Condo groups question street-level bike trail

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June 13, 2005 // UPDATED 1:55 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

A multimillion-dollar Downtown bike trail connection could be built between Washington Avenue North and West River Road - just feet from condominium entrances and parking exits - or it could stay in the railroad corridor that runs below street grade.

Or, Downtown could get both.

The tussle over Cedar Lake Bike Trail placement has come to North Loop doorsteps - literally - as condominium associations question the street-level option's safety, reduced 4th Avenue North parking a00nd lost greenspace.

The long-planned street-level alternative is scheduled for 2006 construction, but the City Council voted in February to also support the trench version.

Donald Pflaum, city Public Works transportation engineer, admits there's duplication, but that new area development could support both connections.

Pflaum said the street-level option already has $2.1 million in federal money and $1 million in matching funds from the city's capital budget.

That plan would bring bikers out of the railroad trench at Washington, behind the Security Warehouse Lofts, 404 Washington Ave. N., and 5th Avenue Lofts, under construction at 401 N. 2nd St. The path would then move onto city streets at North 2nd Street & 4th Avenue North.

Rock Island Lofts, 111 4th Ave. N., did not exist when the plan was designed. Now, the 14-foot trail would run along a sidewalk in front of the lofts, just six feet from building entrances, according to condominium association members. Those residents say the stretch could be a danger to cyclists, as well, because cars will cross the trail as they exit Rock Island parking.

At the behest of the Rock Island and other nearby condominium associations, the North Loop Neighborhood Association has written a letter to City Councilmembers and Public Works, objecting to the 4th Avenue alternative and asking for updates and clarifications on the city's plans for the trail.

The letter states that the railroad option would make the street-level trail unnecessary.

However, trench funding is still uncertain; $3 million inserted in a federal transportation bill by U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo, is tied up in conference committee and faces a possible presidential veto. Matching funds of $1.2 million did not make it into the state bonding bill.

Although some have floated the idea of moving already-approved funds from the street-level option to fund the railroad alternative, Pflaum said "you can't match federal money with federal money."

Pflaum met with residents and Rock Island Lofts developer Shamrock Development, which has agreed to build the section of the 4th Avenue trail between North 1st and 2nd streets. Pflaum said the trail could be narrowed to 10 feet in front of the building to allow for some plants, grass and possibly trees.

Public Works and Shamrock will need to know what - and if - they'll be building.

"I gotta do something, either pave it or landscape it, or something," Shamrock President Jim Stanton said. "I've delayed it quite a while now, and my buyers would like me to proceed."

However, those same buyers - through their condo association - are opposing the trail construction. Stanton agreed that the location is not the most desirable or efficient, "but we need to proceed to get Rock Island finished up," he said.

"We're budgeted and ready to do it. What do we do to keep everybody happy?"

Pflaum said his department is working with Shamrock and the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) on final plans. Pflaum said plans and drawings must be submitted to MnDOT by September 2006 to collect the federal funds.