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Bike lane plans inflate ire among some Duluth business owners

An aerial view of East Eighth Street and North 19th Avenue East. Some business owners along Eighth and Ninth streets are opposed to a proposal to add a bike lane, which would reduce on-street parking. Steve Kuchera /

Several businesses in Duluth's East Hillside and Chester Park neighborhoods are pushing back against a proposed bike lane that would eliminate one side of parking along East Ninth and Eighth streets.

The bike lane, proposed by Places for People — a Zeitgeist Arts "campaign in the Hillside to engage residents and entities around better street design that prioritizes people, not just motor vehicles" — would, if approved, stretch 1.5 miles along East Ninth and Eighth streets from Sixth Avenue East to Woodland Avenue. That section of road is slated for reconditioning by the city of Duluth this spring and summer.

Jeff Hofslund, owner of Foreign Affairs of Duluth, an auto shop in the 700 block of East Ninth Street since 1997, said that he uses both sides of Ninth Street to park customers' vehicles during the day. On busy days, he uses the adjacent avenues to park cars, too. He said less parking availability on Ninth Street would confuse customers and negatively affect business.

"I question why put (a bike lane) on the street with the most impact to the most people — with the most consequences for businesses — when you have other choices," Hofslund said.

Across the bridge over Chester Creek, Jillian Forte, general manager and head chef of At Sara's Table/Chester Creek Cafe on the 1900 block of East Eighth Street, shares those concerns.

"I think for small business owners, it's kind of a big deal. If there's no place to park, your customers just drive away," Forte said.

Although Sara's Table has a parking lot, Forte said it quickly reaches capacity.

Hofslund and Forte said they are not anti-bike; both suggested the boulevards between the sidewalks and streets be eliminated so the street could be widened and a bike lane could fit without eliminating any parking. Patrick Loomis, a city project engineer, said in a November interview that the width of the street would remain the same.

The $1.4 million project will repave the street surface, repair curbs and install pedestrian ramps, among other work.

Hofslund said that he and other businesses along the project's route were left out of a survey conducted by Places for People. Results showed that 63.7 percent of residents surveyed were in favor of removing parking from one side of East Ninth and Eighth streets if it meant the installation of a "high-quality, protected bike lane."

"We didn't even have a voice in this. I'm here all day. They didn't even come to my front door and say, 'Hey, can we talk about this?'" Hofslund said.

Shawna Mullen, Zeitgeist's active transportation coordinator, said the purpose of this survey was to get a sense of what the people living in the community wanted from this project. While the group planned on gathering input from businesses as well, Mullen said, they ran out of time because the project was originally slated for 2019, but was moved in 2018.

The city of Duluth will host a public information meeting about the project Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at the Grant Community Recreation Center, 901 E. 11th St.

Construction is set to begin this spring and is expected to take about two months. During that time, the road will likely stay open to traffic.

Jimmy Lovrien

Jimmy Lovrien is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. He spent the summer of 2015 as an intern for the Duluth News Tribune and was hired full time in October 2017 as a reporter for the Weekly Observer. He also reported for the Lake County News-Chronicle in 2017-18. Lovrien grew up in Alexandria, Minn., but moved to Duluth in 2013 to attend The College of St. Scholastica. Lovrien graduated from St. Scholastica in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in English and history. He also spent a summer studying journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

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