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Local View: Bikes, scooters good for Duluth; let's make space for them

From the column: "Before taking action on (limiting speeds on the Lakewalk), the City Council needs to engage with the people who actually use the Lakewalk."

New Lakewalk tunnel
Cyclists emerge from the tunnel on the Duluth Lakewalk that runs beneath Congdon Boulevard near the Lester River.
2013 News Tribune file photo
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Soon, the Duluth City Council may vote to limit bikes and scooters to 10 mph on congested sections of the Lakewalk. While this change would not target only e-bikes and e-scooters, it is largely a reaction to the recent popularity of these electrically assisted devices, both by tourists and local commuters.

To be clear, ensuring the safety of all Lakewalk users should be a priority, and this amendment to the city code could be one tool in the toolbox.

However, this proposal highlights a flawed assumption: that the Lakewalk's only purpose is leisure, rather than also transportation. This is not accurate, as the Lakewalk is used every day by bicycle commuters. In fact, it remains the only safe way to traverse eastern Duluth on a bike. Many would not consider biking to work or running errands unless they have access to the Lakewalk and can move at a reasonable speed.

We with the community group We Walk in Duluth acknowledge the Lakewalk is congested with multiple types of users. But solutions require a big-picture view, not fragmented decisions that don’t address the city’s bigger need to create safe places for everyone, whether we bike, roll, stroll, or scoot.

So how do we reduce congestion on the Lakewalk? We create multiple safe routes across Duluth, downtown, and through Canal Park to give the more confident people options when they ride bicycles and scooters. Unfortunately, the city squandered a clear opportunity to do this by not adding bike lanes to Superior Street through downtown during the street's reconstruction.

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Despite the efforts of local bike advocates, the city decided that saving a few parking spots was more important than safe infrastructure for bicycling and e-scooters. This choice, at least in part, is responsible for the issues we're seeing now on the Lakewalk.

Before taking action on this issue, the City Council needs to engage with the people who actually use the Lakewalk. We Walk in Duluth, the Disabilities Commission, and others could all provide valuable insights. Members of our group have bicycled in cities all over the world. Some of the best examples of how to manage heavy use on paths is right here in Minnesota. Minneapolis and St. Paul have excellent systems that manage multiple types of users every day. They separate paths when possible, use stencils on pavement to tell users which lane is theirs, and provide consistent signage. None of these tools are present on the Lakewalk, but they should be considered in a big-picture solution.

We Walk in Duluth advocates for a citizen-led commission to address all modes of transportation infrastructure. Transportation is a core city function that should be addressed in all areas of policymaking. Without this platform, the City Council and city staff take reactionary measures, which is what we're seeing with this discussion regarding the Lakewalk. With a commission whose sole mission is advising on transportation issues, these types of conflicts could be anticipated, plans created, and resources allocated more strategically. It works in other cities, and it can work here.

Transportation infrastructure is one of Duluth’s largest land uses. As a city, we should have a process that ensures all Duluthians are represented fairly, regardless of how we choose to get around in our daily lives.

Forrest Vodden is a Lakeside resident and member of the group We Walk in Duluth, which advocates for policies and development that encourage and promote safe, year-round pedestrian access. He wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.

Forrest Vodden.jpeg
Forrest Vodden

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