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Bike lane test underway in downtown Duluth

Austin Carlson, a worker with Duluth street maintenance, uses a roller to flatten a strip of reflective tape on the new bike lanes on Michigan Street Monday morning. He and the rest of the crew were putting finishing touches on the lanes, which are being used on an experimental basis to see whether or not they're a good fit for the city. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Sandy and Dale Bastyr of Lonsdale ride the new bike lanes on Michigan Street between Third and Fourth avenues west Monday morning. They were riding around the Canal Park and downtown area taking in the sights. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 3
Bob LeDoux (left), Duluth street maintenance supervisor, and Eric Nelson, also with the department, apply reflective tape to a section of the new bike lanes along Michigan Street in front of the Depot Monday morning. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 3

As a cyclist whizzed by Chris Belden on the new and experimental bike lane covering three blocks of downtown Michigan Street on Monday, the transportation planner sought a quick survey question of what was the morning's sixth two-wheel commuter.

"What do you think?" he said.

"It's good," chimed the cyclist who spun a left toward Superior Street.

It was officially opening day for the monthlong experiment — far too soon to predict its future. Belden works for the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council, the agency that's assessing alternate street bike lanes through downtown in the wake of the Duluth City Council's 2015 decision to keep a dedicated bike path off the coming renovation of Superior Street.

The 13-foot-wide lane will be open through August 5, when it will be taken down — its effectiveness to be analysed in a report by the MIC.

The experiment features east-west lanes for cyclists and a 3-foot buffer zone indicated by "flexible delineation posts" that separate the bike lanes from the eastbound traffic on Michigan Street.

The study, said Belden, "is as much a benefit to cars as it is bikes," explaining that the interaction between the two is paramount to understanding if it will work or not.

As situated the bike lanes prevent parking on the lower half of the street after originally being proposed to be tested on the upper side, said Belden. Loading zones and garbage pickups ruled that out that option early on.

Additionally, there is a parent drop-off zone in front of the Harbor City International School that is currently being soaked up by the bike lanes, and replacing those permanently would be another challenge, Belden said.

The bike path serves as an extension of the Cross-City Trail and terminates at the Duluth Transportation Center — a natural endpoint, but also an obstacle in itself were the entirety of the street to be selected to be outfitted with a permanent bike lane. Buses stop in front of the transportation center, right where the current bike lane would figure to extend.

"It could be and it could not be," Belden said of the Michigan Street option. "It's going to depend on how this works."

The experiment is being funded through a $20,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield.