Comments Requested: Minnesota Statewide Bicycle Plan

LM623x300MnDOTPlan-0907

MnDOT is updating the Minnesota Statewide Bicycle Plan and accepting public comments on the draft plan through November 16, 2015.  If you have any thoughts you should let your voice be heard; you’ve got about two weeks left.

Some things to think about as you read and comment on the plan:

  • Will this plan produce bikeways you want to ride on? Will it encourage bikeways your friends, neighbors and relatives will want to ride on?
  • Will this plan encourage a large number of people to ride bicycles for transportation instead of driving? Will it significantly increase the number of children in Minnesota riding to school?
  • How will the results of this plan compare to places that you think have been successful with regard to bicycling?
  • Read with a critical eye and consider how statements might be interpreted in practice. Detail and specificity are extremely critical to clear communications. One person’s protected bikeway might be a 5’ wide painted lane along a 45 mph county road while your idea might be that some cement provides better protection than paint.

Vision and Goals

They start off really well by using two of my favorite bicycling phrases right up front— ’Safe and Comfortable’ and ‘All Ages and Abilities’.

Plan.Vision

 

It gets better.

Plan.KF2

“Plan participants rated investments to facilitate local travel two to three times higher than investments for statewide bicycle travel.” The vast majority of bicycling in places with high modal shares of bicycling is fairly short 2 to 5 mile trips to the store, school, or dinner. This is the key type of bicycling that attracts the largest share of people.

Plan.KF3

“MnDOT’s stakeholders have strongly expressed preference for separated bicycle facilities.” We consistently see the results of this as well. The better the network of bikeways that are physically protected from motor traffic the greater the number of people riding. This has been demonstrated in Minneapolis, New York, and Europe as well as at local schools like Chippewa Middle School and Rice Lake Elementary.

By jove I think they’ve got it.  This sounds like something I would have written.

Public Engagement

MnDOT has held numerous meetings around the state over the years. A concern I’ve raised about these is most of us attending these meetings are more serious bicycle riders and aren’t representative of the vast majority, like about 99%, of Minnesota’s population. I give MnDOT a lot of credit here for producing a plan that, at least on the surface, appears to do a good job of considering all potential users and not just the strong and fearless.

In a previous post I’d said that we needed a state-wide organization to advocate for good protected infrastructure throughout the state. A state level version of The Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition or The Green Lane Project. Something similar to the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain perhaps.

Reading this I’d almost nominate MnDOT. Almost.

More Than Just State Roads

MnDOT’s impact on bicycling in Minnesota goes well beyond bikeways along state routes and these tie in closely with this plan. MnDOT are the keepers of the guidelines (and some funding) upon which many infrastructure projects throughout the state are based. An update to the Bikeways Facility Design Manual coming in 2016 will hopefully provide a good foundation for this plan as well as for cities and counties building infrastructure that’s good for all people of all ages and abilities to ride on.

MnDOT also oversee Minnesota’s Safe Routes To School (SRTS) program. It would be great to see SRTS promote safe, comfortable, and convenient bicycling protected from motor traffic in the same way as this plan.

Conclusion

Overall, I think this a good plan. They are certainly saying the right stuff. I would have liked to have seen more detail about types of facilities that MnDOT feel are appropriate though. As with many plans, the devil will be in the details. What a traffic engineer thinks is protected, what those who attend public meetings think are protected, and what the other 99.9% of the population will feel comfortable for their own riding or for their children to ride on can be three very different things. A lot of this plan will hinge on the planned update to the Minnesota Bikeways Facility Design Manual and direction given to engineers using it. Both are critical.

The CROW Design Manual For Bicycle Traffic is considered the leading and most successful bicycle facility design manual in the world; its guidance has produced the highest share and safest bicycling environment in the world. Even so, it necessarily allows for considerable interpretation by engineers. One engineer may take a ‘meets minimum requirements’ approach while another may give consideration to what is best for the most vulnerable users. Both follow the guidelines but produce very different results.

Finally, I would like to have seen inclusion of those with disabilities and how they might use these facilities with mobility scooters and handcycles.

A Good And A Very Bad Start

MnDOT are building a good track record with initiatives like the Gitchi-Gami trail along Highway 61 on the north shore. In the judge-them-by-their-fruit-and-not-their-rhetoric, this is a winner.

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New Gitchi-Gami bikeway on left side of bridge (MN State Highway 61 crossing Cutface Creek near Grand Marais MN).

 

LM600MnDOT01-6688

Gitchi-Gami Bikeway tunnel underneath MN State Highway 61.

On the other hand, the segment of US Highway 61 recently rebuilt through downtown White Bear Lake is a failure, particularly  in light of this plan.

It ticks off all of the if-any-state-corridor-should-be-a-great-bikeway-this-one-should boxes. It connects multiple communities and is a critical, but now broken, connection. It provides both local and regional transportation. It would greatly benefit from protected bikeways. It is a State Priority Corridor according to this plan. It is also a Metropolitan Council Tier 1 Regional Bicycle Transportation Network alignment.

It is in a fairly dense area and has the potential for a huge amount of bicycle traffic and to significantly reduce local car traffic as it connects a lot of recently built and planned high density housing with local retail. And yet, even with all of this going for it MnDOT failed to make it even remotely safe for bicycling.

MN State Hiway 61 through White Bear Lake was rebuilt in 2014-2015. This is a key corridor that connects a lot of close-by high density housing with local retail yet no safe place to ride bicycles was provided.

US Highway 61 through White Bear Lake was rebuilt in 2014-2015. This is a key corridor that connects a lot of close-by high density housing with local retail yet provides no safe place to ride bicycles.

Perhaps one day we’ll see children riding to school on facilities like those in the picture at the top of this page.


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5 Responses to Comments Requested: Minnesota Statewide Bicycle Plan

  1. Luke Van Santen
    Luke Van Santen October 28, 2015 at 10:22 pm #

    I agree that it is a nice-sounding plan, and I acknowledge that things like this are evolutionary / progress in small increments, but I think it is REALLY limited – the focus is very heavily on the State Bike Network (I can’t count how many times the phrase “State trunk highways” is used!). And, because it essentially defers to the Metropolitan Council bike plan (except along major roadways (I-35, US 169) in the Metro, or to some extent where regional & local bike networks cross major roadways), it has a strong focus on Greater Minnesota. Which is cool, because bike tourism, but…

    All this despite the repeatedly acknowledged fact that “respondents preferred separated bike facilities 2-3 times more than bikeways on shoulders”…

    From your questions to ask –
    Q1 – Will this plan produce bikeways you want to ride on? Will it encourage bikeways your friends, neighbors and relatives will want to ride on?

    A1 – No, and no. The great majority of my bike travel is local, not between cities. And if I do decide I want to travel between cities, I really don’t want to have to ride on the shoulder of 35 or 94.

    Q2 – Will this plan encourage a large number of people to ride bicycles for transportation instead of driving? Will it significantly increase the number of children in Minnesota riding to school?

    A2a – No. The main listed method of encouragement is production of the State Bike Network map (page 68). Not sure how that is encouraging?
    A2b – No. Very few parents are going to let their kids ride along the State Bike Network, much less on their own local streets.

    Q3 – How will the results of this plan compare to places that you think have been successful with regard to bicycling?

    A3 – Perhaps I’m being a bit pessimistic, but it seems this plan will do little to move Minnesota along the path to much improved biking. There is hope in that the Bicycle Design Standards will be updated and distributed regularly, but will the new standards be read or put into practice by the recipients?

    More later, perhaps. Just finished first read, need to ruminate on it for a while…

    • Walker Angell
      Walker Angell October 30, 2015 at 1:01 pm #

      All good points. Let MnDOT know.

      What should they do to improve bicycling locally?

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