Bicycle activists celebrate the final leg of the Midtown Greenway

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Fourteen years after a couple of lonely bicycle commuters wondered out loud why the old Midtown rail trench couldn’t be retrofitted as a bike trail, a couple of dozen bicyclists rallied on Wednesday to mark the completion of the final leg of that dream—the Midtown Greenway.

The gaggle of bicycle activists and Greenway organizers who congregated just off the newly poured and striped asphalt at Hiawatha Avenue had come together for what Matthew Lang of the Midtown Greenway Coalition called an “informal” celebration. “The formal grand opening with all the elected officials will come later in the fall,” he said. “But it was important to do something right now.”

Asked what he thought of the final stage of the bike trail, which now extends from Uptown to the river, Lang said he had “mixed” emotions. “It’s never exactly how you envision it, but there’s more highs than lows.”

Tim Springer, who worked on the project with the Coalition for some 14 years after he and former Park Board Commissioner George Puzak first considered the idea, was surprisingly low key. He said his personal commute has been shortened slightly because of the Greenway, but noted that the route now allows bicyclists from Hopkins and St. Louis Park to safely commute eastward. “Those are the people whose lives have been radically changed and improved,” he said.

Despite the length of time it took to see the project come to fruition, Springer said it was never really in doubt after about 1994, when federal money was appropriated. At that point, most of the coalition’s energies focused on raising matching funds from state and local sources. He credited Hennepin County commissioners Peter McLaughlin and Mark Andrew for their work on the project as well as City Council Member Robert Lilligren, a longtime member of the coalition, and the organization’s many volunteers.

Indeed, Springer was determined to stay in the background even as his comrades-in-bike-shorts gathered around to extend congratulations. Coalition board president Eric Hart finally took center stage, reflecting briefly on his own 11-year commitment to the Greenway, and conducted the group through a single, rather muted, “Hip hip, HOORAY!”

“Just because we now have a greenway to the river, doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot more to do,” he said, as a steady stream of bicyclists flowed past just behind him. City officials have already secured funding for bike lanes across the railway trestle bridge at 27th Street, Springer noted, a new bicycle bridge across Hiawatha could be opened by spring, and St. Paul is ready to extend the route across the river.

But Lang doesn’t want to stop there. “I want to transform 35W into a bike lane,” he said. “That’s what I’m thinking.”

At this particular moment in Minneapolis bicycling history, that dream doesn’t seem too far-fetched.

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