Public meetings to answer 'Are Duluth roads safe for bicyclists and pedestrians?'Dudley Edmondson of Lakeside bikes anywhere from 40 to 50 miles a day during the spring and summer months. While he rides through downtown traffic on his way to the Duluth Area YMCA on First Street, Edmondson often wonders why the city of Duluth doesn’t install bike lanes for avid bikers like himself.
Dudley Edmondson of Lakeside bikes anywhere from 40 to 50 miles a day during the spring and summer months. While he rides through downtown traffic on his way to the Duluth Area YMCA on First Street, Edmondson often wonders why the city of Duluth doesn’t install bike lanes for avid bikers like himself.
“It seems like the city is scared to death to designate something as a bike lane,” he said. “It’s like the last thing they want to do is give cyclists the authority to ride in an area. But having bike lanes in Duluth seems to be a logical thing.”
Edmondson says that he wishes drivers of motorized vehicles were friendlier to bikers and shared the streets with them.
“Often times, cars tend to believe that a bike has no business on the road,” he said. “That’s really not true. According to Minnesota law, the roads throughout the entire state, with the exception of freeways, are to be shared by both cyclists and cars.”
To raise awareness about these and other issues involving biking and walking on Duluth streets, the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition (HDAC) began hosting a series of public meetings. The two-hour information meetings aim at gathering public input on whether or not streets are safe for pedestrians and bicyclists.
What Duluth bikers say
Codie Leseman, community transportation system coordinator at HDAC, has been leading the HDAC public meetings. During the gatherings, Leseman shares the results from a survey called the 2010 Duluth Bicycle Assessment: Connecting Duluth that he completed through Fit City Duluth, a nonprofit that ended last year.
“The study showed, by and large, that the majority of problems are related to the design of the transportation system itself,” Leseman said. “A lot of roads are designed only for cars, and bikes are often not considered. Because of that, it makes it more challenging to bike in the area.”
Taking place at several public meetings held by Fit City Duluth, the survey questioned more than 100 experienced bicyclists in the Duluth area about their concerns and suggestions.
The main area of concern that caused bicyclists to view a street as unsafe was the design of the transportation system, particularly the difficulty crossing intersections and the lack of bike lanes. Many bicyclists were also concerned about street maintenance and the large number of potholes and excess amount of dirt on streets.
The Duluth streets that bicyclists have the most concerns about are Woodland Avenue, East Fourth Street, and Superior Street, and while most bicyclists said they avoid using Woodland Avenue to get from point A to point B, they say they would take it if it were safer.
These and other findings from Leseman’s survey will be shared at HDAC’s public meetings. The next meeting will take place Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6 p.m. at the Central Hillside Community Center, located at 12 E. Fourth St.
To close out the informational meetings, a community transportation forum will take place at the Teatro Zuccone on Tuesday, March 20 at 6 p.m. The event will feature Leseman’s documentary called “Carless in Duluth,” which can be seen at no charge. The nearly 20-minute-long film shows interviews with Duluthians who walk, bike, or take the bus instead or driving.
Working to raise awareness
Though Fit City Duluth no longer exists, the organization collaborated with the Duluth Area YMCA to create the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition, which is made up of 17 members from a variety of local nonprofits and community groups.
“It was formed with the same idea as Fit City Duluth — to create environments that make it safe for and conducive to walking and biking,” Leseman said. “If you make it safe and easy for people to make the healthy choice to bike and walk, then it will become the default choice.”
Housed through the Duluth Area YMCA, Leseman said HDAC was formed nearly a year ago with the goal of raising awareness of transportation issues in Duluth.
“I believe really strongly that in order to curb chronic disease and obesity, we need active living in our community,” said Lisa Luokkala, director of HDAC. “But when you think about a healthy community and what it looks like, it’s about people feeling comfortable riding their bikes on the streets or walking their children to the grocery store. To promote that activity, you have to build the environment to support it.”
With this goal in mind, HDAC works with local nonprofits, private and public entities, and community groups to raise awareness about streets that are unsafe for bicyclists and pedestrians. Some of the organizations HDAC works with are Community Action Duluth, Duluth Area YMCA, St. Luke’s Foundation, and the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services department.
“Roadways were meant for all users, not just vehicles,’” Luokkala said. “I hope that people will start to take greater interest and think of alternative ways to commute.”
Launching local projects
By working with these organizations, HDAC has played a role in several local projects aimed at creating safer paths for bicyclists and pedestrians. James Gittemeier is the transportation planner for the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council, a transportation planning agency that looks at the safety of all modes of transportation.
He said HDAC plays a role in helping raise awareness about some of the major projects his agency initiates. One of the main projects is the transportation plan being conducted in Lincoln Park.
Gittemeier said the goal is to create safe routes for children who walk and bike from the new middle school to the Boys and Girls Club.
He said there will also be a study conducted this spring of the whole Lincoln Park neighborhood to gauge how safe the transportation networks are.
Another major project HDAC has helped spread the word about is the city of Duluth’s project to connect Munger Trail to the Lakewalk, a four-phase project which will begin this summer.
“That’s a huge trail connection, and for bikers and pedestrians, this is the equivalent of I-35,” Gittemeier said. “Getting the Lakewalk to connect to the rest of the city and having spurs that connect into the neighborhoods is a key piece.”
Through its work with other organizations and the public meetings that have been held, HDAC is working to create an open forum for people to discuss the safety of Duluth streets.
“I think as gas prices go up, more people are going to want to walk and bike and wish it were more conducive to do so,” Leseman said. “I think this century is going to entail more planning on the human scale, and I think it’s a huge issue that’s overlooked.”
For more information on the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition, visit www.healthyduluth.org.
Cyclist/pedestrian safety meetings
Take place from 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 28 – An informational meeting at the Central Hillside Community Center, located at 12 E. Fourth St.
Thursday, March 1 – An informational meeting at the University of Minnesota Duluth, in the Kirby Student Center, Griggs Room (KSC 202)
Tuesday, March 20 – A special event at the Teatro Zuccone at 6 p.m. This event will feature Codie Leseman’s documentary “Carless in Duluth.”