Swap the Midtown Greenway for Lake Street Cars are used to trenches; bicyclists can enjoy street life

I ride my bike on the Midtown Greenway at least once a week. I’m really grateful to the folks who worked hard to create a bike and pedestrian cross-town corridor, but I have to be honest…it isn’t exactly my idea of what a bikeway should be.

I believe a bikeway should offer more than a quick ride from Point A to Point B. Because bicyclists spend more time in, and experience more of, their environment than motorists, they care about the landscape. In spite of the heroic efforts of the people who work on the Greenway, the part that runs east of Uptown (what some bicyclists have nicknamed “The Trench”) remains an ugly, graffiti- and litter-strewn, subterranean wasteland.

The Trench has a lot of problems that I don’t think can be easily fixed. It has a claustrophobic feeling. Personally, I feel safe in the daytime, but I would never bike there at night. I can only imagine how a woman riding solo on that stretch would feel.

The Trench has a lot of broken glass. I had twelve flat tires this year. The bike repairman at my favorite bike store told me it was because I rode in The Trench. He recommended I armor my tires with bulletproof plastic.

The Trench has too few exits and some are not well placed. For instance, there should be an exit at Pleasant Avenue, which the city has designated a bike route from south Minneapolis to downtown. The Nicollet Avenue exit feeds into Nicollet Mall -- which remains off-limits to bicyclists most of time. If you want to bike south from the Nicollet Avenue exit, the way is blocked by K-Mart and a chain-link fence with a small gap to squeeze through.

Most of all, I feel cut off from the rest of the city when I’m riding in The Trench. I can’t look in shop windows, there’s no place to stop and buy an iced tea and relax. It’s lonely and…. BORING! I’m not the only bicyclist who feels this way. I’ve have noticed fewer and fewer bicyclists in The Trench, while the ground-level stretch west of Hennepin Avenue seems as popular as ever.

The other day I saw workmen removing the railroad tracks that ran along the bikeway and it gave me an idea: why not swap the Trench for Lake Street? Turn the Trench into a car-only motorway and create a bicycle/pedestrian/transit-only mall the entire length of Lake Street from Lake Calhoun to the Mississippi River!

The Trench would make a much better route for cars. Motorists are used to traveling in ugly trenches like I-35W and I-94. Motorists are in too much of a hurry and too busy staying alive to look at their surroundings. The Trench doesn’t have as many traffic lights as Lake Street. The Trench could also be decked over to provide more space for communities along the way.

A Trench Motorway would solve the problem of creating access from 35W to businesses along the Lake Street corridor without widening Lake Street or reconfiguring the ramps from 35th Street down to 38th Street. Ramps could connect 35W and Highway 55 to the Freeway Trench and it would feed motorists right into the new Wells Fargo Ramp, Allina and the Sears Building parking lots.

Businesses that cater to motorists on Lake Street would probably have to relocate, but auto repair shops and carwashes are eyesores that help give Lake Street its seedy reputation. Other businesses would feature parking in the rear accessed by a frontage road on the south edge of The Trench. Signs could help guide motorists on The Trench to the right parking lot.

Lake Street would experience a boom as parking lots became available for commercial and residential development. The Lake Harriet streetcar line could be extended from Linden Hills to the river and perhaps down Nicollet Avenue to Downtown. The new Lake Street Greenway would have plazas with cool fountains, outdoor cafes and festivals like Nicollet Mall.

The creation of a busy pedestrian/bike/transit Lake Street Greenway will have another good effect: more “eyes on the street” will decrease crime. Street prostitutes and drug dealers would no longer have access to motoring clients on Lake Street. Children will have a safe place to hang out. Cops could more effectively patrol the street on foot, bike or horseback.

If bicyclists and pedestrians swapped The Trench for Lake Street, it would be a win not just for them, but for the entire city.

Ken Avidor is a cartoonist, writer and resident of Kingfield. He can be reached at avidor@avidorstudios.com.