Back in March, I posted What else fits in that parking space? with a couple of graphics about what fits in the same amount of space as a car. In real life, I saw this:
Back in March, I posted What else fits in that parking space? with a couple of graphics about what fits in the same amount of space as a car. In real life, I saw this:
“How we put together the built environment within our public right-of-way determines much about how we can conduct daily life for years to come.” I can’t get this quote from civil engineer and bike advocate Fionnuala Quinn neatly out of my mind because it so eloquently captures the long-term significance of street projects for a community. As the Woodley Street project progresses, public meetings are now scheduled – the first meeting is tonight – so this is the time to think together about how we would like to be able to conduct our daily life along and across this corridor and move the conversation from costs (or perceived costs) to shared benefits.
Typically, street projects are designed by consultant engineers – Bolton and Menk, in this case – with limited knowledge of the community context of the street. While Bolton and Menk have worked in Northfield frequently, that’s not the same as knowing how the street and surrounding land uses work together, or how Woodley connects more distant parts of the city. Community members, both those adjacent to project boundaries and those who travel through the project area, can inform the non-native designers about the community, how this street connects to other places (or how it doesn’t now, but could in the future), and other local knowledge about the place and how people move around in it. In other words, showing the engineers what matters in human terms so the design can respond to local context rather than just slapping down the standard plate over whatever might be it its path.
It’s no secret I’m interested in broadening the conversation and changing the street to do more and to change the way the space functions for the longer term. Northfield and its hired help need input from the people who currently use or cross Woodley Street and those who avoid it because of perceived problems to determine what change is needed.
I’m also a design idealist (despite believing this video to be all too true). Having had the luxury of living in and visiting other cities, I have seen how well-designed infrastructure makes getting around easy and pleasant as well as experiencing less than well-designed places and struggling as a result. Local people know their places well, but are not street design experts and rather than asking residents (or the City Council) to be citizen engineers and do the drawing, I’m wishing for local people who provide great feet-on-the-street knowledge and innovative designers who can create a street corridor which works for Northfield.
Northfield has made great progress in the last few years publicizing meetings, providing on-line engagement, and increasing the number of face-to-face opportunities for input. Even so, it is difficult to reach and engage community members beyond the adjacent property owners for whom personal notice is built into the legal requirements. BikeNorthfield (I’m on the its steering committee) and other organizations like Sibley School and the school district, advocates for public health, etc. can help spread the word that input is needed about the project (and we should get to work).
Not that the adjacent property owners should be ignored; I appreciate the very real concerns (and have paid my own special assessment in the last few years) – project residents mostly own their homes and their home is likely a very substantial portion of their assets – of course they are concerned about the impact to that asset and whether the project will affect its value or their ability to enjoy their property. The way we assess a portion of the project cost to adjacent property owners makes it completely reasonable that they may have an aversion to loss of “their” property when a sidewalk is constructed or fear how any change in the street corridor will affect their investment. On the other hand, Council members who simply give residents veto power abdicate their responsibility to consider the long term benefits for the community.
Perhaps my biggest concern is how little education takes place to guide public comment. Most of us do not spend much time looking at street cross sections, learning about intersection geometry, or know what design features have been demonstrated to calm traffic, improve safety or address other relevant issues (hence my comments above that residents supply context so thoughtful designers can get to work). In the past, consultants and staff have done little to help policy-makers or residents learn what design choices are possible, how design could help solve problems identified, and what choices cost in both the long and short term, but instead stood by their diagrams and maps waiting for whatever questions or comments emerge.
If we’re simply shown big diagrams and asked “So, what do you think?” or “Do you like it or not?” we don’t know much about what we’re being asked and are more likely to give feedback which is irrelevant (when I scribble “Make Woodley a 32′ wide street!” when the 44′ width has already been decided) or merely reactive (“I don’t want a sidewalk!”).
What if we framed the discussion this way: The City is working to implement its Safe Routes to School plan and make its streets more “complete” by improving bike and pedestrian connections to important destinations like Sibley School, the Spring Creek Soccer Complex, the City Pool at Old Memorial Park and downtown. The County requires a 44′ wide street with 12′ travel lanes. The remaining space can be allocated in different ways to provide better bike connections, prioritize private parking, or a combination of uses. Sidewalks are included in Northfield’s policies, too, and can be included in this project. Then, the City could present some alternative configurations with some of the benefits and costs of each.
Flat maps and diagrams don’t help much with visualizing change and can even be rather alarming as this diagram showing trees to be removed as small explosions which make it difficult to see much beyond loss and destruction:
Hennepin County has recently been doing some planning and adding bike lanes on Lowry Avenue. In addition to the flat images, the County has tried to market the change positively. The image shows cars still moving efficiently, but also includes the bikes and new trees to present a positive image of change rather than a documentation of loss.
City staff and elected leaders could emphasize values and priorities as articulated in city policy. Our policies are really good and forward thinking. Allocating space for bicycles is less about space than about making different choices (and allocating all the space for cars was a choice made in the past). If we presume the space is for motor vehicles, then every reduction in driving or parking space seems like a loss or (worse) a threat. If, on the other hand, we start from the position than the public right of way should be allocated for the broadest inclusion and choice across the network, we can use the space to both permit safe, uninterrupted vehicle movement and safe, clearly identified space for bicycles.
Woodley Street needs fixing as anyone who has driven, ridden or walked on it knows. But remembering this needed repair to pavement and pipes is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change, what are the other benefits the city could realize? My interest is how Woodley Street helps us get places and links destinations – and it is a key link to many places in Northfield.
If Northfield and Rice County rebuild Woodley Street by repeating choices of the past – a car-only county highway without sidewalks, safe intersections for pedestrians, or bike facilities, the City will miss the chance to help anyone who walks, bicycles or uses a wheelchair/scooter right now to reach downtown, parks, schools and moving around the neighborhood and, more importantly, will preempt these choices for decades more to come.
I didn’t know there was a term for this, but apparently I’ve been thinking about daylighting at the corner of Washington and 3rd Streets and at the bottom of the hill at Division and 3rd Streets right by the Northfield Public Library for many years.
Here’s a little video from Streetfilms explaining “daylighting.”
Now that the the Library expansion project is about to begin, this would be the perfect opportunity to make some exterior changes in addition to the good stuff which will happen to the Library building.
Daylighting, at its simplest, is just prohibiting parking close to intersections and crosswalks to create better sightlines for cars to see pedestrians and vice versa. The intersections by the Library see much pedestrian traffic, including small children and older adults, and visibility is currently poor. Parked cars limit visibility which is compounded by grade changes. Driving south on Washington Street is an uphill journey making the crosswalk across Washington a particularly difficult place to see pedestrians. As a driver looking for pedestrians, I keep getting surprised by people, especially small people, edging out past the cars to see what’s coming. As a pedestrian, I find the east side of Washington feels safer because the higher elevation gives me a better vantage point to see approaching cars (or bikes). Standing on the Library side of Washington, I’ll keep my dog behind me as I edge out to see what’s emerging from the north.
The problem at the bottom of the hill on Division Street is similar. Creating the high capacity bike parking space did improve visibility at this intersection to the south, but the crosswalk is still obscured while driving south by the angle parking on the west and the parallel parking on the east.
It would be a quick, cheap change to prohibit parking closest to these intersections with some paint and a couple of signs.
Looking at Library expansion plans, there are a couple of changes to the Library which make daylighting an even more appropriate choice. A much needed sidewalk will be added along Washington from the top of the steps down to the Library to 3rd Street putting more pedestrians near and at the intersection (although the architectural renderings are stunningly devoid of real life parking and traffic).
The expansion of the library onto what is now the bike parking plaza means the well-used bike racks need a new home and, as on Division Street, a high capacity bike rack on the street at 3rd and Washington would both provide daylight AND bike parking.
Let’s say the quick and cheap paint solution is a big success. Now let’s think about more substantial permanent changes to enhance the Library intersections.
Right now, the 3rd Street parking “lot” has curb extensions at both ends which mark off the space as devoted to parking and slow through traffic; the extensions create delightfully short crossing distances with great visibility across 3rd Street; compare the length of the crosswalks in the image above). The painted daylight spots could become permanent extensions on Washington and Division which make for even better visibility because they are higher than street level, shorten crossing distances, calm traffic on Division and Washinton Streets and create a larger public space for bike parking, benches (many people now sit on the Library wall waiting for rides, why not provide seating accessible to people of all ages?), street trees, etc.
The Northfield Public Library is well-loved and heavily used, it draws people of all ages and is at the heart of our most pedestrian-oriented space. The expansion of the Library is a golden opportunity to improve the streetscape, too.
Recent news about cycling safety (more accurately described as cycling danger) warns cycling deaths are on the rise (…or not). Reporting on deaths and injury-causing collisions/accidents shapes the public sense of cycling for non-cyclists because these are the numbers we have.
As a get-around-town sort of cyclist, I don’t worry about dying when I go to the grocery store (and I don’t even wear a helmet). I also don’t worry about dying when I get in my car to drive somewhere, but my risk of dying in a car accident is considerably higher (and I don’t even wear a helmet).
No, I worry about (and just dislike) the common non-injury, non-death interchanges between myself and motorists. Like the man yelling at me for being on the road even though I was in the bike lane at 5th and Division Street or the right-turn-on-redders at 2nd Street and Highway 3 who look left for motor traffic but do not check right for bikes/pedestrians or the drivers on Jefferson Parkway who attempt to squeeze by me despite the median pinching the space (and yelling at me for taking the lane when the median ends and they can pass). Most cyclists have multiple near misses like these, but they’re not reported as accidents and don’t “become data.”
Enter the Near Miss project which collected about 2,000 first person reports in London recently (numbers being crunched at this time). This joint effort between the University of Westminster (lead by Professor Rachel Aldred) and Blaze Laserlight attempts to document “near misses” and SMIDSYs (Sorry mate, I didn’t see you) in London.
In the USA, Ft. Collins, Colorado has its own “near miss” reporting which it uses “to assess potential conflict points and the frequency of near misses at these locations. Bicycle and pedestrian related crashes are typically under reported and this offers another way to address issues before they result in a crash.”
Northfield has taken two steps toward collecting better information about cycling this year. First, we participated in MnDOT’s bike count to help both the state and Northfield know where the bikes are now and to plan for the future. Then, BikeNorthfield and the City of Northfield (with the help of many others) applied for Bike Friendly Community status (we got Honorable Mention) which required quantifying the bike infrastructure, policy and other tools in place in Northfield. Next year, perhaps, Northfield could begin to collect and map near miss information to continue to build the database for better transportation in Northfield.
Northfield should be the sort of city where bicycling makes a lot of sense because
Despite all these assets, cycling is still not normal transportation around Northfield. Fortunately, Northfield also has a new cycling advocacy organization BikeNorthfield which sponsored a day-long Bikeable Community Workshop last week (along with co-sponsors: Chamber of Commerce, NDDC, Northfield City Council and Rice County SHIP) led by representatives from MnDOT, MN Department of Health and Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota for local leaders, advocates and enthusiasts who want to develop the bikeable potential of their community.
Who came? Northfield’s workshop attendees included the chief of police, city administrator, Community Development director, 3 Planning Commission members, 1 member of the Northfield YMCA board, 2 City Council members, 1 Environmental Quality Commission member, a long-time bike trail advocate and senior citizen cycling leader, a couple of college staff and faculty, 1 school board member and more bike advocates and enthusiasts. Some of these folks regularly ride in and around town, but others do not (at least not yet); some know City plans and policy intimately, but others do not (at least not yet). In other words, a good mix of people to bike and learn together how to build on Northfield’s strengths.
What did we learn? The 5 E’s, of course, as well as some of the many reasons why bicycles can or should be part of a community like tourism (if Lanesboro and the Root River Trail can bring in $2.2 million annually, what could Northfield capture when the Mill Towns Trail is completed?), jobs (Northfield already has two bike shops and Tandem Bagels), community events (come to Northfield for the July 4th Criterium – to race or to watch; stay for the fireworks!) and benefits from public health to equity to cleaner air. And, we learned that half of all trips are 3 miles or less—a reasonable bicycling distance –which is certainly true in Northfield.
Where did we go? Following some safe cycling training, we took to the road to visit some of the high and low points of Northfield’s cycling infrastructure including crossing MN 3 at 3 different intersections (but, unfortunately, did not take the extra few minutes to visit the site of the recently approved TIGER trail crossing) and the difficult intersection of TH 246 and Jefferson Parkway near 3 of Northfield’s schools.
What will we do next? Focusing on projects or objectives we could accomplish in the next 6-12 months in the 5 E categories, we identified:
Infrastructure/Engineering & Evaluation top projects: (1) Increase/improve signage to direct folks to bike routes, trails, and parking; (2) identify “easy” paint locations (such as painting Water Street as a bike boulevard for an early and obvious change); (3) create an advisory group to the planning commission (a previous non-motorized transportation task force reported to the Park and Recreation Advisory Board), and (4) do bicycle and pedestrian counts.
Education & Enforcement can help build confident cyclists who can manage the infelicitous infrastructure, so we identified (1) Hosting a Train the Trainer “Traffic Safety 101” course in Northfield this summer and recruiting participants for the October LCI training in Rochester to build a critical mass of local bike safety instructors; (2) engaging Community Ed (and the YMCA) to introduce a bike curriculum; (3) engaging business leaders on bikeable workplaces, bike friendly businesses and workplace wellness
Encouragement & Events celebrate success, create interest and build community so we plan to (1) offer bike clinics at existing community events; (2) encouraging bicycle commuting among local businesses (including, I hope, both colleges); (3) increase the number of group rides and adding education/evaluation components to rides; (4) collaborating with community organizations to expand cycling, and (5) producing comprehensive maps of bicycle facilities and recommended routes – both recreational and destination routes – for the community.
If BikeNorthfield and its friends follow through on this list, then the longer term, higher price projects such as improving important intersections, adding bike lanes on higher traffic streets, etc. will have that critical mass of support needed for change. And, for a city the size of Northfield, relatively few major changes are needed to be able to create a really great town for cycling.
This post also appeared on streets.mn
What would help you get on a bicycle and ride to the store – yes, you there, the one who hasn’t ridden a bicycle since childhood but might be willing to try it if conditions were right? People for Bikes has a nice series trying to sell cycling to the uncertain “swing voter.” I’m even more curious how the completely committed cyclists react, because the overall message is not about how great cycling is, but how to advocate for better bike facilities which make cycling easier for everyone. No one should be surprised that perceived (lack of) safety is a big obstacle, but more surprising that the safety of better facilities is also not much of a selling point.
And then there’s all the good stuff about cycling:
Building business support for cycling by way of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. This piece has a great little 7 step guide to advocacy from within.
The only happy commuters are cyclists, or can urban design make people happy? Long commutes and the combined cost of housing and transportation costs, while not about cycling, are getting some attention.
And how Groningen, Netherlands achieved cycling greatness. Spending 15 minutes watching the video is fun and shows real people riding around town. If you don’t want to spend the time, the secrets are: (1) not a piecemeal approach, (2) connecting places, (3) making cycling easier than driving in some locations, (4) separating cyclists from high speed traffic, and (5) political will. The other comment made frequently: cycling costs less. Here’s a comparison of British streets and Dutch streets to see how different places allocated space differently to accommodate cyclists and here are all the myths and excuses about cycling in one place.
Is it OK to kill cyclists? asked Daniel Duane in the New York Times. In the US, if you’re going to kill someone, bumping off a cyclist with your car is a pretty good way to get away with murder. Even here in England, where the cycling climate (and the regular sort of climate) is quite different, killing cyclists goes largely unpunished (though “my” MP Julien Huppert has been working on it). Apparently, we’re expendable.
I blogged earlier about strict liability (where the driver of the motor vehicle is presumed liable for the accident, unless she can prove she is not at fault) and “my” MP Julien Huppert has also raised this issue. In a related development, exposing the “blame the victim” problem with pedestrian and cycling fatalities is on the upswing, see this New York example (police say pedestrians should carry flashlights so cars don’t jump the curb and kill them).
After the NY Times piece, the Economist has a very good summary of the policy and what would happen in a variety of circumstances. To sum up:
This regulatory regime places an extra burden on drivers. That burden can be summed up as follows: before you turn, you have to check carefully in the mirror to see whether there’s a cyclist there. That’s it. When you are driving in the Netherlands, you have to be more careful than you would when driving in America. Does this result in rampant injustice to drivers when accidents occur? No. It results in far fewer accidents.
Dorothy Rabinowitz’s video rant about New York City’s bike sharing program may be the most blogged about bit of cycling commentary in recent memory. Let’s just say her statements mark the extreme view of US cycling where bikes simply do not belong on streets or in cities (and here’s a link to learn about the real bike lobby, not the mythical one Rabinowitz described). There’s been some more local hoo-ha about cyclists vs. drivers,
In Northfield, we’ve put pretty good policy in place for encouraging cycling and walking, as well as for building sidewalks, bike trails and on-street bike facilities as we take on street projects. Each new project, however, which tries to build non-automobile facilities continues to meet with resistance from some Council and community members while being championed by others.
Part of the problem seems to be that in Northfield and New York has nothing to do with the infrastructure, though, but the perception cyclists are some special class of people and, consequently, “they” are sucking up resources that “we” need for other things, like cars. Perhaps we can stop thinking of cyclists and start thinking of people on bikes, you know, as people like everybody else. And here’s a little video from a Dutch cyclist who, while visiting the US, observes “the average cyclist in San Francisco seems to be a young fit adult, mostly male and appears to be in a constant hurry” and, unlike Amsterdam, cycling here is recreational, not transportational (and Americans don’t wear “normal clothes”).
For the record, I’m trying to sell my road bikes (the kind one rides in spandex shorts) and keeping my beater bike for riding around town from point A to B in my regular clothes (even skirts), but I’d kind of like one of these.
And here’s a little round-up of other cycling-related stuff which has clustered lately around good infrastructure (and planning infrastructure) and “peak car” – new studies show driving is declining. Somehow I also fell upon a few older posts about the cost of car ownership (cars from AAA, comparison from NYTimes and a DIY calculator from Bikes at Work and a great new phrase “infrastructurally coerced car ownership” from A New Dallas).
Here’s a nifty little video showing some of the Netherlands’ bicycle infrastructure with commentary by visiting American planners. Bikes Belong, through their Bicycling Design Best Practices Program, took a group of planners and engineers from Miami, Chicago, and Washington DC on a study tour of cities in the Netherlands to learn more about how the Dutch have very deliberately built bicycle facilities, required cycling education, and planned traffic flow to encourage cycling.
The video shows lots of people bicycling, a variety of bike lanes, intersection designs, cycle-specific traffic signals – good to see how it can be done when government plans and follows through on a vision (of course, high density helps, too). Bikes Belong also has a short document describing some of the Netherlands’ efforts.