Grand Forks bikeshare survey results are out

Just a quick post to let people digest these responses.  The results are available as a PDF here, including all responses, not just aggregate data.  An FAQ PDF (which many survey respondents appear not to have read) is available from the Greater Grand Forks Greenway here.

Update: WDAZ had a story on this last night which thankfully details the type of system we might have here.

Closing University Avenue

One of the best things about going to a small residential university for my undergraduate degree was the lack of cars on campus.  The campus was small, there were parking lots on the outskirts (near most of the dorms), and you walked or rode a bicycle everywhere.  It was a given.  The campus was small enough to make this feasible.  It’s not that there were no vehicles at all–delivery trucks and the like would drive through in the early morning, the streets were plowed during the winter, and on move-in and move-out day you could bring your vehicle in to move your stuff–but for the students, we just had to deal with the lack of motorized transportation.

The Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization is looking to do a similar thing for part of the University of North Dakota, reports the Grand Forks Herald.  They have released a report (which I have not located yet) proposing the closing of University Avenue between Columbia Road to the east and Stanford Road to the west (see image from the Herald website) in order to reduce pedestrian/motorist interactions, promote walking and cycling, and reduce emissions from motor vehicles.

Image from the Grand Forks Herald.

This proposal is notable for its daring and progressiveness.  This might be the first instance of closing streets for the sake of pedestrians in Grand Forks history.  There are strong criticisms, however I think they can be mitigated.  Two in particular stand out: emergency vehicle access and perceived increased congestion.

Emergency vehicle access worries are due to the use of University Ave as a route for fire trucks and ambulances, but “closed to personal vehicles” does not mean “closed to emergency vehicles.”  Allowing these vehicles access to University Ave, as long as even one lane is left clear for service, might even decrease response times due to not having to wait for automobile traffic to get out of the way.

Perceived congestion is a more difficult nut to crack, but I propose an initial tradeoff to help people understand the value of this street closure: limited hours of operation.  Larger cities do this all the time–drive into Washington, D.C. some morning and you’ll see whole residential streets change one-way direction–and people learn how it works.  Close University Avenue between 8 AM and 4 PM every day (perhaps with gates) except to service and emergency vehicles for a trial semester, study the effects, and use those data to shut it down completely.

Again, I’m very excited about this plan because it opens up new possibilities.  Street parties.  Street vendors (allowing off-campus restaurants to set up shop for lunch).  More space for people on foot and bicycles.  Less noise, traffic, and emissions for everyone.  What other opportunities do you see?

Roads are paid for by drivers, right?

“Why should we even allow cyclists on the roads?  They aren’t paying for them.”
Variations on this theme come up fairly regularly:  Drivers pay for roads through gas taxes and car registrations  Cyclists don’t need to pay out anything.  Why should we let people who aren’t paying for the roads use the roads?

Unfortunately, this argument rests on a false assumption: that all roads are paid for by user fees (gas taxes and registrations).  In fact, according to an article a few years ago on Streetsblog, “Between 1982 and 2007, the amount of federal highway revenue derived from non-users of the highway system has doubled.”  We are all paying for roads, regardless of whether drive or not, and identifying gas taxes as “user fees” is even under question.  Add to this the fact that many cyclists also own cars (and therefore pay “user fees”), and the argument against them using the roads falls apart even more.

So, as far as cycling infrastructure and complete streets development goes, getting even 1% of transportation funding has been an uphill battle.  By recognizing that this funding isn’t even fully supported by drivers we should be able to utilize it to support cycling- and pedestrian-related endeavors, in Grand Forks and beyond.

Searching the PDF Library

[EDIT: The PDF search described below no longer exists, but the mention of a preprint server for other sciences is becoming a reality with PeerJ Preprints.]

For those who are looking for paleontology or geology papers in PDF format, you might be able to find them with the full-text search I’ve installed here. There are 40 GB or so of files to access. If you find a file there that you can’t access any other way, drop me an email and I can send it.

This is the easiest way I can think of to share my PDF library at the moment. In the past I’ve experimented with Alliance, OneSwarm, and even torrenting, but the first two applications require a critical mass of users to make viable (something I’ve never been able to get) and the last is difficult to update.

While a preprint server such as (but for other sciences [than physics, 2014-02-04]) would be useful for the future, it wouldn’t help to distribute the vast knowledge contained in works that are out of print. For this purpose we, as scientists, need to form our own distribution network. I will keep this directory up for myself and those who need it, but for complete sharing of published works I still think we need a P2P network devoted to that purpose.

What’s Past is Prologue 1: Grand Forks Life and The City Beat

Although hopefully this blog will grow as a resource/meeting place for people who are interested in promoting complete streets in the area, it’s actually not the first Grand Forks blog to bring up streets-oriented issues.  Grand Forks Life, a blog that stopped being updated in 2009 (but is still up), had a number of posts on the topic:

Another area of discussion was the blog of Grand Forks Herald reporter Tu-Uyen Tran, The City Beat, which has not been updated since October 2010.  Tran is notorious for his attention to detail, not lacking in these relevant posts:

Unfortunately, a few years have gone by without any investigative blogging on the Grand Forks street scene, but this past coverage might give you an idea for what we should be thinking about right now and how things have changed–or stayed the same.

If you think we’ve missed a great post from another blog, or a great discussion in the local media, drop a link in the comments.

More Coverage of Possible Bikesharing System

Is something similar to Capital Bikeshare coming to Grand Forks, North Dakota?
(Photo by Daquella manera under a CC-Attribution license.)

Today’s editorial in the Herald has a few examples of similar systems (not just bikeshares) in place that are run by the government instead of the private sector and is generally supportive of the city considering (or even trying out) the idea.

The original story has already gathered over 80 comments, both for and against, but a number of those comments (as always) have to deal with the same tangential issues that always come up: how much the Alerus center cost, how bad the smell from Crystal Sugar is sometimes, and how people like to argue on the Internet.  I’m not going to count up the number in favor and against because I think the sample isn’t representative; the official survey closes today at five and I’m hoping for results next week.

Interestingly enough, New York City is only slightly ahead of us on the bikesharing front and are choosing where to place stations for a July launch.  They are following Boston, Denver, and Washington, D.C. as another large U.S. city providing this service as a partnership with a private company.  University of California, Irvine (about half the number of students as Grand Forks has people) has their own system.

Wikiposedly (and I have not had time to check), government-run systems do require subsidies in one form or another, typically through advertising on the bikes or sharing stations, however these monetary costs can be made up in other ways that benefit all residents: less automobile congestion, more exposure to the outdoors, more exercise, a stronger sense of community and, most importantly, transportation options.  Add to this the strong support Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood has shown for cyclists and pedestrians, it seems like we may finally be entering an age where non-motorists can claim their space on the street as equal.

I’m not sure that bikesharing in Grand Forks will work, but the fact that we’re even looking into it is good news.  Who knows?  We could get something Fargo doesn’t have.

Bike share or bike rental in Grand Forks?

Update: Survey results are available from here (26 April 2012).

I was sent an email about the survey (open until 5 PM on April 13th, info) a few days ago, so I figured this Herald article was coming.  The news here is that the city (through Greenway Specialist Kim Greendahl) is entertaining the possibility of setting up either a staffed bicycle rental program (what I usually think of when I hear “bike rental”) or starting a bikeshare program (where riders could swipe a card at a kiosk, unlock a bicycle, ride it across town, and then deposit their bicycle in another kiosk).

I’ve only used one other bikeshare program, in Minneapolis last October, and I loved it because it let me get around as a visitor without needing to drive.  Does anyone else have experiences to share with this sort of system in other cities?

The specific target for any sort of bicycle-providing system seems to be visitors/tourists to Grand Forks.  I think this is exactly who would use a bicycle rental stand located on the Greenway: people from out of town who are looking for something to do.  A bikeshare system could mean a little more for residents because it would allow people to mix their transportation options: ride a bicycle across town in the morning when it’s sunny, ride the bus home if it starts to rain later.  Multiple kiosks mean multiple route possibilities and encourages people to ride.

What either of these systems does not do is get people to ride whose sole reason for not riding is lack of a bicycle.  If you look around, cheap bikes are easy to get, so easy that the racks outside the UND dorms are chock full and that the Mission always seems to be surrounded by riders.  It’s my hypothesis that supplying people with bicycles will not make them ride, and this is supported by ridership surveys for bikeshare systems such as the one in Washington, D.C.,* Minneapolis, MN, which is frequented predominantly by riders who already own another bike.  What a bikeshare system does is allow people the flexibility to choose the best form of transportation for their immediate needs: car, bicycle, bus, foot, etc., without needing to head back and reclaim a bicycle they may have left locked up somewhere.

Given the choice, I’m in favor of a bikeshare system because it has the potential to serve all residents, however I imagine that a “trial” bike rental stand on the Greenway would be a good way to measure tourist use.  Maybe a local business could step up to run such a thing, which brings me to my next question: how easy is it to rent a bicycle in Grand Forks, and where do you head for that?

*Originally I was remembering a post on Streetsblog about Washington, D.C. bikeshare, but that post was about comparing injury rates between bikeshare users and personal-bicycle users.

Columbia Road to be Widened

According to the Grand Forks Herald, Columbia Road will be widened to six lanes after a vote last week by the city council.

In another Herald article, we’ve heard city council member Tyrone Grandstrand suggest a six-lane option is overkill based on traffic patterns from the last ten years:

‘Grandstrand said the city should pursue projects that support mixed business and residential development and planning that supports public transportation rather than expect traffic levels to keep going up on business corridors.
“We’re going to have less traffic on Columbia and everywhere else,” he said.’

[Added 2012-04-09]
Grandstrand posted details of the traffic study in the Herald comments section:

I voted against 6 lanes but along with everyone else in Grand Forks I believe Columbia needed fixing a long time ago.  Columbia road traffic decreased by over 20% from 2000 to 2010. Along with traffic generally in Grand Forks, so people didn’t just pick a different road to drive on.  4 lanes, with intersection upgrades and some use of technology would have been just as effective and 1.1 million dollars cheaper. 

[end add]

The proposal presented to the city council can be found here (.pptx) and describes two phases of widening to occur: the first from DeMers Avenue to 11th Avenue South in 2013, the second from 11th Avenue South to 14th Avenue South in 2014.  The presentation contains a brief description of the current non-motorized facilities along this stretch of Columbia Road, which include a sidewalk to the east and a wider shared-use path to the west.

No official discussion has been heard yet of on-street bicycle lanes as part of this project.  There are four shared-use/driveway/street intersections between the Columbia Road/DeMers Avenue overpass and 14th street south, a distance of about half a mile.


First Post [GFK Streets]

Hello World! More updates to come.

Please post a comment if you are interested in contributing.  For the record, I’m hoping this can be a space for all stakeholders in safe, efficient streets in Grand Forks, so as long as you live here and have a thoughtful opinion, it doesn’t matter whether you identify as a pedestrian, cyclist, driver, something else, or any combination thereof.

If you are looking for a copy of any of the articles referenced, you can drop a comment with your email address and we can get that to you as well.  Some of the local media drops behind a paywall rather quickly.