Bloomington seeks ideas for a more biker, walker-friendly city plan

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 8, 2014 - 5:25 AM

The city emerged when motoring was king, but is now working to accommodate more bikers, walkers and transit users.

Bloomington is asking the public for ideas as the city works on a plan to make it easier to bike and walk in Minnesota’s fifth-largest city.

Its new alternative transportation plan is being developed as cities around the Twin Cities metro area look for ways to encourage biking, walking and mass-transit use. In a city like Bloomington that was developed mostly during the 1950s and ’60s, that’s more challenging than it sounds.

“We’re a victim of when Bloomington developed,” said Randy Quale, the city’s parks and recreation manager. “We’re a child of the ’60s, when cars were king, and they didn’t plan out a very robust bike and walking system.”

Much of the city has limited right-of-way in areas where sidewalks or paths are usually built, he said. Where there are sidewalks, they are often flush with the road — an intimidating design for pedestrians.

“You’re next to cars doing 40 miles per hour,” Quale said. “I’m not sure I want to walk there with my 6-year-old.”

The new alternative transportation plan would update a 2008 plan. With some previous goals fulfilled, Quale said the city wants to “see where we go for the next 10 years.”

The plan will set priorities for street improvements that favor biking, walking and making connections to bus routes, light-rail stops, and identifying places where those changes could be made. With the city’s street-bound design — in some places it is difficult even to find space to push snow without blocking sidewalks that are next to roads — Quale said the plan is a challenge.

“We are struggling to put in a functional system,” he said. “Design standards are different from when we were developed.”

But road changes that are friendly to bikers and walkers have not always been accepted by residents.

“I recognize that there are people who think we’re nuts,” Quale said. “Minneapolis is ranked as the number one bikeable community in the nation, and we’re a suburb of that city.

“We’re not crazy. We just need to try to accommodate everyone.”

City welcomes bikers from all lanes

In recent years, Bloomington created an important east-to-west bikeway by converting 86th Street from four lanes to three lanes, with road shoulders and a turn lane in the middle. That route stretches from Hyland Park on the west across the city, almost reaching the Mall of America on the east.

Lots of drivers hated that change, and the city took some flak. But the change has worked well, and has slowed speeders, Quale said.

Bloomington passed a “complete streets” policy three years ago, so the city already looks for ways to make moving around by bike or on foot easier every time a street is redone. But Quale said the new plan will do more than simply add bikeways. It will deal with subtleties like subsets within the biking community.

“We have to plan for different types of users,” Quale said. “There’s the hard-core bike commuter who uses the street, recreational bikers who want to be off-road, and mountain bikers who want to be on trails. We’ve got to see if we can come up with a system that probably not everyone will like, but will be in the best interest of the overall system.”

Public input is critical to that goal, he said.

“We want to listen,” he said. “Are we going to do everything people want? No, we don’t have the money for it.

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