Biking Walking & Blogging: New projects in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Hennepin County Biking Walking & Blogging: New projects in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Hennepin County

From Hilary Reeves, Communications Manager

"We are converting to bicycling as a mode of transportation."-Congressman James Oberstar

On Friday, October 22, a wonderfully warm fall day, elected leaders and bicycling and walking enthusiasts gathered at Saint Paul's Merriam Park to celebrate the first projects and program openings resulting from the $22 million federal non-motorized transportation program, known locally as Bike Walk Twin Cities (a program of Transit for Livable Communities). The Twin Cities area is one of four communities designated for the pilot program in the 2005 federal transportation law, SAFETEA-LU. Congressman Oberstar, Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was instrumental in setting up the pilot program.

(front l-r: Congressman Jim Oberstar, Joan Pasiuk, Stephanie Manning, RTC

back l-r: Barb Thoman, St. Paul Councilmember Russ Stark, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Marianne Fowler, RTC)

"I am delighted to join with local leaders to see the expanded opportunities for biking and walking in the Twin Cities," said Congressman Oberstar. "With these projects throughout the Metro area, we promote physical activity in a safe and secure environment as we reduce congestion, fuel consumption and air pollution. I am very proud to be the author of this pilot program, and I am looking forward to seeing the results of this initiative as we advance livable communities in Minnesota and throughout the nation."

Congressman Oberstar joined Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, and Saint Paul City Councilmember Russ Stark on the stage. Then everyone (minus the Congressman, whose schedule would not allow it) took off on bicycles-including some of the neon-green Nice Ride Minnesota bicycles-- to see the new stuff first hand.

Councilmember Stark described the new features on Marshall Avenue, including a new sidewalk on the north side of the street and a bike lane heading up the hill to the east. On the west bound, downhill side of Marshall Avenue, there is a new sign indicating that "bicycles may use full lane." The new facilities make it easier to cross the street and connect the neighborhood to the river in a safe way. They also serve the many people who get around by bicycle or on foot.

Local resident Janet Jung said, "I walked down Marshall Ave the weekend after the sidewalk opened. I'm happy about the project because it means that people can move around the neighborhood more easily. I've watched that area for years and it was dangerous for pedestrians having to cross busy Marshall Ave twice just to get to their bus stops. The side walk is especially important for elderly people who depend on public transportation. It makes our neighborhood more inviting."

Pat Trotter, owner of Trotter's Café on nearby Cleveland Avenue said, "For me, personally, I will now let my twelve year-old daughter ride alone down the hill on Marshall. The signage to designate the lane is awesome. As a business, I love it. Our bike racks are full and we have three of them. On 'locals night,' when we give a discount for getting here by bike, walk, or transit, people love that someone recognizes that they've made this choice."

After riding down the Marshall Avenue hill and across the river, the group of riders made their way over to the new bike lanes on Minnehaha Avenue. Shaun Murphy, the nonmotorized transportation pilot coordinator from City of Minneapolis public works, pointed out the region's first bicycle left turn lane (at the intersection of 26th Avenue South and Minnehaha) and spoke about the ways that City engineers, working with their counterparts from Hennepin County, made it safer for cyclists to access the Midtown Greenway from the on-street bike paths.

The group, led by Jaméz Smith and Tony Hull of Bike Walk Twin Cities, then rode over to the Birchwood Café to see where an on-street parking space has been converted to bicycle parking. The bike ride finished at the Franklin Avenue Bridge, where new bike lanes and bike boxes make it easier for cyclists to navigate that busy intersection. The group also noted that a new bike lane exists on 27th Avenue South, connecting up to University Avenue.

Bike Walk Twin Cities has invested pilot program funds in infrastructure, innovative programs (such as Nice Ride Minnesota bike sharing and the Sibley Community Partners Bike Library) community outreach (through the Bike Walk Ambassadors and St. Paul Smart-Trips' neighborhood marketing), planning, and measurement. Infrastructure or capital investments, which account for roughly 67% of expenditures, will add nearly 90 miles of bicycling and walking facilities in the Twin Cities.

"The goal is to greatly expand the network for bicycling and walking in the Twin Cities and, through special programs and outreach, to make bicycling and walking the easy, safe choice," said Steve Clark, of Bike Walk Twin Cities.

The bicycle ride only touched on a few of the new projects in the works in the Twin Cities. In Saint Paul, new sidewalks and bikeways also are complete or nearing completion on Como Avenue and Jefferson Avenue, providing better ways to get across Saint Paul. Bike Walk Twin Cities also funded a forthcoming bikeway on Griggs Avenue and a study of bicycle and pedestrian connections to the forthcoming Central Corridor LRT line.

In Minneapolis, several new projects are opening in 2010, including one of the region's first bicycle boulevards, the Riverlake Greenway, under construction along 40th and 42nd Streets East in south Minneapolis. Many more projects are due in 2011, including new north-south routes. Projects also are underway at the University of Minnesota, where a new bike center will open in 2011, and in Falcon Heights, Roseville, Edina, Richfield, and Golden Valley.

According to the 2008 American Community Survey, 10% of people in Minneapolis and 6.1% in Saint Paul commute to work on foot or on bicycle. In spring 2010, Minneapolis was named the #1 bike friendly city by Bicycling Magazine.

"The Twin Cities' status as a pilot community-and the tremendous bicycling community here-helped push Minneapolis past Portland, Oregon," said Joan Pasiuk, director of Bike Walk Twin Cities, regarding the #1 designation for Minneapolis. "Our goal at Bike Walk Twin Cities is to help put all the pieces in place for immediate results and long-term change. These investments will be transformative for individuals, neighborhoods and whole communities," she said.

For video of the event, click here.