Our recent blizzard, and the messy aftermath, showed how vulnerable Duluth really is to dramatic weather events. When we can’t clear our streets, we are paralyzed. This is a sign of a weak town, one that lacks resilience and flexibility.
In contrast, a strong town provides multiple options when faced with a crisis.
Duluth will face similar storms again, maybe even this winter — and we will not be any better prepared.
The blizzard and its messy aftermath showed how vulnerable our transportation system is. This, too, is a sign of a weak and fragile city.
“Strong Towns” is an international program that promotes urban resilience. It was started by Chuck Marohn, an engineer in Brainerd, Minn. The program provides a frank assessment of the cost of maintaining too many streets and serving too many cars while offering few other alternatives for moving people and goods.
Let’s consider another path in Duluth. Let’s reset our priorities based on Strong Towns principles. With the next storm, instead of plowing all the streets as the only option, let’s educate the public on transit options; plow the bus routes first so people can reach their destinations while the city clears other streets; clear the sidewalks that connect neighborhoods, bus stops, and local businesses; and plow bike trails and bike lanes early. Yes, people do bike in the winter all over the world, including in Duluth.
These strategies would reduce the number of cars on the road, get people to their destinations, and keep the city operating. It wouldn’t work perfectly at first, but the current model doesn’t work at all.
Think this idea is crazy? Thousands of our city residents already live this way. In East Hillside, 30% of residents don’t own a car. The rate in Lincoln Park is 20%. The News Tribune even featured two doctors who biked 10 miles to work in the blizzard. The bottom line: this is real life in Duluth for many of us.
What happens after we make this shift? People who must drive continue to do so, but others change their lifestyles. They realize they have more flexibility, more time, and less stress when they live closer to work and school. They own just one car instead of two, saving them at least $8,000 per year. The city saves money because people drive less, reducing wear and tear on the roads. Emissions go down. Traffic is reduced. Eventually, huge, wide roads are converted to narrower streets that are safer, more attractive, and cost less to maintain.
People in cities throughout the world live this way. I have lived like this since 1976 in three Minnesota cities while working full-time and raising a family.
According to Strong Towns founder Marohn: “There is no simple approach to building a strong town. This is hard work. For a city to get there, current priorities need to be realigned and everyone — from the mayor, the city engineer, the maintenance worker and everyone in between — needs to work to get more value out of our existing investments. … We need to have the courage to make dramatic, mid-game course corrections.”
Let’s plan for reality, Duluth. Find out more when Marohn speaks here as part of the Strong America Tour. His book is “Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity.” The free event in Duluth featuring Marohn is Wednesday at Zeitgeist. Registration is required.
Alice Tibbetts is the founder of We Walk in Duluth, a grassroots advocacy group that promotes safe pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access year-round.
IF YOU GO
What: Strong Towns founder Chuck Marohn in Duluth
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Zeitgeist, 222 E. Superior St.
Register: at eventbrite.com (registration is required)
For more information: Contact the We Walk in Duluth group on Facebook or by calling (651) 399-7329