Commuters and pleasure cyclists can ride from St. Louis Park to the Mississippi. Planners said it's the nation's first bicycle "freeway."
Minneapolis officials, biking groups and citizens gathered behind the Federal Reserve Bank on Tuesday evening for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the long-awaited completion of the 4.3-mile Cedar Lake Regional Trail, connecting St. Louis Park to the Mississippi River.
The last mile, through downtown, was ready May 23 and was by far the most expensive leg at $9 million, more than five times the cost of the first 3 1/2 miles.
The 20-year effort, spearheaded by the Cedar Lake Park Association (CLPA), produced what planners said was the nation's first federally funded bicycle "freeway." Its design, with two one-way bike lanes and a third pedestrian lane, has been reproduced for trails nationwide.
Steve Durrant, a principal at Portland, Ore.-based Alta Planning and Design, which specializes in bicycle and pedestrian transportation, said he's seen more interest from local governments in trail systems.
"The obstacles include funding, but there's a growing recognition from public health and public works facilities that they're important infrastructure investments," said Durrant.
Durrant, as a landscape architect for Jones & Jones, played a critical role in publishing the master plan for the trail in 1992. At the time, people told him the last section could not be done, so he suggested that it be put it on a list of goals the city and the CLPA should expect to reach within 100 years.
Jack Yuzna, a city engineer who was involved in parts of the project since 2005, said the city and the CLPA faced many obstacles, such as negotiating the route through the area now occupied by Target Field and commuter rail lines. In 2009, the Federal Reserve saw the bike trail as a security risk because it could provide an access point for truck bombs. The design was changed to include a sharp right angle so that cars could not pass, fences and poles were added, and security cameras were installed to monitor parts of the trail.
"The last extension was pricey, with retaining walls [and] private property owners, and it was full of political hurdles, but I think the city's very proud of it, and I know we've saved lives," said David Klopp of the CLPA. "I don't think it's safe to put cars, trucks and bicycles on the same road."
Dozens of people who attended the ceremony wore yellow shirts that advocated for the trail to cross the river and proceed to St. Paul.
Mayor R.T. Rybak described his ride on the trail last weekend as a "mind-blowing experience from the core of downtown to the incredible prairie," and added: "We've got to get across that river. We're the No. 1 bike city in America.
"Portland is just an avenue in Minneapolis," he quipped.
Charlotte Zelle, 19, of Minneapolis, pedaled to the ceremony with her father, and said of the trail: "I think it's beautiful, and I don't feel endangered by cars."
Tasnim Shamma • 612-673-7603 Twitter: @TasnimS