New bike path is the first link in a chain of events

by Bei Hu

A new bike path along the University transitway is one of the first steps toward a more cyclist-friendly campus.
The 1.5-mile-long, 8-foot-wide thoroughfare will officially open with a ribbon-cutting ceremony this afternoon. It links the intersection of Oak Street and Sixth Street Southeast with Energy Park Drive, which runs between the University’s Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses.
University officials hope the two-way path, the first University-owned, bicycle-only roadway, will serve as an alternate for cyclists’ use, rather than University and Como avenues. In this area, bicyclists have traditionally competed with other vehicles and pedestrians.
Construction of the bike path began last June. Eighty percent of the total $260,000 used to fund the path’s construction came from a federal grant program. This program discourages driving and promotes other modes of transportation.
The city of St. Paul will finance a project in 1998 to extend the new University path and connect it with an existing bike trail that runs from Como Avenue to downtown St. Paul.
The transitway bike path, along with a new bike lane on the renovated segment of University Avenue, is part of a larger effort by the University administration to control automobile traffic on campus.
Only about 4 percent of University students, faculty and staff currently bike to school, said Steve Sanders, a project manager at the University Parking and Transportation Services.
However, the University’s objective is to eventually increase this figure to 20 percent in order to reduce the number of people driving to campus. Planners set the goal after reviewing a study that stated about 27 percent of students, faculty and staff live within a three-mile radius of campus.
“The kind of thinking behind that is just to improve the quality of life on campus and put it on a more human scale instead of having these monolithic parking structures — acres of asphalt,” Sanders said.
Although no other bike facilities are on the board and ready to go, Sanders said a committee of students, faculty, staff and University Police is looking at a plan to further accommodate bikers. Specific steps may include more bike paths or lanes as well as more bicycle racks.
“It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the people who actually do the commuting,” Sanders said. “There is a long list of benefits for everybody, if they are to commute by bike.”