Lake Harriet/Calhoun Bike Path Discussions Show How Far We Have to Go

The suggestion of making the bike paths around Lake Harriet and Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) two-ways was quickly shot down by a community advisory committee this week. The hyperbolic narrative and complete lack of recognition of automobile domination is troubling, especially in discussions around a park. 

Case in point...

  • The proposal was called by one advisory committee member an "ecological disaster" because expanding the bike trail by a few feet would apparently add 1.7 acres of paved space and cost 146 trees. Meanwhile, 15 feet away from those paths, two-way car traffic releases pollution while using a roughly 25-foot wide paved space (far more than the bike path--and even more where there is parking) without a mention. 
  • "Members of the advisory committee argued that the bike paths should instead be oriented toward recreational use." Meanwhile, 15 feet away no one suggests that the roadway should be converted to one-way traffic and reduced to 10 mile-per-hour speed limit to reduce non-recreational driving.
  • A person commenting on the article said with perfect well meaning: "I'm surprised the article did not mention accidents. Two bicyclists hitting head on at speed is not pretty." Meanwhile, 15 feet away, cars go two way at higher speeds and nationally more than 30,000 people are killed each year driving. 
  • Several other commenters offered things like "How dare the Park Board make that poor soul bike an extra 1.5 miles." Meanwhile, removing a parking space that might lead to a slightly longer walk from a car is regularly criticized.

If we really want to improve the ecology, recreation, and safety of Harriet/Bde Maka Ska, we really should be looking at making the parkways one-way for cars and putting the other bike direction and green space in the freed up car space.

But the reality is that most of these comments come from people for whom regular bicycling, much less bicycle commuting, is foreign, but driving is totally normal. As one of our volunteers and Harriet-Calhoun Community Advisory Committee member, Ben, noted in an August blog about the possibilities of this project: 

"Will any of this [forward-looking improvements including for biking and walking] happen?

I don’t know. For one thing, many of the same struggles related to parking, density, and anxiety about cultural change that we routinely see in other planning processes will play out here."

We've social engineered an environment where the automobile is normal and assumed to be a essential while a desire to bike, especially to go somewhere, is other or weird. This is true even in the most heavily biked areas--like the west side of Bde Maka Ska where more than 1,500 people bike everyday (only half as many as who are driving northbound). We are making strides to change that mindset, but we have a long way to go and we need many more people to bicycle--or know someone who does regularly--to change that. Until we do, nature lovers will periodically bemoan bikeways while ignoring the bulldozer next door. Let's all keep inspiring new bicyclists and opening more minds.

Pictures from Minneapolis Park Board

Showing 7 reactions

  • Constance Pepin
    While reducing lanes for motorized vehicles may seem an obvious solution to recreational users and visitors, closing lanes is not without serious costs to nearby residents whose neighborhood streets would have to cope with a sudden and steep increase in traffic. Calming motorized traffic around the lakes by shifting that traffic to nearby neighborhood streets would create new problems for many Minneapolis residents. The Chain of Lakes trails are not designed or intended for use as commuter roads, and it is not MPRB’s mission or job to create commuter roadways as part of an improved and less auto-centric transit system—that is the job of the City.
  • James Kruzitski
    Thanks for writing this article. The solution to the problem (and there is a problem) of overcrowded trails around Lakes Harriet/Calhoun seems so obvious – reduce the streets to one lane and use the other for non-motorized traffic – yet few are talking about it. I am happy to see that discussed here.

    I forwarded the article to my Park Board Commissioner, Stephanie Musich. She is a new Park Board Commissioner and seems to be understanding to changes that need to happen… I think she gets it. My previous Park Commissioner was clueless when it came to traffic calming.
  • Amy Cusick
    Thank you for at least trying to get it to be a two way path. I often find myself riding in the road in order to go counterclockwise around it, but that doesn’t feel very safe with fast cars and parked cars beside you. It was clear to me last night that the city doesn’t view the lake as a commuter path. They were quick to plow the Kenilworth and Greenway for the rush hour, but the lake remained unplowed. It was particularly hard to navigate with all the snow blowing off the lake.
  • Constance Pepin
    I agree about the ‘double standard’ that so many people don’t realize, because our society/city is still so automobile-centric. I agree we should hold cars to the same “no commuter enhancement standard” on parkways and other roads maintained by MPRB.

    MPRB does not seem to get this double standard and thinks it can use parklands to be all things to all people. In my opinion, MPRB has a responsibility NOT to convert recreational bikeways around the Chain of Lakes to accommodate bike commuters. Please don’t conclude that I also oppose investments in bikeways for commuters. It’s not either/or. The City needs to step in and develop better commuter roads, while MPRB needs to stay true to its mission to protect, not exploit, our natural resources, which are constantly being “loved to death” (as they often admit without doing enough to stop the damage).
  • Ethan Fawley
    Constance, thanks for your comment. Please note the “most” and “periodically” qualifiers about these commenters and nature lovers.

    My point here isn’t actually to support or not support a two-way trail, but to point out that we routinely have double standards related to biking (compared with other modes) as was shown again in this debate. I feel that double standard comes primarily from biking being seen as different and foreign and the only way to address it is to have more people biking.

    As for the role of the Park Board, my point is that if we hold bikes to the no commuter enhancement standard, then we should also hold cars to that standard and move through this process to make the parkways one-way with a lower speed limit (not dissimilar to the Wilderness Drive at Lake Itasca State Park, for example—a route that is clearly much more recreation focused than any of our parkways). And the reason we don’t hold cars to that same standard is really down to the fact that we see cars as normal and something we need to serve while we aren’t more generally there yet for bikes.
  • Constance Pepin
    Please don’t be so quick to presume that people opposed to more paved surfaces for bikes around the lakes don’t ride bikes themselves! Not all “nature lovers” bemoan bikeways or ignore the bulldozer next door! In fact, most nature lovers probably share the concern about an environment that is socially engineered to favor automobiles at the expense of the environment, with disastrous consequences. At the same time, more bikeways in the City should not come at the expense of the Chain of Lakes, which are already collapsing under the weight of people’s demands for ever more recreation. The Park Board should be protecting these green spaces from insatiable and unreasonable demands. The City should be showing leadership in improving bike transit options throughout Minneapolis, while the Park Board should stick to its mission to “permanently preserve, protect, maintain, improve, and enhance its natural resources, parkland, and recreational opportunities for current and future generations.” This mission does not include making it easier for commuters or citizens to get from one place to another more quickly, in cars, buses, or bikes.
  • Jeremy Werst
    So, widening an already existing paved trail along lakes that haven’t been “natural” in probably 150 years is an ecological disaster, but paving the river bottoms is absolutely necessary?

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