Willow Park on the south, all of which have nice trail systems) as well as the newest (as yet unnamed?) Minnetonka park being reclaimed from the sea of parking between Ridgedale and the Hennepin County Library. While neither Hilloway, Meadow, nor Big Willow would be considered to have transport-oriented trails, the trails in Meadow and Big Willow serve in a pinch and shine for recreational bikers and walkers. In addition, the trail through Meadow Park will be a nice route in the direction of the planned (no timeframe as yet) Dakota Rail extension / Bryant Lake – French Park corridor.
Last, as part of the work putting in the new trail, Plymouth Road was restriped in the vicinity of Sheffield Curve, effectively undergoing a mini 4-3 conversion. This makes it much easier and safer for people driving or bicycling to turn left from northbound Plymouth Road onto Sheffield Curve.
While the new trail does do several good things, there are a couple things that were missed or had to be compromised. First and foremost, the trail missed on making connections to neighborhoods on the west of Plymouth Road. There are no painted crosswalks or curb cuts at April Lane (pictured below), Sheffield Curve, Woodbridge Trail, or Forest Meadow Drive (note – there is a driveway cut near Woodbridge Trail), so people from those neighborhoods wanting to use the trail will need to cross Plymouth Road without the benefit of such. This probably won’t be too much of an increase in difficulty for walkers since crosswalks tend to be ignored anyway, but for younger bicyclists wanting to go to the Dairy Queen at Minnetonka Mills, not having curb cuts will make accessing the trail slightly harder (and nerve-wracking for their parents?). And seemingly in compromise, the trail is 8 feet wide instead of 10 feet as “preferred” in MN Administrative Rules Section 8820.9995. Also seemingly in compromise, the road section south of April Lane (at the bridge crossing) was narrowed to make room for the trail. This resulted in the previously existing shoulder that worked well for confident cyclists being made much narrower.
Overall, this new trail segment is an improvement in that it makes it likely that more people can now bike along Plymouth Road. Here’s to 70 more improvements! (Another side note – there are information sessions for three trail segments from this plan being held on Tuesday 12/17, starting at 4pm at Minnetonka City Hall – Minnetonka Blvd, Hopkins Crossroad, and Ridgedale Drive).
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