One of the ways to tell how seriously bicycling is being taken is how various units of government approach those difficult but unavoidable times when bike facilities have to be temporarily closed. I know that there are a lot of examples of poor or nonexistent bicycle detours on City, County, Park Board and MnDOT projects, but I wanted to share what I consider a success story: the just-installed detour of the Hiawatha LRT Trail between the West Bank and downtown.
The Hiawatha LRT trail is a heavily-used bike highway from the whole southeast quandrant of Minneapolis into downtown. It's owned by the Met Council, one of the only (if not the only) bike trails they own. The section between the West Bank and downtown is going to be torn up and reconstructed as part of the Central Corridor LRT project, because it's where the CCLRT will interline with the Hiawatha line. The trail will move to the north side of the tracks, crossing the new CCLRT line just before it meets up with Hiawatha.
The upshot is that this trail, used by hundreds of bicyclists and pedestrians every day, will be out of commission for about 18 months. Yikes!
The City took this closure seriously, and had multiple conversations with the Central Corridor Project Office about it, both at the old Bicycle Advisory Committee and out on-site. Everyone who looked at the problem came to the same conclusion: the only sensible detour was along the old sidewalk on the north side of the 5th Street ramp from I-94 into downtown. On the West Bank end, it's pretty close to the trail - just on the other side of the LRT tracks. On the downtown side, it's about a block from the LRT trail's terminus (and the start of the trail extension onto 3rd St that's still under construction), but it connects via the bike lanes on 11th.
But there were some issues with this route as well. For one thing, it wasn't very wide. This was especially true on the bridge over I-35, which was about 5 feet wide - almost impossible to allow two bikes to get past each other.
Rather than just shrugging and telling bicyclists to make due, the agencies made some physical changes to make the route functional. They widened the path with a new asphalt extension on both sides of the bridge.
Even better, the Met Council worked with MnDOT to temporarily shrink the width of the freeway ramp so that they could separate east- and westbound bicyclists.
And then there's the communication. Not only are there good signs directing people to the detour (for the record, those weren't up on the morning of the closure, but after I made contact with the Central Corridor Project Office they were put up within a few hours), but there were signs up for at least a week beforehand informing trail users of the impending closure. The City was also able to get news of the closure out through its email alert system.
In my experience, this is an unprecedented level of quality for a bicycle detour. What accounts for how well it worked? I think there are a few key factors that we can try to replicate in other places. The City/TLC bike counts provide hard evidence that this trail is used by hundreds of cyclists per day. The Central Corridor Project Office started the conversation early. City staff - including Public Works and staff to both the Mayor and one of the Council Members for the area (me) - pushed for good accommodations, to the point of walking the proposed detour with CCLRT staff.
This detour demonstrates an understanding that bicyclists don't just go away when there's a closure; it gives the same level of service that drivers have come to expect. All bike facility detours should strive to be this good.