Bloomington’s Bicycle Infrastructure Revisited, Part Two

This is the second entry in a three-part series on Bloomington’s bicycle infrastructure. In part one, we looked at the background and historical context of Bloomington’s bicycle infrastructure. The series continues with a look at how this context affected the results of particular projects. Images are by the author unless otherwise noted.

The Old Cedar Avenue Corridor

Old Cedar Avenue is a major north-south bicycle corridor through the city, and even has regional importance, connecting the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes trails through Bloomington and Richfield across the river to Eagan.

The corridor begins at the city’s southern border with a multi-use path (MUP) along the Highway 77 bridge (or if you’ve lived in Bloomington for decades like I have, the “New Cedar” Bridge). Built when the bridge opened in 1977, it doesn’t meet modern standards and has some stupid switchbacks intended to slow bicyclists going down the steep ramps at either end. But it’s there and unlikely to be improved any time soon. For commuter-type bicyclists, it probably would have been better if the path were built next to the freeway spanning the river valley, but I get the idea that it’s mainly used by recreational bicyclists. Dropping into the valley on either end enables it to connect with the future paved trails on either side as well as the Old Cedar trailhead.

The invitation contains two drawings of the New Cedar Avenue Bridge and a few lines of text, which reads: "Cedar Avenue Freeway. After 90 years, the old gives way to the new. Trunk Highway 88 Dedication, October 30, 7980
New Cedar Avenue Bridge Invitation. MnDOT

Following the actual river crossing, there’s a 10-foot paved trail followed by the crown jewel of Bloomington’s bicycle infrastructure: the Old Cedar Avenue Bridge. Past the bridge is the trailhead area, which includes a picnic shelter with modern restrooms.

Old Cedar Avenue Bridge across the Mississippi River, a truss bridge with a two-way bicycle path in the middle flanked by walking paths.
Old Cedar Avenue Bridge
Picnic Shelter and Restroom Building

I already wrote a two-part series about the bridge itself, so I won’t cover it here, but to summarize, it was closed to motor vehicle traffic in 1993. Then in 2002, it was closed to all traffic. In the window of time after it became “old and falling apart” and before it became “historic” in 2013, the city considered demolishing it and replacing it with a modern-style bicycle bridge or a causeway. But with the historic designation, the city was stuck with what it had, and finally got some state funding for a rehabilitation, which happened in 2016.

Following the bridge, there’s a section of city-maintained MUP along Old Cedar Avenue. The original plan was terrible: the street would have been reconstructed with an uphill unprotected on-street lane and nothing but a sharrow downhill. But plans changed and a full MUP was built. There are bluffs on one side and wetlands on the other, so a long boardwalk section was built over the wetland.

The boardwalk containing the MUP sits next to the asphalt road.
Old Cedar Avenue Boardwalk.

Following the boardwalk, there’s a city-maintained MUP to Old Shakopee Road. The side switches from the east to the west in the middle of the block to line up with the county-maintained section of regional trail to the north. I would have preferred the crossing be done right at Old Shakopee so that bicyclists would get the benefit of a signalized intersection and avoid crossing the driveways of several heavily used apartments and Old Cedar — but this is a minor quibble.

North of Old Shakopee Road, we have what looks like a standard MUP by a city street, but it is actually a county-maintained section of the Nokomis-Minnesota River Regional Trail that was also built in the mid-2010s. Here’s a section of it by the Wright’s Lake Park mural.

Cedar Avenue Trail

At American Boulevard the trail turns west and follows a pre-existing sidewalk on the south side of the street. While it’s fair that bicyclist advocates don’t like this, I’ll give the city a pass on this one. Relative to other bicycle infrastructure needs I don’t think it’s a wise use of tax dollars to tear out eight feet of concrete in good condition and put in 10 feet of asphalt. Although signs direct bicyclists onto it, my feeling is the city should at least stain the concrete gray and paint a line on it, which is a visual clue that this is intended to be an MUP and not a sidewalk.

A bigger issue for me is that the bridge over the I-494 was built along 12th Avenue instead of Bloomington Avenue, resulting in a mile-long detour for north-south traffic. There are no conversations about correcting this, even with the upcoming I-494 rebuild, and a city engineer told me bluntly “the bridge is built so we’re not revisiting this.” With how expensive bridges are, and since the ship has sailed on getting it moved with the I-494 rebuild project, I reluctantly agree we need to move on and push for more feasible things.

As for the street itself, Old Cedar Avenue itself is two lanes wide, except for a four-lane section south of 86th Street where it dips into the valley. The street south of Old Shakopee Road was converted from a four-lane death road to three lanes with shoulders during a reconstruction. And I do see the brave and fearless type bicyclists using the shoulder instead of the MUP. Between 86th street and Old Shakopee Road, the existing four-lane section is up for an overlay next summer.

I asked an engineer about the possibility of doing a road diet a few years ago and was told “we already have a bicycle trail there, we don’t need shoulders.” She also went off on MnDOT about how they weren’t fixing congestion on I-494, resulting in a lot of traffic bailing out off MN 77 at Old Shakopee Road, then using Old Cedar Ave and 90th Street to disperse into the neighborhoods. But when they actually studied it as part of a proposed overlay project, they unsurprisingly found a three-lane section will work. That project will be done this summer along with the removal of the aging and unwarranted signal at 90th Street.

106th Street Area

106th Street is an east-west collector street that serves both to provide access to the neighborhood and funnel traffic to I-35W; it gets heavy use as a shortcut from Old Shakopee Road. Originally it was a four-lane undivided death road, but when the street was up for resurfacing a decade or so ago, it was restriped to three lanes with shoulders west of Humbolt Avenue. East of Humbolt, the street itself has been maintained in the four-lane death road configuration; from Humboldt to the freeway was restriped, then in one of the most outrageous engineering decisions in recent memory, the section under the freeway was actually fully reconstructed as a four-lane death road (albeit with a small concrete median and very narrow bicycle shoulders) rather than providing proper left turn lanes and limiting through lanes to what was actually needed.

It seems that when the street was up for resurfacing, a traffic study was done that recommended two eastbound lanes east of Humboldt due to peak PM volume in the eastbound direction. The idea of having two eastbound lanes, a center turn lane and one westbound lane was rejected because “drivers might find that configuration confusing.” I can’t dispute the facts of the traffic volumes necessitating two through lanes, but I can dispute the opinion that this configuration would be bad. While this configuration wouldn’t eliminate the double threat for pedestrians crossing nor allow on-street bicycle lanes, it would get turning traffic out of the “hot” through lanes where they can take their time waiting for a safe opening, and would also allow for center medians and refuge islands.

For the section under the freeway, when it came time for the interchange reconstruction, the federal government demanded that Bloomington maintain two westbound through-lanes at the interchange, so that if traffic ever starts backing up from the northbound off-ramp onto the freeway, a second left turn lane can be provided. I suggested to the engineer that in that case, it would be preferable to provide dedicated left turn lanes in addition to the required through lanes, and the city engineer told me “traffic volumes don’t justify them, it’ll work just fine as a four-lane undivided street.”

Meanwhile, two “free right” turns at the northbound ramps were removed, one was rebuilt (so the heavy southbound to westbound movement on Lyndale can speed through the area without stopping) and one was added on the southbound off-ramps, where there wasn’t one before. Engineering claimed that a signal on the southbound ramp wasn’t warranted, even though one on the northbound ramps was, and added the free right turn so traffic from both directions can enter the ramp at the same time, mitigating backups from left turning traffic.

106th Street looking east. The new interchange has four lanes of traffic, in addition to off- and on-ramps, with a median in the center and an MUP on the north side.
106th Street Looking East

At least we got a proper MUP east from Humbolt Avenue out of the reconstruction. The section that existed from Humbolt Avenue to in front of Oak Grove Middle School was extended under the freeway to meet up with the on-street lanes on Lyndale, and a brand new MUP was built along the east frontage road to the Orange Line Station area. But the street design itself is so horrible and could have been so much better that we still have much about the project to complain about.

The overall result we got on 106th Street appears extremely unsafe to me even by four-lane death road standards, and I even witnessed the aftermath of a crash a few weeks after the road opened when I went down to take pictures for this article. The asphalt and concrete is what it is at this point, although some improvements could still be made with restriping and minor curb moderation. In particular, the right eastbound lane could become a right-turn-only lane into the freeway ramp (where most of the traffic is heading anyway). Beyond this, the left lane under the bridge could become a dedicated left turn lane.

Westbound is more problematic because of the heavy north-to-westbound movement and that federal requirement, though there is room to build a dedicated left turn lane in the long term. Or maybe we can just restripe the left lane as a dedicated turn lane anyway, and promise to put it back when and if traffic operations actually become an issue. I have a feeling they never will.

Either way, it could be a single lane after the intersection, which would allow the aforementioned configuration. I’d also look at the Humboldt Avenue intersection and see if it would work to have the second eastbound lane added after the intersection rather than through it. This would enable the shoulders to be extended through the intersection rather than stopping a block before, allowing bicyclists to transition between the MUP and the on-street lanes at a signalized intersection.

Lyndale Avenue

Lyndale Avenue is a major north-south arterial in Bloomington, starting at a boat launch and trail access at the Minnesota River, continuing through a residential area and the municipal cemetery and becoming Bloomington’s “Main Street” through a commercial area. I live near Lyndale Avenue, and growing up there was no access to the river — much less across it — and no bicycle facilities along Lyndale.

Now on the Minnesota River Bridge, we now have an MUP, filling in what was at one time a huge non-motorized gap. At one time there was essentially no way to cross the river for the entire width of the city of Bloomington, from where the Minnesota Valley Trail crosses at Bloomington Ferry to the path along I-494. Unfortunately on the north side, the MUP curves down a steep hill to the trailhead. Although this is OK for users heading to the Minnesota Valley Trail, for those heading into the city this results in bicyclists going down a steep hill on the path and then up an even steeper one up Lyndale, instead of being able to cut across to Lyndale near the top of the hill. To be fair there is a long-term goal to extend the trail in the I-35W right of way to 106th, where it will meet up with the aforementioned trail that continues to the Oxboro area and the Orange Line Station.

I-35W Minnesota River Bridge

Lyndale Avenue from the southern terminus at the parking lot to 106th street is up for reconstruction. Originally it had shoulders, but the paint faded many years ago, and it is now one of the most decrepit roads in the city. It was supposed to be done by now, but the city keeps delaying it trying to find other funding sources. Unfortunately, here the city is planning to do it wrong, with nothing more than on-street bicycle lanes rather than a true MUP as was done on Old Cedar Avenue.

Seems the city apparently got scared off by how complicated and expensive doing things right at Cedar got, and is now terrified about doing things right again. An engineer told me “we learned our lesson with Old Cedar.” The lesson apparently being that it’s not worth it to do things right. Thus there will be nothing but paint between bicyclists and pedestrians and cars! I will note that the street is 32 feet wide. That would allow for two 11-foot lanes for people in cars, a two-foot boulevard, and an eight-foot MUP, even if the city is scared about expanding the road footprint.

Lyndale Avenue.
Lyndale Avenue

From 106th to 102nd street, there is a three-lane section that was road-dieted down from a four-lane death road configuration with a resurfacing project about a decade ago. But from 102nd to 98th street, the old four-lane death row section was put back into place. This greatly impedes bicycle access to the business district from the neighborhoods. At the time a city engineer responded to my complaint with “there’s more traffic in this section.” This is technically true, but a one-minute check of MnDOT’s traffic count data would reveal it’s still below 10,000 AADT, where you can just assume a road diet will work without further studies. They’re now planning to do the conversion with the next resurfacing project, but it will be some time before the road needs it again.

The area north of 98th street will be discussed as part of some potential future projects for Part Three, which will also present my observed data on how bicyclists are using various pieces of infrastructure.

About Monte Castleman

Monte is a long time "roadgeek" who lives in Bloomington. He's interested in all aspects of roads and design, but particularly traffic signals, major bridges, and lighting. He works as an insurance adjuster, and likes to collect maps and traffic signals, travel, recreational bicycling, and visiting amusement parks.