There's good news for walkers and bicyclists in the Twin Cities, not only are temperatures warming and snow banks receding but there will also be $16 million spent this year to improve biking and walking in Minneapolis and some surrounding communities.
Officials are putting the finishing touches on plans to build and expand 40 routes
and make numerous intersection improvements for walkers. The net result
in Minneapolis will nearly double--from 43 to 80--the number of miles
of bike routes and paths.
It's wise to look both ways when crossing the intersection at the
historic Seven Corners area in Minneapolis' West Bank neighborhood.
It's where two busy four lane streets, Washington and Cedar, meet, next
to the University of Minnesota.
There is a lot of traffic and a lot of people and one of the city's
highest rates of vehicles hitting pedestrians. The main problem at the
intersection is left-turning motorists not seeing the pedestrian
"We're going to provide funds for bump outs or curb extensions,
shortening those distances quite a bit, so the pedestrian doesn't have
quite so far to go," said Steve Clark, program director for the
federally-funded Bike Walk program operated by Transit for Livable
Communities, A St. Paul nonprofit. "We're also going to add pedestrian
refuge islands so that if you can't get across the street while it
still says walk you have a place to have sanctuary."
Clark said the changes will be in place by this fall, but the result
may increase driver frustration.
However, Steve Clark's view is driver behavior toward walkers and
cyclists improves when they see medians or other roadway changes.
"It provides an immediate cue to the motorist, 'OK I need to start
looking for pedestrians,'" Clark said.
Measured against the billions spent on roads and bridges in this
country, $16 million to encourage biking and walking in Minneapolis is
spare change. However, even a decade ago biking and walking were seldom
considered anything more than recreation.
The money being spent around the country to build more bike routes and
improve intersections is evidence they are now seen as legitimate forms
Minneapolis is one of four areas in the country to win the federal
funds. The others are Sheboygan County in Wisconsin, Columbia, Mo. and
Marin County, Calif.
Shaun Murphy, Minneapolis' non-motorized projects coordinator, said one
reason may be the city's large number of bike commuters, second behind
Portland among the country's largest cities.
"We have about 8,000 biking to work every day and about 17,000 people
walking to work every day who live here," Murphy said. "It's going to
be a big change for the public because most people still get around by
driving alone to work. About 70 percent of our residents still drive
Another change to encourage bike traffic is putting some Minneapolis
streets on a diet. A handful of four-lane streets will be reduced to
three to make room for bike lanes.
More people bicycling and walking may seem like a recipe for more
accidents in our car-oriented culture. However, Murphy said crashes
between bikes and cars, for example, are down from between the 1990s
and the last decade by almost 20 percent even as bicycling numbers are
Not everyone is on board with the biking and walking improvement plans.
Residents in St. Paul's Macalester-Groveland neighborhood are divided
over the plan to designate Jefferson Avenue a bike route.
"For example, speed humps or tables, traffic circles, parking on the
north side of the street in some areas," Dallman said.
St. Paul public works officials are holding off making final plans for
the Jefferson Avenue bike route until residents' concerns are
Minneapolis has been creating biking and walking paths for decades, but
mostly next to lakes and in parks where there's not much interaction
with cars. The near doubling of bike routes on city streets this year
marks a historic turn for the city.
Along with improvements for walkers at intersections the changes
present challenges as people on foot, on bikes and in vehicles adjust
to make room for one another.