Bicyclists say Southwest light-rail plan 'can work'

  • Article by: PAT DOYLE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 6, 2014 - 10:01 PM

Opponents of the Southwest rail plan have cited its potential harm to bike trails, but cycling advocates say “it can work.”

“Save the Trails, Reroute SWLRT,” read signs outside some Minneapolis homes near the planned path of the Southwest Corridor light-rail transit line. The message: Carving out space for transit in the Kenilworth recreational corridor will harm some of the most cherished bike and pedestrian trails in the city.

But leading trail boosters don’t buy it.

“It can work,” said Nick Mason, chair of a Minneapolis bike advisory panel and a manager of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota.

The disagreement is part of a wider debate over the Southwest line that will heat up this week as the $1.5 billion transit project, the most expensive in the Twin Cities, faces renewed scrutiny after a moratorium to further study its impact from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis.

In the Kenilworth corridor, residents of a neighborhood where the light-rail trains would cross a bridge over a water channel have cited potential harm to adjacent trails as a major reason for opposing plans for the Southwest project. But owners of townhouses nearby are more willing to accept the light rail because it would be hidden in a tunnel near their homes with the trails and a freight train track above it.

The tunnel plan was designed by the Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing the project, in part to satisfy objections to moving the trails to side streets to make room for the light rail.

Preserving the Kenilworth trails above light-rail tunnels would add $160 million to the project, four times the cost of rerouting the trails. Some officials with authority over funding balk at the cost, but bike advocates say the price is justified because the trails are used by 550,000 people a year and are a commuting alternative to motor vehicles and a safer route than bike lanes on roads.

While the trails would be relocated during light-rail construction, the plan calls for returning them to the corridor in much the same condition as they are today.

Combined bike and pedestrian trails that are now 18 or 19 feet wide would slim to 16 feet. Elsewhere, existing 12-foot-wide bike trails would grow to 14 feet in some areas. Separate pedestrian trails now 5 feet wide would gain another foot.

The biggest change occurs on a roughly three-quarter-mile stretch north of Burnham Road, where two existing trails — each 9 or 10 feet wide and routing bikes in opposite directions — would be replaced by a single 14-foot-wide divided bike trail. A pedestrian trail would remain nearby.

“That is not something that would be a deal breaker for us,” said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. “We recognize that not everything is going to be exactly the same.”

Connecting trails preserved

Fawley said there are places along the popular Midtown Greenway bike trail in Minneapolis narrower than the 14-foot-wide bike paths contemplated in Kenilworth. “I don’t think going from the current condition to a 14-foot-wide, two-direction bike trail is destroying the trail,” he said.

An advocate for biking on the nearby Greenway agrees.

“It’s nicer if the bike trail were wider so two bikers can be side-by-side, but that’s kind of a luxury,” said Soren Jensen, executive director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition.

He supports the Kenilworth plan in part because it preserves a connection with the Greenway bike trail to the south and the Cedar Lake bike trail to the north.

“It’s going to be a real pain for two years” during light-rail construction, he said. “But the important thing from a biking perspective is it gets reconstructed.”

Opponents of the light-rail plans have predicted it will lead to the demise of the trails that wind through a wooded area.

  • This week’s meetings

    The Metropolitan Council will host facilitated public meetings on studies of freight traffic, water resources and landscaping in the Kenilworth area.

    Tuesday

    5-7:30 p.m.

    Kenwood Community Center

    2101 Franklin Av. W., Minneapolis

    Thursday

    5-7:30 p.m.

    St. Louis Park Recreation Center

    3700 Monterey Dr., St. Louis Park

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