By Mike Brooks, Lake Links Chair
What were you doing 34 years ago in 1987? At the 11-year-old Minnesota Department of Transportation, they were conducting a review of the state highway system to determine the level of bicycle safety on each highway. Charming cover, eh? Life without GPS.
Their analysis was a proactive approach to safety and in line with the job description created for the Transportation Department in 1976 when Minnesota Statutes 174.01 was made into law.
Then, as now, Highway 96 along the north shore of White Bear Lake and Highway 244 extending through Dellwood into Mahtomedi were state highways and part of this study. Both highways were found to be unsafe for bicyclists. MnDOT noted this in their report, but also specified a solution, its cost and when the work could be completed.
Very proactive, but the identified safety fix for these highways never happened. Today, no one at MnDOT with whom we spoke with about this historical document and outcome offered to look into, research, or in some way find out why something so central to the reasoning behind their agency’s formation 45 years ago was not completed.
If MnDOT had followed through in 1987, the notion of a trail in the Highway 96 corridor would be old news, fully accepted, part of the landscape and there would possibly have been no need for Lake Links Association to organize. But for some never-to-be-understood reason the trail did not get built, and today it may seem to some like a new idea being pitched by Lake Links Association.
Hopefully knowing this history of the corridor helps to explain why Lake Links Association spent the money to create the images of the little girl riding her bike on a separated trail next to Highway 96. To explain the around-the-lake trail vision we believed it was necessary to re-start the conversation with a solid visual starting point that also defined infrastructure dimensions.
If a person had lived in either the Highway 96 or Highway 244 corridors back in 2000, they would have been part of public events and information collection leading to the publication of the 2001 Lake Links Trail Network Master Plan. That was a reset to correct the failure of MnDOT to provide for safe roads for everyone, but unfortunately, it also ended up on the shelf, this time for 20 years, due to the subtle complexities of navigating communication between units of government, interagency relationships and, ultimately, who pays for what. To be fair, all levels of government have more to consider in their daily operations than ensuring residents without a car have a safe way to get from one place to another. But given the almost unanimous chorus of positive vibes for trails, one would think these agencies could adopt a plan that ensured implementation of an identified project say, within 2–3 years rather than 20.
All of this leads us to 2021 and the assignment in 2020 from the Minnesota Legislature of $1 million for the completion of the trail segment along Highway 96 and $2.6 million for the slightly longer segment along Highway 244 in Dellwood. Now the considerations, discussions, and decisions previous generations left uncompleted are ours today. Collectively we must navigate the regional benefit and the individual impacts that are part of implementing what local legislators have pursued on our behalf and the Minnesota Legislature has deemed worthy of funding. Click below to view the individual pages for Highway 244 and Highway 96 from the 1987 report.