Hennepin County seeks input on bicycling plan

Workshop is set Oct. 17 in St. Louis Park

By Seth Rowe

Sun Sailor Newspapers

 

Rather than spin their wheels, Hennepin County and Three Rivers Park District planners are embarking on a new bike plan to replace one that dates back to 1997.

To gain input on preferences about types of bicycling lanes and paths, barriers to biking and where new trails should go, Hennepin County has posted an online survey and a map allowing user comments at hennepin.us/bikeplan. Additionally, a workshop is planned 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center, 3700 Monterey Drive in St. Louis Park.

“This plan will be used to shape the future of bicycling in Hennepin County,”  Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said in a statement. “That’s no small task considering we’re home to some of the best bikeways in the country. We need to hear from everyone in order to make sure the vision we plan for bicycling reflects the needs of all residents.”

Three Rivers Park District Board Chair John Gunyou added, “I encourage people to take advantage of the ways they can share their feedback about where they like to bike and how biking in our communities can be even better.”

Trail users utilize a Three Rivers Park District bike trail in St. Louis Park. Hennepin County and the park district are revising their bike plans with assistance from the public. (File photo by Seth Rowe)

Trail users utilize a Three Rivers Park District bike trail in St. Louis Park. Hennepin County and the park district are revising their bike plans with assistance from the public. (File photo by Seth Rowe)

The original 1997 plan set the stage for Hennepin County to dramatically increase its bicycle infrastructure network but did not foresee some innovative ideas, such “cycle tracks” in use in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen that physically separate bicyclists from drivers along city streets, according to Rose Ryan, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for the county.

Additionally, Three Rivers Park District has learned that its bike trails – which increased in miles significantly as a result of a 2000 plan – are used extensively for transportation as well as recreation.

The two groups decided to partner together on a new bike plan.

Hennepin County has helped plan, fund and build Three Rivers Park District trails in the past, noted Kelly Grissman, director of planning at Three Rivers Park District.

“We decided what would make the most sense would be one regional bike plan for all of Hennepin County,” Grissman said. “The user doesn’t care if it’s operated by the county or by the park district. They just want to make sure that connection is there and it’s safe and easy to navigate.”

County staff members are particularly interested in learning what reaction residents have on new concepts like cycle tracks while Three Rivers Park District staff members are more focused on learning where residents believe they should develop more off-street bikeways.

The ideas would complement the park district’s existing plans to add trail segments. For example, the district is working on the Nine Mile Creek Regional Trail in Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Bloomington. An Intercity Regional Trail in Minneapolis, Richfield and Bloomington is planned for 2014. Additional construction is planned in 2016 for the Bassett Creek Regional Trail in New Hope and Crystal.

Segments already exist in Plymouth and New Hope. The park district estimates its 125 miles of trails experience 3.7 million visits annually. Some older Three Rivers Park District trails have seen a 500 percent increase in ridership in the last 10-15 years, Ryan noted. Hennepin County now has more than 550 miles of bike trails and trails in its system.

“It makes a lot of sense to integrate their regional trail system into our bike system,” Ryan said. “It’s kind of the backbone of it in many ways.”

Three Rivers Park District began its existence by focusing on parks on land it could easily afford, which tended to be exurban areas outside the metropolitan core, Grissman said. Its focus on trails began primarily as a way of providing amenities for cities closer to the core and provide connections between parks, downtown areas and residential areas.

Hennepin County has a good reputation for being bicycle-friendly nationwide, but a new bike plan could help the county move to the next level, Ryan said.

Some residents have asked county staff to explore the idea of adding cycle tracks that are protected from traffic by a curb, bollards or other type of divider.

“If there’s a bike lane, the only thing separating bicyclists in the bike lane (from cars) is a stripe of paint, and not everybody’s comfortable in that type of situation,” Ryan said.

Cycle tracks have been credited with driving the huge percentage of bicycle riders in European cities where they are common, Ryan said. However, she said they are complex to design, and intersection design is important to consider as well.

Bicycle traffic lights are sometimes used in Europe to give bicyclists a head start in front of vehicles to prevent some turning conflicts between them and cars, but county staff want to judge receptivity to such devices and other potential solutions to prevent safety problems. Another idea is to remove parking to improve visibility, but Ryan said that is a tradeoff some communities may not be willing to make. Cycle ways could also lead to the removal of trees, which some communities may not believe is worth the change.

County staff members are also seeking input on how to address intersections on other types of bike lanes and paths. A countywide intersection standard does not currently exist, and cities generally create their own rules.

Another goal is to address barriers that prevent people from bicycling, such as a lack of trail plowing in areas in winter. The original county plan did not focus on bicycling during winter, Ryan noted. The survey asks people to prioritize some of the most significant potential barriers, such as a lack of a smooth surface, gaps in trails and connections, conflicts at intersections, a lack of signage or maps or other potential problems.

“Right now, we’re generating ideas, and we’re going to go through and say what are our priorities, what is feasible, what’s going to have the biggest impact,” Ryan said.

Both Ryan and Grissman emphasized that they want to hear from both bicyclists and residents who do not currently use the trails, as well as people who fit into a demographic mix that is representative of the county’s population.

“We want to hear from the bicycling community, but we also want to hear from people who are not part of the bicycling community,” Grissman said. “Are they interested but don’t know how to start that? Everyone should come regardless of what their background or what their interest is.”

 

Contact Seth Rowe at seth.rowe@ecm-inc.com

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