2020, as horrible as it was, had at least one silver lining. More people than ever before discovered bicycling, creating a new “bike boom” that’s exploding right into 2021.
Unfortunately, this record numbers of cyclists is being met with a record number of Twin Cities trail closures. Taken individually, many of these closures may seem reasonable, but when viewed as a network of transportation infrastructure, they’re incredibly disruptive. Commutes are detoured and errands are waylaid in ways that we would never impose on motorists.
These disruptions are imposed by multiple government entities: the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the Metropolitan Council, counties and cities — none of which is responsible for the health of the overall network. Trail users are forced to determine who owns any given route before they can learn the length of a closure or even suggested detours, which often are unmarked. Simple measures like temporary trails are seldom used and detours often send vulnerable trail users onto unsafe routes on busy highways. And, of course, construction occurs mostly in the summer months, the peak of the cycling season.
To illustrate how cyclists and pedestrians should be treated better during construction season, here’s a summary of all the major closures this summer throughout the Twin Cities.
Big Rivers Regional Trail
Perhaps the most frustrating closure is Dakota County’s Big Rivers Trail, which runs along the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers from Lilydale to Eagan. With connections to downtown Saint Paul via the Water Street and Bloomington via the 494 bridge, Big Rivers is the only safe route connecting the east and west metro south of the MSP airport.
The first strike against Big Rivers occurred last fall, when a rock slide in Lilydale dropped a couple of boulders the size of box trucks unto the trail.
Instead of working to clear the trail, Dakota County has closed it completely and has published no timeline on when it will reopen.
Through the winter, the trail wasn’t fully closed and it was easy enough to carry a bike up and over the obstruction. I even witnessed crews clearing snow on the closed trail. This spring, crews added chain link fences along with warnings about camera surveillance, offering no choice but to detour along the shoulder of Highway 13.
A landslide is one thing, but just a mile or so west Big Rivers is closed for the rest of 2021 for “trailhead improvements“: building restrooms and more parking at the Mendota Heights trailhead. Instead of creating a temporary trail a hundred yards through the construction, Dakota County has closed Big Rivers for half a mile, again forcing cyclists and pedestrians unto the shoulder of Sibley Memorial Highway.
Needless to say, closing a bike trail and endangering users for an entire season to build infrastructure for cars and drivers is pretty terrible.
Southwest LRT Trail Closures
2021 will be our third summer of Southwest LRT trail closures. The Greenway is still closed west of Minneapolis, the Kenilworth Trail is a trench of spiraling cost overruns, the North Cedar Lake Trail remains closed between Target Field and Van White Memorial Boulevard, and the Minnesota River Bluffs Trail through Hopkins is still missing in action. The absence of these trails, once touted as “America’s First Bicycle Freeway,” has greatly diminished Minneapolis’ green transportation credibility and cast a pall over its cycling community.
It is still possible to bike from Minneapolis to the western suburbs, but it takes a considerable amount of ingenuity and a willingness to ride surface streets with cars.
Again this summer, Hennepin County will be closing multiple sections of the Midtown Greenway for trail safety improvements. When I visited on May 13, the entire Sabo Bridge was closed so that crews could install new sidewalks and curbs at 28th Street East. Instead of allowing trail users to cut through a patch of grass next to the construction, pedestrians and cyclists were forced to cross Highway 55, a chaotic crossing with multiple turn lanes and merging traffic from Lake Street. No timeframe was posted onsite for the length of the closure, but the project website says two to three weeks per intersection.
Trail safety improvements are great, but sending trail users into harm’s way is indefensible, especially when a little extra effort could have created a safer detour.
Battle Creek Park
On St. Paul’s Eastside, the Met Council has closed the trail through Battle Creek Park for sewer replacement work. The trail is an important link between the Highwood neighborhood and downtown St. Paul via the Fish Hatchery Trail. In this case, the Met Council preserved access by blocking off a protected lane all along Point Douglas Road from Lower Afton Road to the Highway 61 underpass. The signage is a little confusing, but this level of foresight and accommodation should be the gold standard for all construction projects.
Mississippi River Boulevard
The parkways on both sides of the Mississippi though Minneapolis and St. Paul are arguably the most popular biking destinations in the Twin Cities. Both sides will be dealt closures this summer.
In Saint Paul, the section of MRB south of Ford Parkway is closed this summer to install a tunnel between the new Highland Bridge development at the old Ford site and Hidden Falls. A terrible detour takes cyclists up Ford Parkway (a route unsafe for bicycles) and down Cleveland Avenue (where the city recently decided to forgo bike lanes).
The tunnel will be a great addition to Hidden Falls park and the new Highland Bridge neighborhood. Sadly, though, the city’s failure to build safe routes through Highland means that cyclists should avoid the entire area this summer.
West River Parkway
Not to be outdone, Minneapolis is also closing West River Parkway and its trails just west of the iconic Stone Arch Bridge because of MnDOT’s reconstruction of the 3rd Avenue Bridge. The trail is closed May 3-17 and is projected to close again July 5-19. The posted detour takes cyclists and pedestrians up into downtown traffic and then back to the river at Hennepin Avenue.
Somehow, the city’s rebuilding project of the 10th Avenue SE bridge, a very similar project, has been able to keep the river trail open, even through the winter. With the 3rd Avenue bridge, MnDOT seems not to have bothered.
Of course, 10th Avenue SE and 3rd Avenue are both important river crossings for cyclists and pedestrians between downtown and Southeast and Northeast Minneapolis. Both will be closed this summer.
Cedar Avenue Bridge
In the south metro, only a few routes are available to bike across the Minnesota River. Imagine biking down the river bluffs to a crossing on your way to work and discovering the trail is inexplicably closed. That was what I encountered on May 10 when attempting to cross the river at Cedar Avenue. No notice was posted online, no explanation was posted about the length or purpose of the closure. If I had to guess, the trail was closed in order to repave the bridge approaches on the south side.
With a bit of extra effort, trail access could have been maintained during this work. Instead, trail users were faced with three bad choices: Detour 20 miles to cross at 494 or 35W, ignore the closure signs and attempt to cross anyway, or give up and go home.
Bloomington Ferry Road
The situation is even worse at the Bloomington Ferry Bridge Trail next to Highway 169. The Army Corps of Engineers has been building flood gates across the trail since last December. The gates seem to be mostly completed, but workers have not yet installed a bridge over an 8-foot gap they made across the trail. Surely, the Corps has numerous devices to temporarily bridge such a gap, but they have instead chosen to erect 80 feet of fencing in an attempt to prevent scofflaw cyclists from crossing.
To make matters worse, the closure is marked only by easily missed tiny brown signs at either end of the trail, nearly a mile from the closure. No one could be blamed for missing it. The trail is scheduled to reopen by the end of May.
Bonus: Half a paved trail in the river bottoms is worse than none
If you’re going to spend a couple million dollars paving a trail in an active flood plain, you should probably make sure it connects to other infrastructure. But if you’re going to build just half a trail that dead ends in the middle of nowhere, you should probably put up a big sign at the entrance to let everybody know. Because if you don’t do that, some biker from St. Paul with skinny road tires will just assume a trail that starts at 35W will connect to Cedar Avenue, foolishly won’t turn around when the trail disappears a couple of miles in, and will end up walking their skinny tired bike through several miles of sand until they finally reach Cedar Avenue. Possibly this has happened only to me.
We should do better
This summer’s closures illustrate many of the ways governmental agencies could better serve pedestrians and cyclists.
- First, we need something like a Metropolitan Cycling Council — an agency whose job it is to set standards for construction projects and communicate closures to the public. This would ideally be managed by the Met Council with the goal of treating cyclists the same way we do motorists (or even sewage), keeping routes accessible and traffic flowing. Such an agency should also maintain a metro-wide trail status website with alerts that people could subscribe to.
- Trails should be viewed and treated as part of our transportation infrastructure. Project managers should ask themselves: Would we subject motorists to this level of inconvenience? What options will commuters have if this route is closed?
- Temporary routes should be installed and maintained throughout construction. These can be in the form of asphalt or gravel trails, a portable bridge, or (and here we’re asking a lot!) a dedicated lane taken from a car traffic lane. These accommodations should be specified in work contracts and included in the bidding process.
- Closures should be well communicated in advance both online and via well-marked signage at the beginnings of trails, not at the closure itself. Signs should include detour maps and dates of the expected closures.
- Trails should be reopened as soon as possible, even if other work like laying sod or installing fences is incomplete. Trail users can be trusted not to interfere with workers.
- Important connections require redundancy. Deciding not to build bike lanes on streets near existing trails creates a fragile network.
- When landslides or other natural disasters occur, funds should be allocated and repairs made immediately, the same as we do for roads.
All photos by the author
You’re correct in that the Cedar Ave bridge is closed due to paving on the south side. There’s work underway to correct the situation where after the bridge touches down, you have to find your way on a dirt path through the woods, across the parking lot, and out the driveway before continuing on the Greenway Trail towards I-35W. Since the paving will be right up to the end of the bridge.
Considering that the paving is going right up until the end of the bridge a detour wouldn’t be feasible here, although they could have done like the did for the river bottoms trails on the Bloomington side that were impacted by the I-35W construction, and allow the public to cross outside of active construction hours.
As for the half finished paved river bottoms trails, they could of course have a sign to the effect that the pavement doesn’t go all the way to Cedar, but I think what’s there is still worthwhile as it seems to get heavy use from bicyclists and pedestrians as an out and back trip from Lyndale. (Also, I know it makes for a good photo to prove your point, but it should be noted that the “Trail Closed” sign is just there to block off the unpaved trail beyond when Xcel is actively working on their powerlines in the area).
The paving was complete on Monday (as seen in the picture) but the Cedar bridge was still closed as of yesterday. I think it would have been possible to do this work without closing the trail at all with an ounce of creativity and maybe a sheet or two of plywood.
Asphalt paving doesn’t quite work that way. The pavement needs some time to “cure”, and putting plywood on top doesn’t help. Not nearly as long as concrete, but it still needs time. Depending on the weather, they could have cut the closure time down to a few hours, though. And, as mentioned, they certainly could have done a better job of announcing/advertising the closure.
Yeah, it certainly doesn’t take days to cure.
Add the closure of a block of the brand new Capital City Bikeway on Jackson downtown between 7th Street and 7th Place, all without any notice, and with snotty response from StP Public Works when I publicly asked about it.
Oof, missed that one!
I ended up at the Bloomington Ferry Road closure a week ago and was quite disappointed since I wanted to bike to Shakopee. A few elderly folks who seemed to be pretty strong despite their age managed to lift their bikes over the closure and get across. Hopefully no one has gotten hurt attempting it, but I’m sure if someone did the Army Corps of Engineers would be let off the hook since there were closure signs. I was considering walking my bike through a shallow part of the channel but decided it wasn’t worth it.
I had no idea about the Big Rivers Trail landslide. I remember June of last year there was a closure on the trail. I forget what exactly they were doing but it was possible to walk your bike over the closure.
This isn’t in the Twin Cities but last summer I had to deal with a few trail closures. First was on the Cannon Valley Trail halfway between Cannon Falls and Red Wing where barriers were set up making it virtually impossible to get through, so unfortunately I couldn’t bike the whole trail. The second was on the Luce Line Trail in an area called Sherman halfway between Silver Lake and Winsted. The wind had knocked over the trail closure sign (I found this out going back, and I lifted the sign back into place) and a couple guys were busy digging along the trail. I walked my bike through there and I was thankful they stopped, waited for me, and didn’t give me a hard time (like I said, didn’t know the trail was closed). Going back west I saw the trail closure sign and followed the detour, which involved biking on a narrow shoulder of a rural highway for a quarter mile. Lastly was the Minnesota River Trail in Mankato when I was biking to the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail. Along part of the trail they had large plastic platforms set up, which I assume was for heavy construction equipment. Since it was Sunday there was no construction activity going on so I just slowly biked over the platforms.
Something the people who plan trail closures and detours should keep in mind is it’s a very different situation from closures and detours for cars. A several mile detour for a car is no big deal, but for walkers and bikers it means either a long and arduous trek or giving up and going back.
I consider each and every one of these signs to be a personal affront.
Met Council also closed the Lowry Ave N protected bike lane at Fremont for D-Line construction in north Minneapolis. Instead of simply routing eastbound bikers south on Girard, one block prior to Fremont, and rejoining Fremont, bikers were detoured south on Lyndale(!) all the way to Broadway, and then west on Broadway(!) all the way to Fremont. Their defense for the routing was that Lyndale and Broadway have 30mph speed limits(??), that dangerous driving is illegal and so an MPD issue, and not an issue for the people planning the detours. 👍
I’ve ridden that stretch of Lyndale and that’s no place for bikes. Oof.
The Luce Line Trail west of Wirth Parkway was closed this winter til
about the end of March by about 18 inches deep man made snow by
the Loppet Foundation. It was possibly so wide covering the bike trail
because of the the big ski event that had to be canceled due to Covid.
I hope next winter the bike trail can be kept open or at least cleared
earlier. There is no decent alternate route in that corridor – along
Highway 55 is not good biking.
Last year in the same area several inches of water stood on the trail
for months. There was an unmarked informal way around it along the
railroad track. Construction last summer solved the standing water
The whole Luce Line bike trail is about 77 miles long from the
Mississippi River in Minneapolis to Cosmos, MN. There are 3 sections
maintained by 3 different jurisdictions. The sections are well
connected on the ground but the information on the web is on
several sites that as of March 2021 make little reference to each
I created “Fred’s Whole Luce Line bike trail page” at
to knit together the various web pages.
Fred H. Olson Minneapolis,MN 55411 USA (near north Mpls)
Email: fholson at cohousing.org 612-588-9532
My Link Pg: http://fholson.cohousing.org
Nice collection of info on the Luce Line! I also encountered that snow pack through Theo with my road fixie last winter. Ended up carrying my bike all the way through Theo as cross country skiers and fat bikers sauntered by. Surely there’s a way to keep that stretch of trail open. I also question the legality of closing a state trail for winter sports in a city/regional park.
I don’t think that’s it’s a state trail east of Plymouth. I’m pretty sure it’s three rivers jurisdiction to theo worth then minneapolis jurisdiction to cedar lake trail
T is correct. State jurisdiction ends at Vicksburg Lane.
These aren’t so much questions but a defense of the status quo.
I’ll also note that fixing a rockslide or other kind of slope failure isn’t just a matter of getting a few laborers with a front end loader and a truck to get the debris off the trail. Unless you want a repeat, possibly with people on the trail this time, you need to hire engineers to figure out why the slope failed and if it’s going to happen again, and if it will, propose a way to fix it. All of this takes time. Then you have to find money to fix the underlying problem, which is probably will include retaining walls and soil stabilization or replacement, probably into the millions of dollars. Finding this money will also take time since agencies probably don’t have that much money in their maintenance budgets and have to apply for grants and other sources. Then there’s a matter of the time such a major construction project takes.
This isn’t unique to trails. West River Road was closed for two years due to a slope failure. State Highway 67 at Upper Sioux Agency State Park has been closed since 2019 due to an imminent slope failure. They in fact determined it would be too expensive ($30 million) to fix that road so it’s permanently closed with the trunk highway designation permanently detoured to former county roads.
Advocacy involves organizing for what you want government entities to do. I (and I think many others in the Twin Cities bike riding community) would like the trail reopened as soon as possible. It is not helpful to gum up the process with all the reasons why this might be expensive or difficult. All that is self-defeating. Let’s just get it done. At the end of the day I’d rather take my chances with falling rocks on a 160 year old railroad right of way than with distracted drivers on the side of a highway.
Also finding the money to do all of that during COVID when municipal and county budgets are already stretched thin is even harder for something that was unplanned. There will and should be plenty of areas that will have dibs to that money first.
Also I know it’s not optimal but a detour of mendota bridge to 5 to shepard rd to 35e doesn’t add a significant distance to cyclists. And with how remote the trail is your not getting commuter pedestrians on this stretch of the trail.
I don’t want to give counties any more excuses to take shortcuts in infrastructure and setting a precedent of being fine with likely rockslides on trails isn’t one we should want to set on our bike trails.
Considering how long it could potentially take to not only receive funding but also to clear the trail and stabilize any cliffs once they do get funding, they could at least complete the trail along the north side of Highway 13. It’s only half a mile between where it currently dead-ends and hooking up with the Big Rivers Trail in Mendota.
Don’t forget the Minnesota River Bluffs LRT Regional Trail. That closed several years ago due to a landslide that I personally was able to see on the ground and it was way smaller than you might think. Granted I’m not an engineer or expert on soils, but I would think as an interim solution they could’ve posted signs that said “Travel at your own risk” as well as offering a detour. Instead they fenced it off for years and if you wanted to get between Eden Prairie and Chaska you had to bike or walk along Audubon Road and Pioneer Trail with much of the route having no trail or sidewalk. To me the detour route is way riskier than a very tiny spot on a trail with soil erosion. They finally reopened the trail last year.
I though of the idea of just posting a “Travel at Your Own Risk” sign too. The problem is that liability waivers (and sovereign immunity) don’t cover gross neglicance. It’s obviously not gross neglicance to leave concreted forms laying around an obviously construction side were a pedestrian passing through and not paying attention could trip over them. But I can see a lawyer arguing gross neglicance for letting pedestrians in an area where heavy equipment is operating. Or where you know there’s a risk of a landslide. I’d also imagine opening a trial with rocks still on it could invite an ADA lawsuit.
You’re not wrong that liability is probably a big factor in closing a trail if there’s any hazard whatsoever. The problem is trail users are forced unto highway shoulders as detours where no one’s liable at all if they get hit by a driver. If accommodating trail users without sending them into traffic requires changes in liability law, then let’s do that. Continuing to argue for the status quo isn’t very helpful.
They (Three Rivers or whoever) also gets away with posting signs on trails like the Dakota Rail Trail stating the trail isn’t maintained in the winter and travel at your own risk. So if someone slips on ice and is injured that means whoever owns the trail gets off the hook, right? If that is the case, why can’t it apply to a trail with a small landslide (in reference to the Minnesota River Trail, I don’t know how bad the landslide is on the Big Rivers Trail). And as Dan said, if a biker or walker gets hit by a car on the poorly planned detour route then no one is liable, correct? There seems to be some backwards logic with closing a trail due to a safety risk, but the detour is equally or more risky. Regarding construction I can understand closing the trail if there’s too much activity going on, especially with heavy equipment, but the detour needs to be actually safe instead of simply getting trail users away from the construction site.
This helped my routing to Minneapolis this morning – thank you Dan!!
Thank you for this article. The Hidden Falls detour is particularly frustrating. My family just purchased a cargo e-bike a few weeks ago (our first), and so far we’ve been able to use it to replace most of our car trips. Our most frequent car trip that we’ve replaced with biking is from the Longfellow neighborhood to Mendota Heights to take the kids to visit their grandparents, and between the Hidden Falls detour and the Big Rivers Regional Trail closure, it’s now difficult to find an acceptable route. I’m not taking my kids on that stretch of Ford Parkway and Cleveland, and I wish they had phased the construction of the Hidden Falls tunnel to keep an off-road bike route open. Any suggestions for the best advocacy group to support to help voice these concerns?
In Saint Paul, I’d recommend the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition. They’ve been doing a lot of work to expand trails and advocate for road improvements. Great people, too! http://www.saintpaulbicyclecoalition.org/
Thanks! I just joined their mailing list.
They have moved the detour from Ford to Highland Parkway which is much more bike-friendly. That means the dangerous stretch is isolated to a four short-block stretch on Cleveland between Highland Parkway and Saint Paul Avenue. South of there, Cleveland is wide open with much less traffic. Maybe one could walk their bikes on the sidewalk on this stretch of Cleveland?
I realize if your kids are young, this is still not acceptable, but just tossing ideas out there for more intermediate bikers.
There are also west side options going south from Minnehaha Park to the Fort the across the Mendota Bridge where there is a street called Victoria Curve which will connect you to bike trails on Lexington and Marie in Mendota Heights. Again, although I occasionally see kids on the Mendota Bridge, it’s not for everyone. Just tossing options out there for others.
That’s good to know they moved the detour to Highland Parkway, thanks! The alternate route I’ve been looking at is that Victoria Curve routing you mentioned, which looks like it shouldn’t be very busy. I wonder though if St. Paul could build a temporary protected bike lane on Cleveland, similar to what has been done in Minneapolis on Minnehaha Parkway for the bike trail detour for sewer construction? That seems to be working well and I’ve taken my kids on it a fair amount.
Just to add in the mix, not a trail, but a protected bike lane and a main artery into Minneapolis from the west. It seems like Plymouth Ave is going to be closed for the remainder of the year.
So… from the west, Cedar is closed due to LRT, Glenwood is detoured due to LRT, and now Plymouth ave is closed too!
Thanks for writing this! I was feeling the same frustration writing about a very similar situation in 2019 (https://streets.mn/2019/10/02/fremont-bridge-closure-caps-off-crappy-season-for-minneapolis-bike-trails/).
I very much agree that we need an agency with actual oversight power to represent the needs of trail users. So many trail closures could very easily be mitigated, but the entities doing the construction aren’t going to bother with anything that isn’t absolutely required, and no one signing off on these projects ever seems to demand that they perform adequate mitigation, or stick to promised timelines, or anything else.
Sometimes it seems like the Greenway can’t catch a break. It honestly doesn’t seem to occur to project managers that closing trails and detouring vulnerable users onto streets with cars is a huge safety hazard.
Which is especially baffling given that the Greenway is our marquee piece of bike infrastructure! You’d think that the one true bike highway in the city would get some respect. But having tried to get some explanations out of Hennepin County regarding those projects, I can tell you there’s a huge accountability void around this.
Was it OURSTREETS that was able to petition against the city last summer to open a section of the greenway underneath the Freemont Ave Bridge to avoid the detour through the busy Uptown streets? It would be nice if they or someone else could go up against the SLRT to open the section of the Cedar lake trail underneath the Glenwood Ave Bridge that was supposed to open this summer but surprise surprise is now being pushed out to 2022. With the hotrodders, people running red lights and drunk drivers it would be nice to avoid biking through DT, especially at night.
It might have been the Greenway Coalition. I got a lot of my information on Greenway closures through them. They’re probably not quite the right org to go to for non-Greenway trails, so yeah, Our Streets would be worth a try. Or maybe Move MN? I don’t know as much about their work.
Not quite the same thing but we saw a trail marked on Google maps along the south side of Blackdog Lake south of the Black Dog power plant. It appeared to run from a walking trail that started in Cliff Fen park off of Cliff road east to a road that leads to the power plant. We decided to check it out and discovered it to be a grassy trail on an old access road for a sewer line. After about two miles and after crossing several washouts we came to a chain link fence about 50 feet from the road. Hanging from the fence was a “No trespassing” sign facing both directions. We ventured onto the road but discovered a gate blocking access across the RR tracks so we had no choice but to return the way we came.
Earlier that same day we discovered the dead end trail on the river bottoms, back tracking on that as well.