Bike bridge: benefit or boondoggle?

Despite Lyndale overpass, many bikers keep to the streets

For bicyclists traveling between Loring Park and the Wedge neighborhood, the five-block stretch between Franklin Avenue South and East 15th Street has long been a necessary evil.

The city hopes to make the trip easier with a two-phased project.

A newly constructed red brick bike bridge already offers bikers an alternative to the traffic between Franklin Avenue and I-94, a wider pedestrian and bike path is being laid down. Once completed, the path should make the descent into the park more pleasant.

While many are looking forward to the improved path, more bikers are sticking to the streets, instead of using the $1.6 million bridge.

The count: bridge vs. street

In a one-hour period during a recent sunny Friday afternoon rush hour, 42 bikers rode on the street between Franklin and the I-94 entrance ramp. By contrast, only 14 bikers used the bridge.

Before the bridge opened last August, a bicyclist’s best route from Southwest into Downtown was to squeeze in with the heavy car traffic along Lyndale (legal, but somewhat dangerous) or bike on the sidewalk – not a legal move.

Traveling south from Downtown, the options were worse – a two-block bike path leaves bikers facing oncoming traffic and a sidewalk full of pedestrians, street signs and newspaper boxes. Most took to the sidewalk; some even headed the wrong way into the traffic. Neither option is legal.

Theoretically, the bridge provides a better option, passing over Lyndale from just before the I-94 on-ramp to where Bryant and Aldrich avenues meet one block north of Franklin.

Rider response

Still, many bikers have resisted taking the bridge. Some – especially those headed straight south or to the east of Lyndale – say it’s not practical.

For example, bikers headed to the Wedge Co-op, 2105 Lyndale Ave. S., would have to cross back over busy Lyndale from the south end of the bridge. Others were unaware of where the bridge went.

Fritz Gundlach, a year-round bike commuter, lives in the Wedge and works at Joe’s Garage in Loring Park. Though the bridge is right in line with his daily commute, Gundlach said he rarely uses it.

“It seems to take me out of my way,” Gundlach said. “Riding the streets takes less time.”

Biker Jesse Newman Peterson agreed. “It’s unnecessary,” he said, after passing up the bridge entrance to head southbound on the sidewalk down Lyndale. “It isn’t any more convenient.”

That same day, Heather Swinney rode with car traffic up Lyndale from the Wedge Co-op. Swinney said she rides the stretch three times a week but has never used the bridge.

“I don’t know where it starts,” she said. “Hennepin Avenue?” She said she might try the bridge, now that she knows where it goes, but she called the $1.6 million price tag “a bad waste of money.”

The bridge was built with federal funds, said Public Works Project Engineer Stephanie Malmberg, along with a 20 percent match from the city and Neighborhood Revitalization Program funds from the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) and the Citizens for a Loring Park Community (CLPC) – approximately $127,000 and $63,000, respectively.

Wedge resident Martin Connell said the bridge is worth every penny. He uses the link several times a week – now that he’s discovered it’s there. He pointed out that there are no signs identifying or directing people to the bridge.

“This is great,” said Connell, “but I can’t believe how few people use it. I don’t think I’ve ever passed anyone on it.”

Before construction, the city did a survey of bike, pedestrian, Rollerblade and skateboard traffic along the stretch of Lyndale. Throughout a 12-hour period on an early summer day, they counted approximately 3,000 people heading to or from Franklin, “a substantial [number] of people,” said Malmberg.

There has been no follow-up count of how many are using the bridge, she said. “The city is probably waiting until the rest of the connection is complete.”

Malmberg said she has received only positive feedback via email about the bridge. “Usually, if people hate things, they let you know; if you’ve wasted their money,” she said. “The biggest problem is people don’t know [about the bridge].”

She said a party is planned for later this year to get the word out, and signs will direct bikers between the bridge and the Midtown Greenway, a straight shot down Bryant Avenue.

Phase Two – sidewalk relief

The most notable aspect of the project’s second phase is the 10-foot wide shared-use path that will replace the narrow sidewalk and bumpy curb cuts between Groveland and East 15th Street, near the entrance to Loring Park.

Malmberg said the current $600,000 phase will add landscaping, vegetation and ornamental fencing. Traffic signals will be upgraded at Groveland and 15th Street intersections, and a number of signs will be removed so there are fewer obstructions along the path.

Gundlach, the street-riding commuter, said he was glad to hear that a path would replace the sidewalk. He has even used the bridge at least once since his interview, despite his early skepticism.

At the Wedge end of the bike bridge, construction has begun on a rest stop with bike racks, benches landscaping and an “artistic fence” near where Aldrich and Bryant meet. That work is funded in part by a $50,000 art grant, Malmberg said.

Phase Two work should be done by this fall.