Lake Calhoun has been part of my life since I was a young kid, whether on the beach, playgrounds, fishing docks or trails. For the last six years, I’ve used the lake’s trails to commute to my job on the northwest corner of the lake, though I sometimes cheated by walking across the ice to shave off 10 minutes when I lived in Uptown.
One thing that has struck me over all my years at the lake is that there are some perennial issues that never seem to be corrected, namely the erosion on the north side of the lake by the unofficial walking paths, the dangerously congested bridge over the channel, and surprisingly poor lighting.
A walk around the lake today reveals soil erosion at a number of points along the north and northwest sections of the lake where the ground has dropped several inches.The result is the exposure of the underside of the concrete curbing that could undermine it. There is rock and gravel from the erosion making its way onto the trail surface thereby causing a fall hazard and also leading to it washing into the lake, thereby creating a water quality issue.
The soil erosion issues could be resolved in a number of ways, such as by formalizing unofficial paths like the one west of the channel bridge, adding retaining walls at some of the hills, and planting soil-stabilizing landscaping. The fence on the east side of the channel bridge that prevented people from cutting the corner (and has now created safety concerns on the bike trail from erosion) blew over some time ago and should be replaced.
The channel bridge itself is dangerously narrow, with just enough room for one bicyclist and two walkers to safely pass. The confusion of which side to walk or ride on, while seemingly obvious to regulars, is difficult to figure out given the narrow path and the limited signage and trail markings. A long term solution needs to be found, as I’ve seen countless near collisions and even a few accidents. One such solution would be to reduce lane widths on Lake Street and reduce the size of the road’s center median to gain additional feet for the paths. Maybe remove one of the west-bound lanes until after the bridge to obtain enough space to separate the trails. Additional bike and pedestrian symbols should be painted on the trail through that section to make it abundantly clear in the interim.
Lighting is a more nuanced problem. At dusk (which is about 5 p.m. in the winter), the north side of the Lake is completely dark with the trail so far away from the street that there aren’t street lights to cast light. This prevents people from seeing the faces of those approaching (safety concern) and from seeing obstructions on the trails, such as gravel on the hilly portion of the path.
On the west side of the lake, there are street lights but the car headlights blind bikers and pedestrians, making it incredibly difficult to see where the path turns, the people near you, or obstructions. When blinded, bikers generally can’t see the trail or obstructions (including dogs on leashes) with most bike lights. Portions of the east side have additional lights but use a fixture and bulb that cast long shadow and produce glare that makes it difficult to see faces of those approaching, which makes people uncomfortable with their safety.
Over time, adding appropriate lighting designed to limit light pollution while providing function by illuminating the trail surface and people’s faces would drastically improve the public’s experience at the lake.
Lake Calhoun is an amazing amenity for our region and provides joy, exercise, recreation, commuting paths, and more to many of our residents and visitors. A 1996 Park Board plan identified some of these safety concerns, but the Board has taken relatively little action on them. As recently as last year, the Park Board stated that they are going to be looking at Lake Calhoun next now that the Lake of the Isles improvements are drawing to a close. This is great news and I certainly look forward to a serious discussion on how we plan the specific improvements to the system and how we can figure out how to fund them. We owe it to ourselves and our future generations to maintain and enhance our park system.
Thatcher Imboden is a lifelong Southwest resident, now residing in Kenny. He is a development project manager with Southwest-based The Ackerberg Group and is president of the Uptown Association. He blogs at ouruptown.com.