Bike paths provide alternative transit

Emily Kaiser

As the construction season comes to a close, Minneapolis is working to complete several new bike paths around the city.

The expansion and addition of bike paths is an effort to get people to use alternative modes of transportation, said Donald Pflaum, transportation engineer for Minneapolis Public Works.

“What we are trying to do in the city is create a network of bicycling facilities that will get people where they need to go more easily,” he said. “We are trying to build these facilities across the entire city so no one is left out.”

Approximately 10,000 people bike on Minneapolis streets every day, Pflaum said. Approximately half of those bikers are University students, staff and faculty members, he said.

The largest bike path project currently under way in the city is the Midtown Greenway, which will cost approximately $9.5 million.

The second out of its three phases will be completed in the next month, said Peter Wagenius, senior policy aide in the mayor’s office.

The Midtown Greenway is a bike corridor that runs along 29th Street, previously a railroad line corridor. The bike path runs from the western edge of the city to Hiawatha Avenue. Once the entire line is complete, it will stretch to the Mississippi River.

The corridor was originally used as a railroad line and built as an underpath to area roads, Pflaum said.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said University students will benefit from these new paths.

“Because the University has so many commuters to campus, we want to see more of them arriving by bike,” he said. “We owe it to them to have a clear bike trail that connects them to

campus.”

Included in the projects in progress is the Loring Bikeway, which will connect Lyndale Avenue in Uptown to Loring Park and the downtown area.

The area is currently tough to ride through by bicycle, Wagenius said. The Loring Bikeway is scheduled to be done sometime next year, he said.

David Strom, president of The Taxpayers League of Minnesota, said he is a fan of physical fitness and making the city accessible to bikers, but the city is spending too much money.

Strom said most people bike for a recreation, rather than a mode of transportation.

“If you are diverting transportation resources into a recreational activity, that seems like a mistake,” he said,

Strom said a major problem is the unlimited spending on positive things for the city.

“Once you have a project that is a good cause, it loses scrutiny,” he said.

Though the University campus is biker-friendly, Rybak said, the University area had been ignored when it came to proposed bike paths.

“Connecting the University and northeast Minneapolis to the rest of the system was a very high priority of mine,” he said.

A proposed bike path for the University area will be built next year. The project will cost approximately $800,000 to construct, and it will connect the Dinkytown bikeway connection to the existing transitway, through the rail corridor, Pflaum said.

Eighty percent of the project’s funds are federally funded, with the University and Minneapolis splitting the rest, said Steve Sanders, executive assistant of Parking and Transportation Services at the University.

Sanders said the projects around the city will benefit students who commute to campus.

“I think this is going to be a huge benefit for the University,” Rybak said. “It will also have a significant benefit for the quality of life around the University.”

On the campus, Sanders said, any major changes to accommodate bikers will be hard to do.

“Part of the problem is that we are stuck with the infrastructure we have as far as widening streets and that sort of thing,” he said. “It’s kind of hard in these built-up parts of cities to try and fit things in where you can.”

Sanders said students and residents are concerned about bike safety on Washington Avenue Southeast because there is too much traffic and not enough room.

He said turning Washington Avenue Southeast into one lane in each direction has been discussed, with a turn lane in the middle. There would then be enough room for bike lanes as well, he said.

Beyond the U of M Bicycle and Pedestrian Trail, Sanders said, he will be looking for good projects that would make biking around the city easier.

“We work closely with the city to identify potential projects that will benefit students,” he said. “If we find them we definitely pursue them and try to get funding for them.”

The cities might have the right idea about the bike trails, but their priorities are wrong, Strom said.

“There has developed a competition among cities to be the most biker-friendly,” he said. “At the end of the day, it ought to be done for the safety and the convenience of the citizens, not as a showpiece for people in government.”