Bonus: Grand Forks City Council on “Bicycle Craze”

Council Member Sande stated not aware when biking became rage in Grand Forks, that he keeps hearing about bicycling from a variety of people with variety of points of view, none seem cohesive and wondering what it would take to get us on the same page about the bicycle craze. The MPO, the engineering department and Trail Users all seem to have their own agendas and process, because heard tonight that we connected the loop, that we created the dead-end ourselves by approving the 42nd Street bikepath and then the 24th bikepath that went no-where in the first place, so if going to connect the loops, why did we make a non-loop in the first place,; great if could review our current ordinances, apparently there are some regulations where not supposed to ride bikes on sidewalks, an unenforceable ordinance – should look at that and should have a sub-committee, a task force, with regard to bicyclists and come together and get a good plan to see if could get on the same page.

From the April 7th minutes.

Not just about bicycles – explaining Complete Streets

Some visitors to this blog may be wondering what is meant by “complete streets,” when the majority of coverage has been about bicycles.  Part of the cycle-centricity stems from recent events: the idea of bikeshare in Grand Forks is a pretty big deal around here, so it’s interesting to write about.  Another part of the bicycling focus comes from my personal experiences: I’ve been bicycle commuting in Grand Forks for almost six and a half years, and commuting year-round for about five of those years.  My discussions with people so far this spring have been focused on making it easier for people to ride because that’s what I talk to my friends about.

It’s not just about bicycles, however.  We can all recognize that, for many people, bicycle commuting is not an option due to work scheduling, transporting more than a couple kids around at once, needing to move large items, injury or illness, disability, or a combination of these and many other factors.  We have different mode of transportation because they are all good for different things, and this is where the complete streets model comes in.  A good overview comes from the National Complete Streets Coaliton:

Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.

Creating complete streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads.By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists – making your town a better place to live.

Complete streets supporters aren’t against any particular mode of transportation, but they are anti-bad-design when it comes to public infrastructure.  “Bad design” refers (as shown above) to transportation that is automobile-centric, a condition shared by much of the country but not necessarily most of the world.  We aren’t out to tell you what choices to make, but we’re here to tell you that you can have choices, and those choices should be integrated into the public space.

Some examples of non-complete streets in Grand Forks include

  • The South Washington Street underpass, the deteriorating sidewalks of which make it nigh impassible for the elderly during the summer.  The lack of snow removal on those same sidewalks closes it off completely during the winter.
  • The DeMers overpass, which has no sidewalks at all.  There are only limited opportunities to cross the train tracks in town, and this one, near downtown, excludes anyone not in a motor vehicle.
  • Both ends of the University Avenue bike lane, which dump a rider onto the sidewalk after crossing 42nd Street or Columbia Road.
  • The 42nd Street railroad crossing, which backs up traffic, causing pedestrians and cyclists (also stopped by the train) to breathe the same exhaust that the drivers are stuck in.

There must be a reason for this, of course.  Altruism is not entirely at play here, and many complete streets advocates just want a place for themselves on the road where they won’t feel like they are going to die.  Additionally, however, there are a number of societal benefits from giving people choices when it comes to transportation, including (but not limited to)

  • Congestion reduction: more options means fitting more people in the road.  If it’s sunny, ride your bicycle.  If it’s raining, take the bus.  If you’re helping your grandmother move, drive your truck.
  • Economic growth: the more people you can get to your door, the more money you can make.  Why disregard the part of the community that rides a bicycle or walks?  Pedestrian malls formed by closing streets to vehicles often become commercial hotspots.
  • Healthier society: by allowing people to walk or ride, we’re making it easier for people to get the minimum amount of recommended daily physical activity.  For employers, healthier employees means fewer sick days.
  • Safety: by adding accessibility, drivers are required to pay greater attention, reduce speed, and lower the number of crashes.
  • Fiscal planning: by including complete streets designs early on new projects, money can be saved on making those same improvements later.

If these are ideas you can get behind, for yourself or for someone else, please do some more reading and start thinking about what we can do.  Of cities in North Dakota, only Fargo has at least some degree of policy relating to complete streets; with a little work, Grand Forks could be the first to design and implement a complete streets policy to make sure everyone is able to make the best transportation choices they can.

Fargo Bike Lane News

While Grand Forks discusses bikeshare and closing a section of University Avenue, our neighbors to the south are embroiled in a bitter bike lane battle.  A list of articles and current status of the project is being kept up by the Great Plains Cycling Club on their website.

What do you think of bike lanes?  Does the general lack of bike lanes in Grand Forks affect your choice of whether to travel by a certain route?  Are there any places in town you’d like to see lanes installed?

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.
 

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.

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.

Comment on “How Bicycling Connects Us to a Healthier Community and Stronger Economy”

I submitted this comment this morning, but it hasn’t been approved yet. Hopefully it will be.

In response to How Bicycling Connects Us to a Healthier Community and Stronger Economy by Tyler Pell, I had these thoughts on how to improve these arguments:

“I think these are good points, but in the interest of helping to win over people who are stuck in a car monoculture, I’d suggest two things.

First, you should point out exactly why “keeping cars off the road” is good for community. It removes congestion, reduces noise, allows people to stop and chat while they are commuting, all of which strengthen the ties between people who live in the community.

Second, you should move all the environmental issues to a separate section. There are more than enough reasons for people to ride bicycles without shoving “the environment” or “climate change” down people’s throats. Note that I agree completely that it’s good for the environment to commute by bicycle, but I know it’s a sensitive subject with some people; if you give these people other reasons that they can personally get behind as human beings or consumers, you have a better chance at getting them into cycling.

Thanks for all the citations, this is a good resource overall.

Matt”

I think my suggestions are meaningful because when you’re trying to debate someone, it works best to start from a common ground and work toward the point your trying to make, all the while explaining why your points make sense. “The environment” is a nonstarter for some people. “Community” is a great thing to aim for, and I think Pell did a good job expressing that. Economics is a good place to start for some people, as long as you don’t get into too much theory.

Even though I frame this as a debate, remember that anyone you’re trying to convince to commute by bicycle is a future comrade-in-arms. Even if they don’t agree to do it themselves now, they may consider it in the future after your conversation, and they may be just a bit more understanding, which is good for community as well.

Moving Large Items with Bicycles

The more you ride bike instead of driving, the less you want to use your motor vehicle for things. Sometimes it’s a necessity, such as Ted needing to move a futon this past weekend: 

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Sometime’s it’s purely a question of “is this possible?” as seen here (from earlier this spring):



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More photos are available on Flickr, click on one of the images above to get to my photostream.

Snapshot: Crossing at DeMers Ave/S. Columbia Rd Interchange

Trying to keep the words to a minimum, but here is an intersection in Grand Forks that I find particularly worrisome, especially for people to whom cycling/commuting is new. This crossing is the primary avenue between the University of North Dakota (to the north) and points to the southeast. The protected sidewalk on the S. Columbia Rd. overpass is used by riders because the traffic on the often exceeds 35 mph and people are not used to cyclists. See map at bottom of post.

Most problematic: drivers merging onto the northbound onramp and off the southbound offramp. They do not expect to stop because all they have is a yield sign. Drivers merging on are especially dangerous because they have little need to yield most of the time, and see little reason in signaling.

Suggested solution: Unsure. Would be nice to straighten out the crossing (will have to take a photo now that it’s snowed again) to make it easier for people on the path, but something needs to be done to prevent merging drivers from running into riders and drivers stopped at the red light from stopping in front of the pedestrian cutout ramps (on the crosswalk).

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View Larger Map

Total time on this post: 46 minutes.