The “bike-friendly” moniker now attached to the city of Minneapolis may soon transfer itself to Hennepin County.
Hennepin is welcoming its first bicycle and pedestrian coordinator as the county moves to alleviate county-city communication problems and to enhance biking and walking infrastructure along its roads.
Kelley Yemen, 33, formerly with New York City’s Department of Transportation, will step into the position, which pays a salary of $68,000, on Feb. 10.
“Ms. Yemen will help implement Hennepin County’s complete-streets priorities by focusing on bicycle and pedestrian issues, and she will be a crucial liaison to our partner communities,” Commissioner Peter McLaughlin wrote in a news release.
Although many cities employ bike chiefs, this role was hitherto missing at the county level, meaning that city officials were wrangling with multiple county engineers on joint projects, and communication was inefficient. Organization had been “pretty scattered,” McLaughlin said.
Yemen, a Minnesota native, said she is excited to work in planning at the county level because of the variety the work entails.
“It just runs the gamut of different types of streets, different communities, what they’re looking for as far as improvements,” said Yemen, comparing Minneapolis’ population and housing density with the more suburban spread of Edina.
Hennepin County maintains more than 550 miles of bike and pedestrian trails, and that number is increasing by 5 to 10 miles each year, the county reported. It has spent a cumulative $3.8 million since 1995 on maintaining the trails and providing for cyclist and pedestrian safety, the county said.
“It’s nice that we have the staff resources to develop, plan and implement biking and walking improvements,” said Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bike Coalition.
The county is now contracting with Three Rivers Park District to create a new countywide bike plan that will better reflect changes in biking and walking habits in the county’s cities. The new plan, expected to be completed in late May and to take effect later this year, is a more exhaustive reworking than the comparatively minor yearly updates.
The county engaged community cyclists in the project and asked them to weigh in on their concerns and priorities and to offer ideas for improvements during a public forum last October.
Fawley said people typically favor physical barriers to bike lanes, like those used in the recent Washington Avenue construction. Yemen echoed the sentiment that improved safety could draw out more bicyclists, saying that non-“road warriors” may need that extra security along roads to be comfortable with biking in the city.
Minneapolis has clear goals for how much biking the city would like to see: 15 percent of all trips, according to Fawley, who added he would like to see this kind of definitive planning at the county level, too.
Fawley also said he would like to see the county mirror city-level efforts, such as promoting bike education at schools and hosting events that encourage biking.
Yemen said people should have options for getting around. “If you want to be able to walk, you should be able to walk; if you want to be able to bike, you should have a safe way for you to bike,” she said. “You shouldn’t be confined to just one mode.”
Yemen’s attitudes are rooted in her own habits: “I’m a biker, I’m a walker, I’m a driver, I’m all of them.”
Elizabeth Hustad is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.