In 1979 Sandra Soucheray asked her mom Marsha for a ride to an afternoon event at nearby Chippewa Middle School. Little did she realize what she was setting in motion.
With the school only a mile away Marsha wasn’t buying Sandra’s argument that it was too scary and dangerous to ride her bike. At mom’s insistence, off they went on their bicycles to show Sandra how safe it was.
Over coffee recently, Marsha commented simply, “She was right.”
Back then, Shoreview Mayor Dick Wedell wasn’t afraid of challenges or what were, to U.S. traffic engineers, new ideas. Just before this incident he had proclaimed that Shoreview, a very typical mid-century suburb, was not safe for children.
And so began efforts to build some of the first bikeways in the Twin Cities and in the nation. A committee was formed, ideas discussed, a lot of work done, and today Shoreview has some of the best bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Minnesota. It’s likely one of the safer and healthier places to live and raise children.
There were some road blocks along the way that they turned into just speed bumps. Traffic engineers objected the committee’s desired designs didn’t meet engineering guidelines. Ramsey County also said that they had no plans (or money) for people walking and riding bicycles.
“We were a bit naive,” Marsha Soucheray says, “and that worked in our favor.”
So Shoreview negotiated a deal where they would split the bulk of the costs with Ramsey County, and then held a can recycling drive for the remaining funds.
Not all was bumpy, though. They had a bike survey inserted into the water bills for all Shoreview residents and received a nearly 80% response rate. Even better, only 5 of nearly 2000 responses had any negative comments, with these concerned about a bikeway and litter in their front yard. Interestingly, house buyers today are looking for exactly that—a bikeway in their front yard so they can safely ride places.
Not wanting their report to collect dust they continued to push to make sure it was implemented. When Ramsey County proposed an upgrade to Lexington Avenue with 3’ painted bike lanes directly next to 50 mph traffic, the committee said that wasn’t good enough. And today, Lexington has a safe, segregated path. (It’s too bad this doesn’t apply to every community in Ramsey County).
Ahead of their time
Marsha, Dick, and others such as current mayor Sandy Martin (who was on the planning commission) were ahead of their time in calling for what is often referred to as Dutch or protected infrastructure. While common outside of the U.S., it was bleeding edge here.
The committee’s report also called for a part-time position of a non-motorized transportation coordinator. Even in 1980 they recognized these paths should provide transportation, not just recreation, and people of all ages and abilities should be able to safely and comfortably ride their bicycles or mobility scooters to school, stores, and dinner.
A Living Legacy
It is nearly impossible to drive by one of these paths today without seeing people walking, jogging, or riding something — regardless of the weather–and the numbers are increasing every year. It’s not unusual to see a dozen bicycles parked in front of local eateries. Recently, I counted over 60 people on a 2-mile stretch. Before the local Rainbow Foods closed there were several seniors who I would regularly see walking with a cart or riding their mobility scooter to Rainbow.
The benefits are many, from increased community desirability, to housing values, to better academic performance, to fewer ailments. My wife and I have often said our old age health plan is to ride our bikes to breakfast every morning. And to the grocery and local hardware store and for ice cream.
Not only will these paths continue to serve Shoreview residents for generations to come, but they are themselves continuing to grow thanks to Shoreview employees and the efforts of volunteers like Mark Stange.
Shoreview Mayor Sandy Martin says they’re not done yet. They’re looking towards completing the network with bikeways along Victoria, County Road E, and other gaps. Others have mentioned making intersections safer and more efficient as well as adding better parking at destinations. In talking with people around Shoreview, I can tell this story has truly only just begun.
It’s also a spreading legacy. Lino Lakes is following Shoreview’s lead, and today streams of students can be seen riding their bikes to Rice Creek Elementary School.
It took 20 years, all the way until the year 2000, before Marsha’s children got out onto the bikeway along the Ramsey County road that began all of this. That wasn’t in time for them to ride to school, but it wasn’t too late. Sandra lives nearby and rides on them with her own children. And Marsha? She finally gets to ride along here safely with Sandra. And her grandchildren.
“It was worth the effort,” she says.
A version of this post originally appeared in the Shoreview Press.