The connector route closure at Kensington Street is the result of bicyclists and walkers taking a short cut across city property to reach a public street, Mayor Mike Bawden said Sunday. Bellingham and 42nd Street entrances remain available.
Bawden wanted to leave the connector open to do a count of foot and bike traffic across the connector trail, but the mayor does not get a vote.
“Both residents and trail users are upset and feel like they have some right that has been violated,” Bawden said. “A lot of people in Riverdale, because of the way (some) bike riders have behaved, have no sympathy,” Bawden said. “It’s a complex, nuanced situation that goes back over 20 years. “
“Back in the 1980s, someone said it would really be great if you could ride your bike all the way from Bettendorf to LeClaire,” Bawden said.
A variety of conversations were held, sometimes with the Department of Transportation, the city of Riverdale and Arconic (then Alcoa,) where some employees rode bikes to work.
In the mid-1990s, when the Iowa DOT expanded State Street from two lanes to four lanes, the City of Bettendorf and the city of Riverdale had discussions about access. “As long as you’re going to build that bridge over Duck Creek, could we widen the bridge and make the sidewalk on the side of the bridge wide enough for bikes — a 10-foot wide path instead of a six foot wide sidewalk?” Bawden said.
“Could we also plan on a bike path on the south side of State Street past the (Arconic) entrance up to LeClaire?”
Various entities control the roadways in the area:
- The short stretch of State Street between Brenny’s Motorcycle Clinic, 4426 State St., on Bellingham and Duck Creek, is a state highway, so the DOT controls it.
- The north side of the street is in Bettendorf.
- The south side of the street is in Riverdale.
The state could continue to expand State Street up to and including the sidewalk on the north side of the street which is in Bettendorf, and on the south side of the street up to within a couple of feet of the businesses that are there, said Bawden.
In the middle 1990s, the DOT said it did not want a bike trial on the south side.
In 2004, Bettendorf and Riverdale put a turnaround at the end of the Duck Creek bike trail underneath the state highway coming up into Van Gundy Park.
“When that was put in, the documentation I’ve seen on that said that was a turnaround for the Duck Creek bike trail,” Bawden said. “There was never a mention of the Mississippi River Trail or connecting to any other trail.”
Some maps do consider the area as a connector. The Official Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Guidebook "Rails-Trails Iowa & Missouri: The definitive guide to the state's top multi-use trails," says "the South Kensington Road crossing affords a connection to the Duck Creek Recreation Trail."
In 2007, Bettendorf and Riverdale signed an agreement to extend a bike trail from Leach Park to Bellingham Road/Riverdale.
The original path ran from Leach Park along the industrial section and the river in Bettendorf.
“It comes up 42nd Street in Bettendorf,” Bawden said. “The way it was originally designed, it was supposed to go over the railroad bridge that ran along Duck Creek, then would be a bike path up to Bellingham road, cross that and go into Riverdale and through.”
When it got to Riverdale, Havens Acres — which includes 97 residents, or about one quarter of the Riverdale population -- already had problems with a train running through the middle of their neighborhood, and objected to a bike trail.
The way the bike path was being designed, it was a risk, Bawden said. “The path would have run on a berm that would have been about eight feet above the grade of the surrounding land.”
So the idea was to install the bike trail but move it south of the neighborhood and south of the railroad tracks.
The 2010 the plans do not show any connection between Kensington and the bike trail, he said. “Kensington dead-ends, and then there’s a Riverdale city-owned lot, about ⅓ of an acre, then there is the land owned by Arconic where they were going to build the bike trail.”
The total cost was $1.2 million for the first phase of the bike trail. Haven’s Acres residents returned to the council and asked for a fence because people would cut across the empty lot.
“The council said to just deal with it, basically,” Bawden said.
The bike trial officially opened in 2012, when, sure enough, bicyclists and walkers began to cut across the vacant lot.
“It’s understandable. It’s convenient,” Bawden said. “It knocks off about 1,200 feet ... That doesn’t make it right.”
The city, in agreement with Arconic, paved the shortcut.
“Guess what a paved sidewalk says to a bunch of people on the bike trail? We saw traffic increase up and down Kensington Street as a result,” Bawden said. “You can imagine the reaction from the residents. They were letting their opinion be known.”
People have left garbage in the area, have stretched out for a picnic in someone’s yard, and even have removed things from residents’ gardens.
In the meantime, Bawden, elected mayor in 2018, had a discussion about the issue with representatives from the Quad-Cities Bicycle Club and the Bi-State Regional Commission. But he said no feedback was provided.
“We’ve never designated it as a trail,” Bawden said. “You can ride on the street. That’s fine. You just need to get to the street the same way everyone who lives there does: Off State Street.”
Closing the connection does not close the bike trail, he said.
“State Street/Bellingham Road is a DOT-approved crossing,” he said. “I understand it’s common sense to go under State Street than it is to go over State Street.”
“We’re not done yet,” Bawden said. “We’re going to try to address safety concerns trail users are expressing.”
Until about three weeks ago, Bawden had not heard concerns about the Bellingham crossing.
“If you’re on the MRT and you want to connect to the Duck Creek trail, there are two ways that do not require you to ride across Kensington,” he said.
Riders can stay on 42nd Street and go up to State Street and pedal across about 50 yards of lawn and sidewalk and take the bridge, and then come down and loop around and get to the Duck Creek drive. Additionally, they can stay on the MRT up to Bellingham, then, before crossing State Street, make a left, travel about 80 yards across some grass, and then they will be on a 10-foot-wide sidewalk that’s not technically a bike trail.
Neither path requires bicyclists to cross State Street.
In 2019, Bawden received a letter from an upset Havens Acres resident. “I can’t wait for options,” said the resident, whose children play in the yard at night. The resident found tire tracks there: A vehicle had cut off the trail and gone to Kensington, right through the resident’s yard.
The issue grew more heated, and contentious posts began to appear on social media.
What’s now, what’s next
Now the completion of the fence continues along the MRT. “It will be a combination of fences with gates in them,” Bawden explained. “The main gate is the gate over the connector path between the trail and Kensington Street.”
The resolution the council adopted says the gate will be locked unless there is an emergency. The fire chief has keys to the gate and can drive an emergency vehicle there.
During the summer, trains stop on the tracks and that part of the neighborhood is temporarily sealed.
Bawden will continue to work with the City of Bettendorf “to see what we can do on the north,” he said. “The bike club has been very helpful. David Ring (club president) has been tremendous,” he said. “I know he’s frustrated.”
“(Bawden) and I have to get the the IDOT involved to give Riverdale permission or easement to improve the Bellingham area crossing area near Brenny’s,” Ring said Sunday.
“I’ve been inundated with messages from the bike club membership,” he said. “It was a council that made that decision. It wasn’t the mayor – he’s the official spokesman.”
Ring did not respond to an email requesting comment. But he posted a response to closing the Kensington connector on the club’s Facebook page:
“The Quad Cities Bike Club (QCBC) is disappointed with the Tuesday night Riverdale City Council decision to permanently close the Kensington Street connector between the Duck Creek Bike Trail and the Mississippi River Trail,” he wrote.
“This decision was made before the previously agreed to Bi-State Regional Commission traffic count of trail use at the Kensington Connector, the Duck Creek Underpass, and the Highway 67 street crossing. Had this 30-day count been done, the data could have been used to quantitatively assess the actual impact of traffic on the MRT and the Kensington Connector.”
Instead, he says, the decision was made based on a passionate appeal from the councilperson representing Haven’s Acres and the longstanding neighborhood sentiment that access from the MRT to the Havens Acres neighborhood was related "to burglaries, theft, assault, indecent exposure, attempted child abductions, failure to stop at stop signs, littering, destruction of property and high speed car chases on the MRT."
“What’s next: QCBC will post signs that direct trail users of the Duck Creek Trail and the Mississippi River Trail through the area and across Highway 67.
“Trail users should download and use the Our Streets app to report safety concerns to IDOT,” Ring advises. “This will give us the data we need to improve the safety conditions through this area.”
The QCBC will work with the Iowa Department of Transportation, the Iowa Bike Coalition and area communities and groups to improve the connectivity between the two trails, he wrote.
“Although the Riverdale City webpage states that Riverdale wants to become a Bike Friendly Community, the action Taken by Riverdale this week indicates there is much work to be done,” Ring concludes.
“This needed to have been addressed in 2007,” Bawden said. “But it wasn’t, so now it is. And that’s why people are upset.”
Bawden will talk to Iowa DOT representatives about whether something could be done to make people feel safe riding bikes on the south side of State Street.
He also is in talks with the City of Bettendorf.
"I really can’t think of any other place in any other community where there is a connector trail as heavily used as the MRT running through people’s yards.”
It’s not a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) issue, Bawden said: “It’s already in their back yard.”
“At the right level, we’ve got the right people who are all engaged and want to figure out a solution.”