Bloomington trail closures, detours to be decided “in collaboration” with engineering department

Signage for closure of The B Line during the recent removal of some callery pear trees. (From slide presented by parks operation director Tim Streets at the board of park commissioners Jan. 24, 2023 meeting.)
The signage for the closure of The B-Line Trail in 2022 near the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack came in the form of an 8.5 x 11 laminated sheet, which is barely visible on the chain link fence.

Under a new policy, when multi-use trails in Bloomington are closed—because of work by contractors or a dangerous situation—a detour has to be provided that gives trail users a convenient alternate route.

The policy was adopted by Bloomington’s board of park commissioners at its regular meeting on Tuesday.

Under the new policy, the closure has to be marked with signage that’s compliant with the Indiana Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

The policy also says that the decisions by the board about trail closures and detours have to be made “in collaboration” with the city engineer.

The development of the policy came after complaints about the city’s implementation last year of a detour and signage for a B-Line closure. That closure was made in connection with the unsafe building order issued by the city for the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack.

The signage for the Johnson’s Creamery B-Line closure consisted of an 8.5 x 11 laminated sheet. The wording on the sign for the initial detour directed trail users from the north to head across a parking lot to Morton Street, south along Morton to 7th Street, then west to The B-Line. The length of the detour was about 850 feet compared to the 350-foot segment of the closed-off trail.

After complaints from Bloomington resident Greg Alexander, who also serves on the city’s traffic commission, that detour was eventually changed so that a pathway parallel to the trail, through the parking lot, was delineated with orange water-filled barriers.

Even the revised detour was not adequate, according to traffic commissioner Sarah Ryterband at the time. She said about the revised detour, “It was kind of a piss-poor attempt, if you’ll forgive the expression.”

Ryterband made her remark when Alexander brought the issue in front of the traffic commission. He proposed that the traffic commission make a recommendation to the city council that the city code be amended in a way that would include trails like The B Line in the definition of public right-of-way.

The consequence of including The B Line in the definition of public right-of-way would have been to require that the city engineer, as opposed to the parks department, supervise any decisions on the trail’s closure.

Other traffic commissioners and city staff were opposed to making a recommendation about changing the city code. The approach preferred by city staff was to have the board of park commissioners develop a policy on trail closures and detours.

At the heart of the issue was the question: Who should have ultimate responsibility for multi-use trail closures and detours—the board of park commissioners or a traffic engineer?

Alexander presented a case to the traffic commission that it should be the city engineer’s role  to supervise trail closures and detours. But traffic commissioners were unpersuaded that the right approach was to change city code.

The policy approved by the board of park commissioners on Tuesday was first considered, but tabled, at the board’s November 2022 meeting.

At the November meeting, Alexander told the board from the public mic that a decision by the board to close a trail or approve a detour should not be made “in collaboration with” or “in consultation with” the city engineer, Alexander said. Rather it should be done “under the supervision of” the city engineer.

At the November meeting, board member Jim Whitlach indicated that he wanted the policy to make clear that it’s the parks board that makes the decision, not the city engineer.

On Tuesday, when parks operation director Tim Streets presented the board with the policy again, he pointed out that the wording in the policy says “in consultation” with an engineer when it comes to designing and building new trails. But the policy says “in collaboration” with an engineer, when the issue is a trail closure or detour.

About the engineering department, Streets said, “We really lean on them and their expertise in this realm.”

The board’s Tuesday vote on the policy was unanimous.