The paths at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden attract tourists, art admirers — and now cyclists trying to navigate detours around trails closed by the Southwest light-rail project.
Construction on the transit project between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie has pushed cyclists off well-traveled trails and onto detours that wind along city streets, through smaller passages and even the garden. Many riders say they are frustrated by the shifts, which can be hard to follow and sometimes feel unsafe on roads with heavy car traffic. Plus, it’s just inconvenient.
“Cedar Lake Trail in the summer, it’s like a bicycle freeway,” said Jackie Foster of Minneapolis, who used to commute along the trail before it closed for light-rail construction. “Then, you’re getting all those people on these little tiny trails and everything … it gets kind of crowded.”
The Metropolitan Council, which is overseeing the $2 billion light-rail project, has heard from cyclists about lengthened commute times and the increased proximity to drivers. But it asks riders to be patient, said Trevor Roy, senior communication specialist.
“We talk to bikers and community members about detours all the time,” Roy said. “We are actively always looking at the detours to try to make them more efficient and to make them more user friendly.”
The detours affect large portions of the Cedar Lake and Kenilworth trails, Glenwood Avenue and Burnham Road in Minneapolis, Louisiana Avenue in St. Louis Park, and parts of the Minnesota River Bluffs Regional Trail in Hopkins. Some of those routes will not reopen until summer 2021 or 2022.
“Detours by their very nature are inconvenient. If they weren’t, that’d be just the way to go,” Roy said. “We understand they’re inconvenient and that it’s been a little difficult.”
The Met Council has been adjusting the detours, such as adding additional signs or widening trails, Roy said. After hearing from cyclists, a narrow trail under the Interstate 394 underpass in the Bassett Creek area was widened.
For Foster, there is an upside to having more riders on the detours along city streets: It boosts cyclists’ visibility.
“It makes you feel a little bit safer,” she said.
Kristen Franklin of Edina said that her new route isn’t particularly nerve-racking, but it is noticeably longer due to stoplights and cars that tend to block intersections.
“Minneapolis has a big group of people who commute by bike, even year-round, and I feel like the poor attention to the detours is a good way to kill off interest in bike commuting,” Franklin said.
Before construction, Minneapolis resident Tom Kyle’s 11-mile bike ride to and from work, mostly along bike trails, was his favorite part of his day. He’s getting used to the changes but worries about what winters will look like on the detour routes.
“Normally after a heavy storm the city does a good job of clearing those trails, but city streets get a lot of plow buildup right where the bike lanes should be, and that can last the whole winter, which puts a lot of cyclists in dangerous situations,” Kyle said.
Shane Nackerud of St. Louis Park isn’t looking forward to years of extra headaches as he commutes between St. Louis Park and his job at the University of Minnesota. The detours around his usual Cedar Lake Trail route wind through the Sculpture Garden and require him to cross Lyndale and Hennepin avenues.
“And then I have to ride into the city streets of Minneapolis, which is a lot less safe,” he said.
But like many cyclists, he is pleased that the Southwest line will provide more opportunities for metro residents to get in and out of downtown.
“I’m excited that the light rail is going to go through; we can’t all drive our cars into downtown Minneapolis,” he said. “We need more options like this, but it’s just definitely an inconvenience right now.”
The Met Council will continue to hear the public’s concerns through the light-rail’s start of service in 2023.
“We ask people to bear with us,” Roy said. “It’s four years, and we’ll have something great.”
The Metropolitan Council has information about trail detours and Southwest light-rail construction on its website at metrocouncil.org/swlrt/construction. For urgent problems, such as blocked access or missings signs, commuters may call a 24-hour hotline at 612-373-3933.