Minneapolis and St. Paul are known for being bike friendly — as long as you’re not trying to ride to the main terminal at the airport.
Cyclists can’t ride all the way to Terminal 1. They’re not allowed on the main roads leading to and from the freeways. The only other route in is one way and comes up short, meaning riders could get only so close and then be trapped with no legal exit.
“It’s a lot better at some airports than it is at MSP,” said Dave Gepner, an avid cyclist from Richfield and chairman of the Hennepin County Bicycle Advisory Committee. The group last year scouted possible routes to the airport.
Now, for the first time, a route has been identified that would allow cycling employees or travelers to reach the main terminal on two wheels — without hopping the Blue Line and adding a $4.50 round-trip fare or risking a traffic ticket.
The proposed 0.9-mile route would run from the Upper Post at Fort Snelling along Hwy. 5, threading a narrow slope between the airport fence and highway shoulder. State and federal agencies would have to sign off due to its proximity to the runway and a limited-access freeway. It would require tunnels and a overpass. There may be utilities and limestone in the way.
The cost? $7 million. The time frame? Maybe 20 years.
“It’s expensive, and that makes it very controversial and maybe not practical,” Gepner said. “I think it’s going to be a tough sell at the airport.”
But perhaps the most significant part of an airport bike feasibility study just completed for Hennepin County is that it brought together six public agencies whose buy-in could boost airport access by bike, especially for 17,000 employees who work there.
“I know there’s a demand from the employees,” said Dan Boivin, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission. He wants bike access integrated into pending construction.
Besides the Hwy. 5 route, the consultant report identifies several much cheaper ways to encourage cycling to the airport. It proposes improvements on several airport perimeter roads that connect with nearby bike routes, starting with simple striping of bike lanes and in some cases adding more protective lanes.
Richfield also hopes to begin work soon on a 77th Street underpass at Hwy. 77 to increase access from southeast Richfield for all vehicles. The report also urges building a raised shared-use trail along 34th Avenue S. to improve access to Terminal 2.
The most promising link to the main terminal is Northwest Drive, which runs from Post Road to the airport post office. But the part closest to the terminal is one-way, ending a stone’s throw away. It’s illegal to walk a bike against traffic on the terminal exit road there, airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said.
But that access will change once a planned hotel and parking ramp are built, expected by 2019. Then Northwest Drive would be converted to two-way access to a new transit terminal under the ramp. Bikers won’t have dedicated lanes, but pavement markings will encourage sharing the road.
The Hwy. 5 proposal is less certain. State transportation officials say they’re willing to work through design issues. But “I don’t know if the FAA would allow it,” said Allen Dye, a capital projects manager for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “The last thing they want is to add more people in that runway protection zone.”
But that route would trim miles off the Northwest Drive alternative for cyclists coming from the area of south Minneapolis where many airport workers live. It would also avoid the sometimes-flooded route through Fort Snelling State Park.
Demand from cyclists?
The study notes that San Francisco’s airport attracts an average 350 bikers daily. Although bike rack counts at the MSP airport found just a handful of bikes, the study forecast biking demand could reach 430 daily cyclists.
Count Steve Clark of Cushing, Wis., among those critical of current airport bike access. His previous job for the League of American Bicyclists took him around the nation to help cities make themselves more bike friendly. He typically traveled with a folding bike in a suitcase.
“I’ve been to probably over 100 airports. Minneapolis-St. Paul is the worst. It’s the only one I was not legally able to bike from — the Lindbergh terminal,” Clark said.
At age 72, Gepner wonders if he’ll be around for the recommended improvements.
“The big plus is that the airport people are actually looking at it and doing something,” he said. “We’re a world class bicycle area so we should have a world-class airport.”