A couple of years ago, when the Cedar Lake trail extension opened, providing the missing link between the southwest metro and the Mississippi River, cycling on the trail went up by more than 300 percent, according to counts conducted by Bike Walk Twin Cities (BWTC), a program of Transit for Livable Communities.
People called the completed route a bicycle expressway.
Get ready for another bicycling explosion. The new Dinkytown Greenway provides a similar bicycle expressway for cyclists heading from the northeast metro (St. Paul, Larpenteur, Roseville, Falcon Heights, and Arden Hills) via the University of Minnesota Transitway to downtown Minneapolis. The route takes bicyclists over the Mississippi River on a bike/ped bridge known as Bridge 9, formerly a Northern Pacific railroad bridge.
Both Bridge 9 and the U of M Transitway are relatively undiscovered treasures in Twin Cities cycling. The new trail connection between them makes a sweet ride for recreational cyclists and for commuters heading to the University of Minnesota or downtown Minneapolis, two of the biggest employment centers in the state.
The U of M Transitway, open only to buses and bicyclists, is a pleasant, gently inclined, green-fringed ride between the Minneapolis and Saint Paul campuses. On the west end, it starts adjacent to TCF Bank Stadium and near Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena. On the east, it ends at the St. Paul campus and State Fair Grounds, connecting to bike routes heading east-west along Como, south along Raymond, and north along Gortner and Fairview (there are other options, too). Along the way, the Campus Transitway passes by railroad yards, the site of the new Surly brewery, and under Highway 280.
Steve Sanders, bicycle coordinator for the University of Minnesota, rides the Transitway daily. He has seen bike traffic picking up in the last year. And he says this is one of the best year-round routes. “It’s cleared down to the pavement all winter long,” he says.
Bridge 9 crosses the Mississippi River just downstream from the 10th Avenue Bridge and the I-35W Bridge. Rolling or walking over it, there are views of bike paths along the river below and of one of the locks on the river. The Weisman Art Museum gleams downstream.
The new Dinkytown Greenway trail segment requires a one-block on-street connection along SE 23rd Avenue to the new bike paths running in front of U of M buildings along SE 6th Street (between TCF Bank Stadium and the railroad yards) — the Cancer and Cardiovascular Research Building, Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, and others. The path then turns near tennis courts and continues along the rail road line, passing underneath 15th Avenue SE and University Avenue before it delivers cyclists onto Bridge 9.
The new route provides an alternative to one of the busiest on-street bicycling areas in the metro, along 15th Avenue SE in Dinkytown. When the University is in session, more than 17,000 bicyclists move through that area every day, according to BWTC.
The new Dinkytown Greenway has been long in coming. Steve Sanders at the U of M remembers looking at the location in the mid-1990s. “It has always been the #1-ranked project,” he said. But, there were tricky elements that always stopped the project, until now. The City of Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota finally found a way to make it happen, with funding provided by the BWTC federal nonmotorized transportation pilot program.
The BWTC pilot program has allocated $28 million to take bicycling and walking to the next level in Minneapolis and surrounding communities. At just over $1 million, the new trail connection is one of the largest allocations, along with start-up funds for Nice Ride Minnesota bike sharing and trail connections in Roseville, along the Hiawatha (Blue Line) LRT trail in Minneapolis, and along Douglas Drive in Golden Valley. More than 60 projects have been funded, many have opened and most others will be completed this year.
In 2014, BWTC funds will help open a bike/ped tunnel under I-35W, connecting Bridge 9 to South 13th Avenue and bike trails along the river or along 2nd Street, which has bike lanes from Gold Medal Park into North Minneapolis.
Steve Clark of BWTC has high hopes for the connections. “Bridge 9, perhaps the best kept secret in this land of cool bridges, will soon become nearly as cherished as the Stone Arch Bridge.”
Hilary Reeves is communications director for Transit for Livable Communities.
On Sunday, Aug. 4, an opening celebration and bike ride of the Dinkytown Greenway will take place.
— Noon: Bike ride begins. Riders will meet near the corner of Carter Avenue and Eckles Avenue in St. Paul on the campus Lawn. They will ride the U of M Transitway west toward the Dinkytown Greenway.
— 12:20 p.m.: “Pit stop” at Malcolm Ave. SE to meet up with Mayor Rybak and hear a brief presentation from Omar Ansari, the founder of Surly Brewing Company, about development plans along this route.
— 12:45 p.m.: Grand opening celebration at the corner of Oak Street SE and 5th Street SE, next to TCF Stadium, to formally open the Dinkytown Greenway. After the celebration, the bike ride will continue along the new greenway, through campus and across the Mississippi River to the site of next year’s Bluff Street Trail project, which will complete the trail connection to downtown Minneapolis.