Hiawatha LRT Trail Detour
On July 6th, after the 3-day weekend for the Fourth of July, I encountered something surprising on my bike ride into work: the Hiawatha LRT Trail had been closed under I-94. This was odd, because I had heard nothing about such a closure, despite the fact that the trail is in Ward 2 in that location, and the fact that I track bicycle-related issues fairly closely.
My surprise turned to shock when I attempted to use the marked detour, which directed me to travel the wrong way down a one way street - Cedar Avenue, south of Minnehaha - and take a left at the extremely complicated intersection of Cedar, Minnehaha, and the ramps for I-94. At that location, cars are typically going much faster than the posted 30mph, navigating a curve in the road, and many are turning onto the freeway. It's not a good place to be a cyclist making a left.
When I got into work, I learned who was responsible: the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). They had closed the trail over the weekend in order to take down one of the bridges for the 5th Street off-ramp from I-94 westbound, as part of a project to repair the entire ramp. According to both City staff and the Metropolitan Council - which owns the Hiawatha LRT Trail - MnDOT had indicated that the trail would be closed for the weekend.
But what I heard from the MNDoT engineer responsible for the project was that the trail was to be closed throughout the month of July.
This concerned me on a number of levels. First, according to our 2008 bike counts, this facility is among the most-used in the city.
Second, when closing any facility, especially one serving so many people, the responsible agency should communicate that it will be closed to the users. For an example of how this should be done, the Central Corridor project did a great job letting the public know that they would be closing the East River Parkway bike/ped trail this year. This info was on local media, signs were posted on the trail, etc.
Third, the detour chosen by MnDOT was dangerous and required cyclists to break the law. The City has people, like the invaluable Shaun Murphy (our Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot coordinator) who could have helped MnDOT come up with better options.
Finally, the closure was simply excessive. We typically don't completely close streets for a month unless it's absolutely necessary, especially when the detour options are so unsafe and unappealing. Why should we treat a trail that's used by thousands of cyclists and pedestrians a day any differently?
I made these points to MnDOT. To their great credit, they listened, and took actions to correct the situation. The trail was reopened by the end of the week. Their engineers have let City staff know that there will be two additional short closures coming up: July 20th and 21st, and again July 26th-30th. This information has been added to the City's bicycle detour page, and will be sending it out to the City's bicycling e-list. In addition, MnDOT has put signs out informing trail users of the 2oth-21st closure. This is immensely helpful in getting the word out to trail users who may not be plugged into any of these other channels.
I have not heard that MnDOT will be changing the detour route, which I still find problematic. But MnDOT makes a fair point, which is that any detour at this location would be an issue. At least we have informed trail users of the closure, so that they can now plan to avoid the trail entirely and find alternate routes during the closures.
It is my hope that all of the agencies involved can learn from this situation, and that we can work better together to do a better job of limiting the impact of construction on cyclists and pedestrians, communicating well when we must close a facility, and working together to find safe and convenient detours for the duration of the work.