Voices: Northeast needs better biking infrastructure

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July 4, 2011 // UPDATED 10:17 am - July 13, 2011
By: Andrew Lyman-Buttler
Andrew Lyman-Buttler

Thank you for your excellent bike commuting article in the July 4–17 issue of The Journal. I live in Audubon Park and work in Eden Prairie, and I’ve been riding to work ever since I realized that about 12 miles of the 17 mile route is covered by the gorgeous Cedar Lake Trail. (The situation improved even more when the trail extension to the river was completed — it's much safer and easier now that I can bypass most of the downtown traffic and stop lights!)

I think one of the most difficult things about bike commuting from Northeast is the relative lack of bike facilities compared to other parts of the city (especially the South Side). A quick glance at a map in The Journal will reveal this disparity. In fact, Northeast is so un-bikeable that the official Minneapolis Bike Map cuts it off almost entirely! The only off-street bike trails in NE are St. Anthony Parkway (which is lovely, but unfortunately terminates with the Missing Link, and has a huge hill in the middle of it that many cyclists can't climb), and the Diagonal Trail (which ends abruptly in SE Como and doesn't connect to any other bike routes). I suppose you could count the 18th Avenue trail from Johnson to Stinson, but it's so poorly designed that almost nobody uses it. Meanwhile, the South Side enjoys the Midtown Greenway, the Cedar Lake Trail, the Kenilworth Trail, the newly-completed RiverLake Greenway, the Chain of Lakes, Minnehaha Creek, West River Parkway, Hiawatha, etc.

It's fantastic that much of our city has such great bike routes. I use them all the time ... the challenge is getting to them! Downtown has connections to all of them, but getting downtown from NE is no small feat. 18th Avenue seems to be the designated east-west bike route across NE, but its heavy traffic and huge pavement cracks (many of which are several inches wide) are very discouraging, and the "Bike Lane" paint wore away long ago. Monroe seems to be the (unofficial) north-south route, but it has its share of hazards too, the most troubling of which was a 2-foot-wide, 6-inch-deep pothole underneath the railroad bridge (where it's too dark to see!) near 18th Avenue which was only recently filled in. There aren't any bike lanes or signage on Monroe, at least not that I've seen (and I ride on it a lot). Also, getting from downtown to NE Monroe during rush hour really involves taking your life into your own hands, since you have to cross three lanes of one-way traffic on the Hennepin Avenue Bridge to make the left turn. Not for the faint of heart! (The bridge doesn't even have a bike lane, and a lot of motorists act like we don't belong on it.)

Even if 18th and Monroe had smoother pavement and better signage, why should Northeast residents accept getting nothing more than signed bike routes when South Siders get so many lovely off-street trails? Certainly if we can afford all this for one part of the city (including a brand-new greenway and a hugely expensive downtown trail!), we could be doing it here in Northeast, too.

I've tried bringing this issue up with my elected officials, but the multiple layers of government make it confusing. If I want better bike facilities in my neighborhood, who do I talk to — the city? county? park board? state? All of the above?

For example, MnDOT is planning to resurface Central next year. I've asked MnDOT staff to put in a bike lane (since this is the obvious best route downtown!) but I was told that this will be a City of Minneapolis issue. Then, when I try talking to people at City Hall, they tell me that Central (65) is a state highway, and it's MnDOT's concern! I think most people don't know (or don't care) about the finer distinctions between all these layers of government; we'd just like to see the job done, please.

Anyway, the people at MnDOT that I spoke with made it pretty clear that cars are their top priority for the Central Ave project, and they're not willing to consider any bike improvements that might affect car traffic or parking (despite a study commissioned by Bike Walk Twin Cities that shows this is unlikely).

This is unfortunate, because the Central Ave project is a golden opportunity to finally — FINALLY — make downtown accessible to NE residents by bike, and it could be done at a minimum of expense and disruption of existing streets.

It's clear that bike commuting has many benefits for individuals (health, enjoyment, save gas $) and the community (reduced traffic, cleaner environment, $ to local bike shops instead of oil companies). I hope we as a community can get the word out and tell our elected official in large numbers that Northeast residents deserve great bike routes too!

Andrew Lyman-Buttler lives in the Audubon Park neighborhood.