Minneapolis West River Parkway Trail Redesign

Anyone who’s used the trails along West River Parkway in Minneapolis over the past few years would probably agree that they’re overdue for an overhaul. Good news: It’s happening. The plan is to rebuild them starting in June 2009. Design plans are coming together right now.

West River Road Trail Redesign
(Pink marks the proposed bituminous path. Blue marks the proposed concrete path.)

Carly and I had a chance to attend a meeting about the design plans for the reconstruction at Brackett Park tonight. The turn-out was impressive. We clearly live in a very active community that takes its trails seriously. They played a very significant role in choosing a Minneapolis neighborhood to move to back in 2004 for us and they play a daily role in our lives today.

The section of trail getting attention runs from Franklin Ave on the North to Minnehaha Falls.

Here’s what we learned tonight:

1. Bike Trails will be widened from 8 to 10 feet.

2. Run/Walk trails will be 8′ with a concrete surface (more on this below)

3. When combined due to available bluff space, they’ll try to maintain a 12′ wide surface

4. Lighting will be improved. This is part of a city-wide plan to upgrade lighting. You can see examples of this on East River Parkway to the South of Franklin.

5. The amount of impervious area will increase due to path widening. However, they plan to grade as much of the path to drain toward the street rather than river which is supposed to help improve water quality from run-off. There will also be a few drainage designed green spaces.

6. The path should be more durable than the current version. As I understand it, this is because they know more about building long-lasting trails than they used to.

7. They plan to separate the trails further apart than they are today when possible. However, room is tight between the road and the drop into the gorge.

8. Around 6 trees will be removed. However, additional green spaces will be created in other areas.

9. There are design proposals to close one of the two entryways to parking lots along the parkway, such as at 36th Street & Becketwood. This should allow for increased green space and a smoother surface with less congestion for trail users. The explanation of the changes across from Becketwood received applause:

West River Road Trail Redesign

That design shows a closing of the South driveway, adding a trail to the road, and moving the crosswalk further North to the straightway. Right now, the crosswalk is on the curve, which is a very dangerous spot for the slow moving pedestrians from the senior home who are trying to safely access the parkway across the street.

10. They estimate it will take 3-4 months to rebuild the trail. It will be disruptive. They hope to keep some areas open during construction but don’t have a plan in place on how to reroute trail traffic during reconstruction.

The biggest noticeable change for most people would be the parking lot redesigns, such as this proposal to remove a few spots down near Lock & Dam #1:

West River Road Trail Redesign

Concerns about running on concrete, which leads to combined path issues. Park Board’s standard is concrete for pedestrian path.

Concrete Running Path?
UPDATE: The plan has been modified based on feedback. Both paths will be asphalt.

Running in attendance were more than a little surprised to hear that the proposed surface for the running/walking trail is concrete. Runners commonly avoid running on hard surfaces as a way to protect their bodies from injuries, and concrete is the hardest surface they’ll encounter.

Using concrete for the running path sounds like a disaster waiting to happen since many runners will avoid running on that path in favor of the softer, asphalt, bike path. This will lead to congestion, accidents, unhappy bikers & runners.

The question of safety of concrete as a running surface was raised at the meeting. The presenter (John Deitrich?) said that they looked into this and they didn’t find a difference in surfaces. Regardless of the science, if runners won’t run on it, there will be trail use issues caused by the surface differences.

However, it looks like there really are physical health issues caused by running on concrete. A nice round-up of studies can be found on Google Answers that includes this breakdown of running surfaces by a podiatrist:


Dr. John Pagliano (the podiatrist quoted in the Men’s Fitness article above), who also coauthored a scholarly article on Illiotibial Band Syndrome) comes down against concrete, saying that “if you switch to softer surfaces, you can cut your injury risk by 50%.” In this particular article, the magazine rates ten running surfaces (1 being worst/10 being best)–I realize your question is specific to street running, but I’m including all of the surfaces here in case it’s of interest:
Asphalt: 6
Cinders: 7.5
Concrete: 1
Dirt: 8
Grass: 9.5
Sand: 4
Snow: 2.5
Track (referring to synthetically made tracks): 7
Treadmill: 6.5
Wood Chips: 9

If you’re passionate about running, your fellow runners, or bikers who compete for trail space with runners, please take action to get this issue straightened out. This decision will be with us for the next couple decades so the time to act is now. Here’s who to talk to:

Nick Eoloff
Project Manager

Janell Wojtowicz
Communication Specialist

Sandy Colvin-Roy – City Council Member Representing the Area
Phone (612) 673-2212
Fax (612) 673-3940
Email form on website.

Scott Vreeland – Park Board Member Representing the Area

29 thoughts on “Minneapolis West River Parkway Trail Redesign”

  1. While use of the asphalt bike trail is a possibility, I think it’s more likely that people will continue to run on the grass making the elimination of the unsightly dirt paths less likely. Is it possible that they think concrete is better because it creates a “different” look that suggests different uses (running/walking vs. biking)? Seems dumb.

  2. Thanks for the report, this path is very overdue of a new look. Will the road be any wider to help the issue of cars sharing the road with bikers? That has to be one of the bigger concerns for the redesign.

  3. It seems like there are a lot of options for pervious hard surfaces these days. Any talk of those? We just did a new parking area and walking path at the school where I work in pervious material. Of course it costs more.

  4. Thanks Ed for providing those links and emails. I heard about this meeting today and I joked that I hoped they didn’t turn the running trails into concrete. I can’t f-ing believe that they’re actually considering this. Pure garbage.

  5. Matt, as I understand it, the Park Board’s default surface for walking is concrete. Since they plan to widen the bike path, I have to assume that there will be a bit less grass/dirt to run on.

    Moe, this work is trail only. No road changes other than possibly changing a few parking lot entrances.

    James, I don’t think pervious surfaces are on the radar. The closest they’re at is tilting rain water toward the storm sewers rather than having it run down the gorge. I thought storm water ran directly into the river anyway, so I’m not sure what that solves.

    Nathan, do something about it.

  6. Was there discussion about where they’re planning on putting roadway signs? The current design where the path is immediately adjacent to the back of the curb places road signs about 12″ into the southbound bike path lane in places. The easiest fix is to provide a small grass buffer between the curb and the path, but this isn’t an option where space is scarce….

    Concrete is a great surface for walking, and I like how the concrete path meanders about. Concrete is a lousy running surface, and I hate meandering about while running. The concrete path will be great for walking, not so great for jogging. As a jogger, I’m sure I would continue using the bike path…

  7. Having ran dozens of marathons and several ultras, I consider myself a fairly seasoned runner. I don’t really buy this no-running-on-concrete stuff. Come on. There’s a million things runners can do to prevent injury and take care of themselves, and the practically negligible (at least to the touch) difference between concrete and asphalt should not drive runners to complain about concrete paths created specifically for them, nor should it (and this is always my favorite) drive them into RUNNING IN THE STREETS. That’s ridiculous. Suck it up. Blaming concrete on injuries is completely insane – running is hard on your body. Period. Blame your crappy shoes or awkward running style or a poor diet, dehydration, any of these other far-more-influential factors. AND STAY OUT OF THE ROADS.

    But, thanks Ed for the update on the bike paths being redone. You know as a year-round commuter that West River Pkwy has been basically out of the question for years now – so bumpy, so hard on the bike.

  8. Jake, assuming you’re right about the different in surfaces for running, I imagine you’d agree that there are a ton of runners in Minneapolis who will refuse to run on concrete, so will end up on the asphalt bike path. Preventing congestion and potential accidents on the bike path is probably reason enough to make both asphalt.

    Reuben, I’m not sure what the plan is for signs.

  9. Jake- You’re wrong. Look at Ed’s table comparing the hardness (ok, not purely scientific). This is backed up by plenty of anecdotal evidence as well. I run 60-70 miles a week (about half on the River Roads). I also run as part of my commute to my office, which takes me on concrete sidewalks for 10 miles. I am always feeling far more beat up when I finish that run than if I were to do a 15-miler on asphalt.

    Please look at the evidence. And it makes sense too. Concrete has a crystalline structure that is very hard while asphalt is an extremely viscous liquid. Inherently in the physical properties of these surfaces, there is a marked difference.

    I blame your good joints and genetics for not succumbing to running on concrete. For the rest of us, asphalt makes a difference. Good day sir.

    Check out this link:


    Try the hammer test and get back to me.

  10. Thanks for the awesome update – I was hoping to attend the meeting. I am most excited about the new lighting – I have seen the new stretch over by Desnoyer Park and it looks great.

  11. I won’t run on concrete. I’ve done enough long runs (including races) on concrete and can guarantee the surface affects my body differently…and for the worse. Given how hard running can already be on the body, and me not getting any younger, I don’t need to increase my chance of injury. As I do now, I’ll first choose to run on the small “unsightly” dirt path next to the running path, and will then choose to run on the bike path and lookout for bikers. Or, I’ll choose another path.

    First – I’ll email one of the above mentioned people to voice my opinion.

  12. “They plan to separate the trails further apart than they are today”
    Any comments made about the safety of the walking/running trail when they are separated too much? I rarely take the pedestrian path when its dark and shady and out of view of the street (like at ~29th or when the few places where the path drops 10 feet below the bike path and is 100% hidden by trees).

  13. Maggie- The walking trail that drops below the bluff is called the Winchell Trail and is not part of this design. That has been under repair for the last year or so and more will be repaired this spring. Totally separate trail and separate project. Ed, correct me if I’m wrong.

  14. Maggie, I think they’re considering splitting the trails by further than a foot apart when possible. I’m not sure if they plan to address the safety issues caused by having the pedestrian trail wander so far away from the road & bike path.

    Nathan, Maggie’s referring to the paved upper pedestrian trail.

    Dennis, do you respect the rights of criminals more than those of law abiding citizens who commute by bike? I get the impression that your glass is a lot more than half empty. Try proposing rational solutions rather than throwing out straw man arguments.

  15. If runners win the day on this, and they have to modify the design, I’m telling you, we as people are way too comfortable.

  16. Concrete seems over-engineered and (if I understand costs of surfacing correctly) overly expensive for the purposes of this path. This is simple human transportation here, just re-do the old path in the same asphalt surface and call it good for the next 10 years.

    I too will run on the grass besides the concrete before I’ll subject my aging joints to the hard surface.

  17. I think you’d probably see more walkers than runners. I run on concrete all the time, from sidewalks to gym floors. I don’t even think about it.

  18. Ed – it’s true. In the grand scheme of things, I’d rather see less accidents/confrontation between bikers and runners (although, I never ever bike on bike paths – I prefer the road, myself). And if asphalt is the answer, so be it. I just think (as is evidenced by our crappy asphalt roads) that asphalt is kind of a quick fix, and will inevitably, due its softness, need fixing again far sooner than concrete.

    Nathan – Wow, 60-70 miles a week! Color me impressed. We’ve probably ran several of the same races. Maybe I came out of the gate a little too aggressively on the concrete vs. asphalt point, I apologize. And, sure, there’s charts and graphs and articles that note the differences between the two surfaces. All I was suggesting is that the differences are minor enough (to me, luckily, like you said) that I don’t understand fussing about it. Kind of like water vs. gatorade vs. Heed Sports drink: studies will show how water is good, but gatorade is better, but Heed is probably the best choice – but at the end of the day, they’re ALL good for you and you basically just need to make sure you’re getting enough of one of them. So, I guess my attitude is: concrete, asphalt, rocks, granite, marble, the surface of the moon – they’re ALL hard on our bodies and in the long run will ALL slowly wear us down.

    And the whole running in the road thing. It just bugs me – it makes runners look annoying and clueless – because the safety of the sidewalk is three feet away but they choose to run in the road, with traffic (!). I can’t imagine runners want all of the sidewalks converted to asphalt, do they? Either way, I hear your point, and in the end, if everybody’s happy, that’s what’s important.
    Grass, sand – bring it on, this is why trail runs are always the best ( :

  19. Well, the talk at Lifetime Highland Park this AM (where many of us run out of daily heading down to the river) was this concrete vs asphault business. Many of us are 50-60 mpw’ers, have run many marathons, halfs, ultras, du’s and tri’s between us, and we vote “thanks, but no thanks” on concrete and plan to write to those listed above (thank you) to voice our opinion. We’ll make due with whatever the end result is, but the general consensus is to continue truckin’ along on the bike path if concrete should appear. Congestion is not an issue for us at the time we run, but it sounds as if many others are coming to the same conclusion, which can lead to overcrowding. That being said, thanks for making improvements, we know we are blessed to live in an area that has such nice paths for us to enjoy (and such “nice” issues to debate), and the new lighting ROCKS!!

  20. Replacing all of the existing asphalt pedestrian path with concrete is disturbing and will create even more conflicts between bikers and runners, because runners will not run on the concrete path. I have never seen one runner on the concrete sections that exist now. Shin splints, back, knee, ITB, or plantar pain are all aggravated by running on concrete. But the trail planners don’t seem to care.

    Planners say concrete costs more, but lasts longer. This longevity argument may be true for roads used by heavy motor vehicles, but how is that relevant for a path that will never have the weight of motorized vehicles, snow plows, or even bicycles on it? The ped paths are never plowed, so they are walked on for only half of each year! Also, the planners admitted that the new asphalt bike path will last longer than the old one, due to better installation methods. Shouldn’t that extend the life of an asphalt ped only path? As for cost, the price of crude oil is at a 5-year low.

    Planners heard runners say they won’t run on concrete, but they aren’t listening. Maybe it’s because the project manager admitted this reconstruction is for walkers and bikers, who are their primary concern and make up the majority of users, not runners! This attitude is unacceptable. Saying they believe new shoe technology make running on concrete safe is opinion not based on fact, and is not what sport experts, scientists, doctors, and other runners are saying. Besides, runners know what they feel.

    An article in RunnersWorld magazine stated:
    “About the only good thing I can say about running on a concrete sidewalk is that you’re less likely to get hit by a car than if you were running on the road. Run on it long enough, though, and you might feel like you have been.”

    If this reconstruction is meant to make the trails safer and user friendly for decades to come, why are planners choosing to make a decision that will make the bike trail even more unsafe? Why isn’t the health and safety of runners a concern for park planning decisions?

  21. The parkway roads should be widened to accommodate cyclists. The situation now is untenable. Avid riders and strong commuters can’t use the bike paths due to user conflicts. I would rather deal with autos than a runner with a stroller and leashed (or unleashed) dogs. There should also be more traffic calming methods applied, as theses roads have turned into rush hour bailouts for frustrated drivers, which puts the parkway ideal into jeopardy.

  22. A possible reason for the concrete choice is also the price of oil. As I understand it concrete (traditionally more expensive) is now more in line with asphalt (which has an oil component). Not sure how the recent price of oil change affects this.

  23. I’d love to see more non-paved surfaces. They are a dream to run on. How about having a wood chip path next to the sidewalk? Even if it’s only a foot wide that would be wider than the narrow dirt strip that is created by the runners. It would look better and be nicer to run on. Or just fill the area between the walking and biking paths with woodchips.

    Just as runners and walkers have somewhat different trail needs, I’d say recreational bikers and bike racers and many commuters have different needs because they are going at different speeds. If you’re trying to go fast, the trails aren’t always a good option with the bumpy curb cuts and slower bikers. I often use the road when I commute because of this. Hopefully widening the bike trail will make it easier to pass so bikers of varying speeds are less of an issue. People will need to get used to staying to the right if going slower just like they are supposed to on the highway.

  24. I find this debate interesting. Someone mentioned to me a few years ago that running on asphalt is easier on the body than running on concrete. While I agree the City of Mpls should use asphalt, I think there are some variables to consider. First off, many of the articles I found that support using asphalt verses concrete were written from authors that live in warm climate environments like California. Sub zero weather will make running on asphalt just like running on concrete. Second, weather fluctuation can cause hardening of asphalt. Asphalt, in the early years, may be soft but the older it gets, the more like concrete it becomes. Eventually, there would be little if any difference between the two. Third, concrete is usualy laid in squares and isn’t continuous like asphalt. There are MANY different kinds of concrete so it’s difficult to ascertain what (if any) difference there would be. How about rubberized concrete?

  25. Assume for a second that there are no physical differences in the hardness of asphalt vs concrete. If that’s the case, yet runners still believe there is, it’s still a problem to create parallel paths with two different surfaces. Making the paths of the same surface in two different colors would be a problem if one of the two groups refused to use their designated path.

    This reminds me of the pedestrian paths worn through the mall on the U of MN campus. It doesn’t matter how nice the sidewalks are if they don’t serve a pedestrian’s purpose. At the U of MN, that’s getting from point A to point B efficiently. Along W River Rd, it’s about running preferences. And the safety of bikers who’ll have to deal with runners who’ll refuse to use the new path.

  26. I run along the river roads about everyday and hardly ever use the walking path. There are some logistics to it. I see a lot of runners running on the grass/dirt path of the trails too. I run on the bike path in the winter because it’s allowed and the City doesn’t plow the walking path. I’m also one of many that hop on and off the bike trail in the summer too. If they widen the bike path by two feet (8-10) that’ll free up some space for us runners. In comparison to the three lakes, it seems like the bikers around the river roads are accepting of us runners. Partially, because the walking path is very poorly lit. I agree with you, but I think (based on my observations) there are more runners using the bike path currently than the walking path. Hence, there really isn’t a “running” path along the river roads today. It is a shared path with both runners, walkers, and bikers.

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