In the span of a short time during off-peak hours, a half-dozen users of the Cross City Trail pedaled past the Bent Paddle taproom on Thursday — as if to highlight the trail's functionality on cue.
The city-long, multi-use connector that is expected to one day link the Duluth Lakewalk with the Willard Munger State Trail faces a bittersweet biennial starting this summer when it begins to add one link while another faces years of disruption.
Over the next two years, the Cross City Trail will be extended along the riverfront through one of Duluth’s most industrial areas. The estimated $1.7 million extension will be put out for bid in June and construction is expected to last until the trail opens sometime during the “latter portion of 2020,” the city of Duluth said.
Named River Route, the section will open at a time the Cross City Trail through Lincoln Park is being displaced by four years of construction on the Twin Ports Interchange project — the nearly $350 million rebuilding of the can of worms section of elevated ramps and roadways through the neighborhood.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation announced last month it will reroute Interstate 35 onto Lower Michigan Street during reconstruction. The move will force the Cross City Trail running parallel to it to be cleared out and relocated.
The city has begun to address a detour for the multi-use trail. Cycling advocates are pressing the city to deliver a “robust” alternative.
“There will be a detour,” city engineer Cindy Voigt said. “The question we’re working on (is) ‘Is it a protected, built environment that’s comparable to what exists or is it an on-road bike road?’"
To that end, the city has hired a Minneapolis firm, Toole Design, at a cost of $25,426 to analyze possibilities over the coming months. Voigt hoped to have a detour and its costs finalized for the city’s December budget proceedings. Voigt was wary of issuing cost estimates, but said there were limitations in what the city could offer in terms of a detour — given the deteriorating streets all across the city.
“If something cost so much money, I need to be responsible when our streets are in need,” Voigt said.
The city has already conducted some of its own work. Toole is being asked to confirm a recommended route and assign a cost to implementing a detour, Voigt said.
“My fear is that they’re just going to put signage up, ‘Closed. Use Superior Street,’ ” Mike Casey said. “Superior Street is not a Cross City Trail.”
Casey is a regular bicycle commuter and has long been active in local groups associated with trails and bicycling. He is currently representing the Friends of Western Duluth Parks and Trails at public meetings. He said in general he’s finding Lincoln Park leadership more amenable to solutions which give thought to include runners, walkers and those who use bicycles, strollers and adaptive devices.
“It’s compelling because you have this business district impacted by the detour, yet the business district is more open-minded than past Superior Street business districts,” Casey said — taking a verbal shot at the ongoing downtown reconstruction project which did not dedicate room for bicycles.
Dick Haney had another concern. The retired former director of the University of Minnesota Duluth Recreational Sports Outdoor Program has made it his life’s mission to get people to move their bodies — pushing the benefits for personal and environmental well-being.
Haney has been involved in the Cross City Trail from the beginning, when iterations of the trail were tossed around as far back as the 1970s and the arrival of Interstate 35 to Duluth. The trail was always intended to feature as few crossings as possible, he said.
“The fear I have is sometimes detours set in and become final routes,” Haney said. “I’m concerned it could happen.”
Voigt said the city has yet to address what the Cross City Trail through Lincoln Park will look like post-Twin Ports Interchange.
Casey made the point that with vehicles whizzing through Lincoln Park on a rerouted I-35 that’s at street level, the notion of a more observant, slower-paced, shared trail through the neighborhood appeals as an alternative that works for the community.
“When people see others ride in a safe environment, people do it themselves,” Casey said. “And when you build bike infrastructure, people use it.”
That is the hope for the upcoming River Route segment of the Cross City Trail.
Lisa Luokkala is the stewardship assistant manager for Duluth Parks and Recreation. She described the River Route as running from the current western end of the trail at Carlton Street near the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, under the ore docks, across I-35 and through the riverfront area. The western end of the new segment will be at Irving Park, where users will gain access to the Western Waterfront Trail.
“This is kind of a unique trail system taking folks down to a part of the community a lot of folks have not visited — definitely not on foot,” Luokkala said of River Route. “It’s a historic industrial area, and we’re utilizing an old rail alignment we acquired as a portion of the trail right down to the river’s edge — right near Erie Pier Ponds.”
The River Route will become the farthest west portion of the Cross City Trail. Luokkala likes that it’s an urban trail, connecting neighborhoods. It’s required two years of staff time spent toiling on the complex work of acquiring easements and land along the route.
“I might add that many of the businesses we worked with or landholders were really great and great to work with and understood the community benefit,” Luokkala said, citing the Verso Duluth paper mill, Industrial Weldors and Machinists, CN Railway, MnDOT and others.
Haney said he expects the River Route will create new users to the Cross City Trail — ones who will want to traverse east through Lincoln Park. That’s why getting the detour right during Twin Ports Interchange reconstruction is so important, he said.
“This is connector from west to east,” Haney said. “They’re going to want to keep going.”