I hope you’ve been thinking about joining Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx’s Mayor’s Challenge for improving safety for bicycle riders and pedestrians of all ages and abilities this year. Northfield is so well-positioned to make significant progress on this issue already that your strong leadership of the Council and city staff in this effort could make significant change happen now.
Secretary Foxx’s challenge requires (1) issuing a public statement about the importance of bike and pedestrian safety, (2) forming a local action team, and (3) local action through Mayor’s Challenge activities.
A public statement is easy, of course. The local action team would also be simple to form from Northfield’s appointed commissions, community groups and the passionate local advocates for bike and pedestrian safety who are already working on these issues. Northfield is also so ready to tackle the Challenge activities which include:
Northfield’s nationally recognized Complete Streets policy established our commitment to this way of rethinking streets. The next two major street projects – Woodley Street (2016) and West 2nd Street (2015) – designed using the Complete Streets approach to reallocating space across entire right of way to serve all users safely could — with strong support from the mayor, council and city staff — bring transformative change to these two critical street corridors.
Woodley Street is important for implementing Northfield’s Safe Routes to School Plan for improving safe access to Sibley School as well as the outdoor pool, high school and downtown. West 2nd Street is our most important east/west connection from St. Olaf College, past Way Park, and into the heart of Northfield.
Complete Streets is also an incremental approach which uses regularly scheduled street projects to capture opportunities to build on-road bike networks during routine resurfacing. After all, bike lanes and crosswalks can start with just paint; space can be reassigned easily and cheaply after any resurfacing project.
Northfield has already done substantial work toward identifying barriers. Highway 3 is the largest barrier and Northfield has already gathered information about the importance of providing safe, convenient crossing of the highway with the documentation for the TIGER trail project and upcoming 3rd Street improvements. Northfield’s Safe Routes to School Plan is focused on removing barriers to safe access to our schools (but Northfield High School, St. Dominic’s School and Arcadia Charter School still need study). The NDDC has done substantial work collecting information and making recommendations for improving bike and pedestrian safety in and around downtown starting in 2005 at the request of then Mayor Lansing and continuing in 2006, 2007 and as part of its contract with the city in 2014.
As a City Council member, my constituents at the Village on the Cannon repeatedly asked for safer crossings of Water Street at 7th Street by finding ways to slow traffic and connect sidewalks on both sides of the street. I also heard from Sumner Street residents who worried about pedestrian safety with fast traffic on that very wide (MSA), sidewalk-free street as well as Woodley Street folks asking for continuous sidewalks on that collector street. No doubt you and the current Council have your own stories.
While Northfield has been thinking about bike and pedestrian safety for a long time, 2014 marked the first bike and pedestrian count as part of MnDOT’s statewide count giving us initial baseline data. Northfield’s application to be a Bike Friendly Community (for which we received Honorable mention) also required assembling data on bike lanes, bike racks, plans, policies and more. The Challenge is a great opportunity to continue gathering the data which inform planning.
Institutionalized context insensitive design is a problem Northfield (and most other cities) face with each project. Standard designs for collector streets like Woodley do not consider the local character of the street; MSA-funded streets are required to be designed to standards which do not consider the street in its local context. Overbuilding streets costs the city money, too, in more pavement, more stormwater to manage and by designing bikes and pedestrians out of the picture. Fortunately, much work is being done at the highest levels to change this and build safety, access, and convenience into street design. Secretary Foxx asks engineers to consult a range of manuals including the NACTO design guides. In December, three senators asked the GAO to evaluate how conventional engineering practices (like those currently being considered for Woodley Street) encourage higher speeds and higher fatalities. The Mayor’s Challenge is a fine opportunity to better integrate land use with transportation for greater access and safety.
Addressing more of the 5E’s
The Mayor’s Challenge works to improve all 5E’s: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation which contribute to Bike Friendly Communities. I’ve focused on infrastructure improvements above since there are critical street projects underway right now, but the Challenge also calls for cities to improve walking and biking safety laws and regulations and educate and enforce proper road use behavior by all.
Please accept the Challenge, Mayor Graham. Having the Secretary of Transportation ask for change can give Northfield the encouragement and justification it needs to implement the fine policies already on the books and add value with each street project. Like the GreenStep Cities program helps Northfield’s work toward sustainability, the Challenge gives direction and structure to building bike and pedestrian into the system (and helps with sustainability, too!). Northfield has already been recognized as livable, great for retirement and working toward being a Bike Friendly Community; meeting this Challenge could add to this list of accolades and give you something you could be very proud of accomplishing in your administration.
With warm wishes and high hopes,