On an otherwise lovely recent spring morning for riding a bicycle, three women from the Fun Folks on Spokes senior cycling club of Apple Valley could be found on Texas Avenue South in St. Louis Park, frustrated, fuming and lost.
They were among the first casualties of the detour that, because of the big Southwest Light Rail project, is depriving the riding public of three miles of the south Cedar Lake Trail from the Chain of Lakes all the way to Hopkins. Thus, one of the region’s busiest biking connective corridors — 2,500 riders a day in some sections — is now closed for two years.
The unpleasant truth is that there is no good detour for bikes from Bde Maka Ska to Hwy. 169. The detour’s extensive use of Minnetonka Boulevard — a busy, often narrow through-street on which buses share the bike lane — confirms this.
The specific problem for the ladies of Fun Folks on Spokes — and a stream of other befuddled riders on that lovely May morning — was that the detour’s initial signage was flawed. The women had been westbound on Minnetonka Boulevard. When they reached Texas Avenue — just over a block before the detour rejoins the north arm of the Cedar Lake Trail — the detour sign pointed south. It is clear, now, that the project’s planners wanted people to just cross the street, and then continue west. But the signage was such that many people just continued south.
That’s what the Fun Folks women did, along with other riders that day — they headed south on Texas Avenue to a commercial-residential mashup neighborhood, where they stopped, exasperated and lost (“This is horrible!”). Eventually, they noticed office buildings on distant Excelsior Boulevard, and rode off, in a huff, to find the rest of the club.
Several days later, the offending Texas Avenue signs had been changed. But, clearly, the streets of Minneapolis and St. Louis Park these days are lousy with lost and/or cranky cyclists — a point, by the way, that the managers of the light rail project will concede. Trevor Roy senior communication specialist for the Metropolitan Council’s Southwest LRT project, said “detours by their nature are frustrating.” But he also said, “We did not just pull the route out of a hat,” and that it represents the best of bad choices that were vetted by local governments and even bicycle groups.
So everyone knows, Roy said the philosophy behind the total, two-year closure of the Cedar Lake Trail — and indeed the entire project — is that it is safer and more efficient to close the whole thing at once rather than open and close segments as the project evolves.
Which is fine. But there has been mumbling in the bike lanes, wondering: So, since this detour is two years long, and the alternative is Minnetonka Boulevard, why didn’t the light rail project find room in its $2 billion budget to create a temporary, protected bike lane on Excelsior Boulevard, which is closer to the trail, requires a less complex approach from the Midtown Greenway, and, anyway, has more room?
Roy suggested that question be put to Hennepin County, since Excelsior Boulevard is County Road 3. Colin Cox, a county communications specialist, e-mailed that the county viewed Excelsior as too commercially complex and too busy for even a protected bike lane; it is twice as busy as Minnetonka Boulevard, which was thought to have better connections to other bike routes.
So the bikes were diverted onto Minnetonka Boulevard. The Southwest LRT project is hoping that cyclists will remember that their dreary detour over the next two years will nonetheless help produce a vital extension of the region’s transit system. And Roy pointed out that not only will the southern arm of the Cedar Lake Trail be restored, it will also be improved, with a new overpass at Beltline Boulevard, and some new underpasses elsewhere, all to minimize dangerous street crossings, and perhaps extend uninterrupted cruising.
In the meantime, Roy said, “Remember, the detour is not about rules. Everyone is free to find their own routes.”
A follow-up to our recent report that apparently 35% of the children who enter fourth grade in Minneapolis schools — one in three kids — do not know how to ride a bike. Imagine how many more kids, in the city and elsewhere, can ride a bike but don’t have one. One of the largest efforts to change that is nonprofit Free Bikes 4 Kidz, which, through its annual fall campaign, has since 2008 collected, fixed and bestowed more than 50,000 bikes to children in Minnesota. This month, with the return of the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride on June 15 in Shakopee, brings a new way to advance that cause. Every registration will provide at least one bike and a helmet for a kid who needs them.
Tony Brown is a freelance writer from Minneapolis. His column appears twice a month. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read archived columns at startribune.com/bikeguy.