Progress in Planning
By Steve Clark, Program Manager
In 2005, when Congress designated funding to increase walking and bicycling in four pilot communities (Marin Co., CA; Columbia, MO; Sheboygan Co., WI, and the Minneapolis area, MN), some leaders of national bicycling organizations expressed concerns about the communities selected because none of them had comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plans.
At the time, some argued that the money could be better utilized in places that had already gone through a planning process and had established a strong foundation of community support. We recall concern that the goals of this pilot program couldn't possibly be realized in a four-year period without strong plans in place.
Since then, however, all four of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot (NTP) program communities have invested resources in various planning efforts leading up to successful project implementation. As the pilot communities recognized, good plans for bicycling and walking are essential. It is through the planning process that needs are determined (gaps in the system, major barriers, high crash locations, etc.), solutions are found, and community support is achieved.
Here in the Twin Cities, BWTC invested about 4 percent of our funds for planning purposes. This included funding for major studies such as the Bike Walk Central Corridor Action Plan and the first Pedestrian Master Plan for the City of Minneapolis (which, for the first time, established guidelines to ensure a more walkable Minneapolis). BWTC also funded 15 "stand-alone" plans for specific corridors. Nine of these plans have already resulted in the implementation of improved bicycle and/or pedestrian facilities.
Today, we are thrilled to see that communities throughout Minnesota are focused on active transportation plans like never before, and appreciate that elected officials seem increasingly supportive of these efforts as well.
This trend of intentionally planning for bicycling and walking extends beyond the realm of transportation planners. Even the new Minneapolis Climate Action Plan emphasizes increasing bicycling and walking infrastructure to help meet greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets by 2025.
This fall, there are a number of planning efforts underway that could significantly impact the future of walking and bicycling in the Twin Cities metro area. Of course, the value and success of each of these plans is dependent on 1) meaningful community engagement and 2) an understanding of best practices to make walking and bicycling as viable as possible.
The City of Saint Paul is currently developing a Citywide Bikeways Plan to guide the development of a safe and well-connected network of bicycle facilities for both transportation and recreation. Recently hired Reuben Collins says he expects draft maps of potential bikeways to be put on the City's website by the end of October and following that there will be a series of three open houses beginning in November or December.
This effort actually began in 2011. Three open houses were held in September of that year to collect ideas from the public, and a web survey was also created to receive suggestions. Since that time, the intended outcome has shifted from a comprehensive plan to one focused specifically on bike facilities. Based on the public feedback, along with guidance from the City's adopted Comprehensive Plan, a set of mapping criteria has been developed that is now being used to create a draft network of proposed bikeways.
Hennepin County is working in conjunction with Three Rivers Park District and Toole Design Group to revise the existing plan given current and projected rates of bicycling throughout the county. The plan will identify and set priorities, goals, and guidelines for bike routes and regional trails. It will make recommendations for how public roads are planned and tax dollars are used. An updated plan will follow the first Hennepin County Bike Master Plan adopted in 1997, as well as the Bicycle Gap Study conducted in 2002, which led to 117 miles of new bikeways aimed at closing identified gaps!
Despite these early strides, new language addressing how to make all roadways "complete" for cyclists and pedestrians is essential. Today, Hennepin County's new Complete Streets Policy has the potential to be a much stronger guiding force for bicyclists than the priorities that shaped the first plan.
On September 24, 20013, the Hennepin County Board adopted the county's first official pedestrian plan. The plan includes strategies to increase walking and pedestrian safety through infrastructure, facilities, enforcement, education, and evaluation. It contains some excellent metrics, including:
- the monitoring of miles of sidewalk and trails (slightly more than half of county roads currently have sidewalks or trails on at least one side)
- annual pedestrian counts
- the percentage of workers who walk to work, and
- obesity rates.
Among the plan's recommendations are road diets (4-3 lane conversions); and increased use of medians or pedestrian refuge islands and curb extensions. The plan also calls for guidelines to be adopted in 2014 as part of the Complete Streets Guidebook to determine when pedestrian push buttons can be removed and when they should be installed.
The Hennepin County Pedestrian Plan will ultimately become part of the overall Hennepin County Transportation Systems Plan, and will also complement the county's Complete Streets policy. Creation of the plan was funded by a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Community Transformation Grant and the Statewide Health Improvement Program.
This is a joint effort of the Metropolitan Council and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), along with contracted assistance from Tool Design Group. The study will inform an update of our region's Transportation Policy Plan and will also be used to develop MnDOT's Metro District Bicycle Plan. Tim Mitchell, MnDOT's State Bicycle Coordinator, chairs a 15-person steering committee overseeing the plan development; TLC/BWTC participates on this committee.
According to the Met. Council, the study is an effort to improve the region's on-road and off-road biking facilities. Objectives include creating:
- A proposed set of regional bikeway corridors and regional critical links.
- A proposed update to the Regional Bicycle System map.
- A defined methodology and framework for monitoring the performance of the regional bicycle system.
In addition, the study "will provide a more complete understanding of the regional bicycle transportation network and how it functions, particularly with respect to on-road routes and facilities."
Minnesota's Statewide Bicycle System Plan will become a component of the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan, which serves as the framework for MnDOT's family of plans. It follows the completion of the Statewide Bicycle Planning Study. The Statewide Bicycle System Plan is to include:
- Overarching policy guidance and implementation tools to MnDOT districts
- Guidance for prioritizing investments on the trunk highway system to integrate bicycling
- District-wide and statewide bicycle maps of existing conditions as well as maps of network gaps and barriers
- District-wide bicycle system plans (such as the aforementioned Regional Bicycle System Master Study)
- Workshops for district staff, partners, and the public
- Online engagement opportunities
Minnesota's Strategic Highway Safety Plan
The Minnesota Department of Transportation and Department of Public Safety are developing an updated plan that addresses safety of all users on all Minnesota roads. TLC's Barb Thoman sits on the steering committee and TLC recently hosted an input session for bike/ped input into the planning process. You are able to monitor development of the plan and provide input at http://www.dot.state.mn.us/trafficeng/safety/shsp/index.html.
Plus: Ramsey County Bike and Pedestrian System Master Plan?
According to Connie Bernardy, director of Active Living Ramsey Communities, the Saint Paul-Ramsey County Community Health Services Advisory Committee has submitted a proposal to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) for the development of a countywide Bike and Pedestrian System Master Plan. She is hopeful that this initiative funded by the Statewide Health Improvement Program will commence yet this fall. The goal is to provide policies, guidance, and infrastructure recommendations that will allow more people to choose active transportation in their daily lives. This is consistent with MDH's goal of promoting healthy living through changes in the built environment. Stay tuned to this development at https://parks.co.ramsey.mn.us/alrc/Pages/ActiveLiving.aspx
Other Planning Efforts
Other planning efforts are now underway at the local level in many different communities, including the cities of Eden Prairie Prairie and Robbinsdale, and also along distinct corridors, including Penn Avenue North in Minneapolis. Many others will soon be underway as progress in planning continues!