The lights should be on along the Hiawatha LRT Trail by the end of the year, some six years after a series of robberies on the bike trail and the connecting Midtown Greenway.
That's what city specs call for in a bid up for City Council approval this month. The $600,000 project funded by the city and Hennepin County will install lights every 95 feet in the remaining unlit areas of the trail, which parallels the Blue Line. The area to be filled in lies between 11th Av. S. on the eastern edge of downtown and E. 26th Street in the Seward neighborhood.
According to a city memo, the lights will cost some 33 percent less than the engineer's estimate. That partly reflects the presence of several lights already installed near the Metro Transit operations center, and the earlier installation of lights south of 26th when the Sabo bridge for the greenway was built.
The new lights will be higher-efficiency LED lights, which use 50 percent less energy than high-pressure sodium lights. Existing lights on the trail will be retrofitted to LED as part of the project. They'll be designed to spill light in an oval-shaped pattern along the LRT trail, according to Allan Klugman, a city engineer.
The two trails were the site of at least 10 attacks in late 2008, including one armed robbery of a Star Tribune videographer. That prompted the formation of a Trail Watch patrol of the trails organized by the Midtown Greenway Coalition that continues six years later.
There have been muggings maybe once or twice a year since then on both trails, according to Soren Jensen, the coalition's executive director. But he said that the coalition has tested light levels on the greenway with meters, finding dim spots in about a dozen areas. Three lights were added last year and three more are coming this year, he said. Jensen said priority is being given to lighting trail areas near stairways that can provide quick getaways for groups of youth that in a typical attack surround a lone biker. He said security cameras on the greenway are being improved, and he's hoping for signs that warn potential muggers that they're being filmed.
Jensen offers these safety tips 1) Bike with a companion after dark. 2) Call in suspicious activity to 911 even if you are able to speed past a group of youths since they may prey on the next biker. 3) Keep using the greenway because there's safety in numbers.
(Photo: Paul Caspersen and Mark Ambroe on night patrol on the Midtown Greenway in 2009.)