Cyclist group watches over the Greenway

SHEILA REGAN | Updated 5/16/2013

The Midtown Greenway’s Trail Watch group keeps eyes on the trail.

Cyclists passed the Midtown Greenway Trail Watch as the volunteer group stopped to help an intoxicated man on the Hiawatha LRT trail.
Photo by Bre Mcgee

On a Sunday night in late April, a group of about six bicyclists in neon vests came upon a man carrying two glow sticks and stumbling in figure eights along the Hiawatha LRT trail in south Minneapolis. The bicyclists stopped and talked to the intoxicated man, telling him that they would call detox for him.

While they waited for the police detox vehicle to arrive, the leader of the group, Mark Ambroe, engaged the middle-aged man and asked him about his situation. The man didn’t resist. “I don’t want to do this no more,” he said, getting emotional.

Ambroe nodded sympathetically and offered the man resources for getting help.

This isn’t a particularly usual occurrence for the Midtown Greenway Trail Watch. Most nights for the group, which rides nightly along the Midtown Greenway and some nights on the Hiawatha trail, go without incident — aside from the occasional broken glass or graffiti to report.

That may be a credit to the Trail Watch. The group was formed out of an online discussion on the Minneapolis Bike Love website about safety on the Greenway. It became part of the nonprofit Midway Green­way Coalition in 2008. The program has grown from just one ride a week to bike patrols every evening. The volunteer riders say they bring more eyes to the Greenway while promoting bicycling in the artery.

The group meets every night, regardless of weather, although for insurance reasons they go on rides only if three or more people show up. A number of local businesses, including Pizza Lucé and Galactic Pizza, sponsor the group, which allows the coalition to reward volunteers for putting in a certain number of rides.

For the Trail Watch riders — who range from three to almost a dozen in the summer — it’s also a fun way to see the city.

Kathy Koch, a petite Powderhorn neighborhood resident who works as a nurse, joined Trail Watch three years ago because she was looking for a way to get regular exercise. Koch found that she enjoyed the camaraderie of the group, which makes her feel like she’s promoting “an ecologically good way to travel.” Now a trail leader on Wednesday nights, she rides every week. “I just love it,” she said.

Koch even got her neighbor, Dave Evans, to join. During a Wednesday ride, they commented on the beauty of the Greenway. The view of the Martin Olav Sabo bike/pedestrian bridge against the colorful sunset, with the downtown Minneapolis cityscape in the distance, was especially striking, they agreed.

Koch rarely comes across anything that raises a red flag for her during her Trail Watch rides. Mostly, she’s just happy to be out exercising on beautiful nights.

In fact, the Greenway is statistically one of the safest places you can bike in the state, with more than 1.5 million trips taken annually, according to Greenway Coalition executive director Soren Jensen.

Donald Greeley, a crime prevention specialist with the Minneapolis police, said in an e-mail that only six incidents have been reported in the past two years on the Greenway between 3rd and 21st Avenues, roughly spanning the Phillips community, and there have been no incidents in the stretch west of Nicollet Avenue. “That is amazingly low for an area that size,” he said. “The Greenway is a very safe place compared to the surrounding streets.”

The Police Department’s Third Precinct sends out squad cars at random times between 911 responses, something it increased following last month’s “Molotov cocktail” incident, in which young kids launched an incendiary weapon at a cyclist, according to Greeley.

Paul Holt, a Trail Watch leader on Tuesday nights, says that riders have had discussions about avoiding any kind of vigilantism. Mostly, Trail Watchers act as a watchful presence. The more people riding or walking each night, they say, the safer and stronger the community. “We’re not law enforcement,” he said. “We’re not going to be stopping crime in action.”