Comparing Suburban Bike Trails

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 6th, 2010

The suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul have been building bike trails for a number of years. Early on, most of the trails were nothing more than asphalt sidewalks next to busy roads. The cities have gotten more creative since then.

Woodbury and Maple Grove have developed an extensive trail system through the back yards of the residents. The yards in question are very large and they back up to the neighbor’s yard, creating a long green corridor. In traditional grid cities, the border between the yards is reserved for an alley and often a corridor for power lines. Woodbury and Maple Grove use the border for bike trails. The concept is sound, but I see very little use of the trails, except near the city parks. Apparently most residents prefer to load their bikes onto a car rack and drive to a park for riding, even if the trail through their backyard goes to the same location.  I find the trails to be quite generic, primarily because the yards are generic. It would be more interesting if a portion of those large backyards were converted into interesting plantings such as prairie grasses, woodlots or flower gardens. It would also help if the trails were signed with maps and directional signs.

Shakopee uses the same basic concept, with the dual purpose of catching and directing water run off . The water flows over grasses that slow it and allow it to soak into the ground. Unlike Woodbury and Maple Grove, the public portion of the corridor is wider than the bike path providing a close-to-home open space for children and families to use. As a result, the trail and corridor are used more heavily. It would be nice, however, if the corridor had more texture and color. Shakopee has institutionalized the grass monoculture. The entire corridor is uniformly green, short and weed free, a sign that the look is maintained using a mix of herbicides and fertilizer.

Cottage Grove went for color. A large portion of the main bike trail is being restored as a hybrid prairie with lots of prairie flowers and a few native prairie grasses. The effect is a riot of color and texture during the summer, when residents use the trail most heavily. Yards are smaller in Cottage Grove, and often more interesting, because the owners have created flower and vegetable gardens. They’re most noticeable when entering or leaving the trail system via one of the access trails.

Shakopee and Prior Lake took advantage of natural green spaces by building paths and boardwalks through wetlands, around the edges of lakes and through valleys. The effect is very soothing although the boardwalks can create anxiety. They are narrow and the surface is often uneven. Some riders should walk their bikes on the boardwalks. The boardwalks also require ongoing maintenance. The trail through Dean Lake Nature Preserve, for example, was severely narrowed by a recent mowing that wasn’t followed up with a sweep of the path and wetland plants grew up through the boards of the boardwalk.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News, Misc