A very short history of bike planning in Northfield

I have been spending a lot of time as the unofficial historian of bike, pedestrian and street planning over on Facebook, so I decided to put together a quick history of how we got here. This is the bullet point list with links to the full documents on the City of Northfield website.

2001 Comprehensive Plan: This plan highlighted biking as an “appropriate local mode of transportation and called for designating bike routes, building trails, and providing bike parking.

2006 Greenway Corridor Plan: Initiated by citizens, this plan created a network of regional trails following natural features linked by trails and bikeways through Northfield. The East Cannon River Trail is one facility built from this plan, as well as preserving trail/green corridors in new development.

2008 Parks, Open Space and Trail Plan: Mostly about off-street trails for recreation (it’s a Park plan, after all), but ahead of its time in considering the different kinds of riders and the safe connections needed from neighborhoods to trails. It also anticipated the Complete Streets policy by four years in advocating a Complete Streets approach. The plan map was the first bike system map.

Map of 2008 Northfield Parks, open space and trail plan
Parks, Open Space, and Trail System Plan

2008 Comprehensive Plan: This plan pushed back against the many acres of suburban, single family home development in the early 2000s and calls for developing places where it is easy to walk and bike with connected streets, designing local streets with sidewalks, bikeways and narrower street widths.

2008 Transportation Plan: This one begins to look at non-motorized transportation as part of the transportation network (although scooters, ebikes and other things with small wheels, motors and batteries should also be included), but still pretty car-focused.

2009 Safe Routes to School Plan: The Northfield Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force, a subcommittee of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, wrote a grant to develop the Safe Routes to School plan. Precipitated by the difficulties getting to Bridgewater Elementary and the Middle School, this plan studied schools, interviewed families, and recommended improvements for helping kids walk and bike to school including the roundabout at 246 and Jefferson Parkway. This plan prioritizes walking and biking connections near schools, such as the 2023 Maple Street protected bikeway and current Lincoln Parkway study.

2012 Complete Streets Policy: Carleton students (with some Olaf student participation) instigated this policy and did the work of building community support to urge the Council to draft a policy which it did. This document is used to consider the facilities needed on each street project to fulfill the goal of streets serving “all ages and abilities.”

2019 Climate Action Plan: Biking and walking are included as ways to help reduce Northfield’s carbon footprint.

2019 Bike, Pedestrian and Trail Plan update: This is where the implementation starts ramping up. This plan update reviewed all the previous plans and made recommendations for the kinds of facilities needed in different contexts and updated the system plan shown above. Staff and consultants rely heavily on this map when designing street projects.

Map of Northfield's planned walking and bicycling network

2022 Pedestrian and Bikeway Analyzation: This report goes even further toward implementation and provides the policy and design background for current projects: “The purpose of this report is to identify how projects identified in the 2022–2026 Capital Improvement Projects (CIP) can be organized to provide the most benefit to people walking and bicycling in Northfield.” This includes cross sections of roadways included in the CIP projects and new policy for “quick build” designs. This was approved unanimously by the City Council.

Many of commenters over on Facebook complain about the wisdom of bike lanes or other street design changes as stupid, a waste of money, and (my favorite) that the city is governed by “tyrants.” However, the Council (5 different mayors and many different Council members and complete staff turnover) has received public support over twenty years for better walking and biking. Changing this trajectory is possible, but it will take significantly more effort and organizing than complaining on social media or speaking at a few Council meetings.

None of the above should be construed as an official response (I chair the Planning Commission, but I cannot speak for the Commission or the City) or an endorsement of particular projects and policies (I’ve got my own concerns and criticisms about how the City has done this work even if I’m generally very pro-bike).

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2 Responses to A very short history of bike planning in Northfield

  1. Craig Cardinal says:

    Thanks for this post! The way the bicycle/trail infrastructure is rolled out can make it feel very unplanned and disconnected. Glad to know there’s a grand plan for most of these trails, even if only on paper so far.

    • Since the bike facilities happen along with street projects, that makes for a pretty patchwork implementation. The City is beginning to try to accelerate that with quick build bikeways even when no repaving or other infrastructure is needed.

      I’d like to think when there are projects on streets with existing bikeways, there will be the opportunity to improve design to fix problems like the door zone lanes or the unprotected 2-way designs.

      Here’s the Capital Improvement Plan with projects for the next few years

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