Even before Shaun Murphy left his job as the city’s first bike-pedestrian coordinator early last year, a city spokesman told the Southwest Journal that Murphy would be replaced “as quickly as we can.”
The city is coming up on the first anniversary of that commitment next week with the position still unfilled. Although Mayor Betsy Hodges said during her 2013 campaign that she was an “early and vocal advocate for filling the job,” it has been empty for all but the first three months of her 13-month administration.
Steve Kotke admits that he’d prefer to have filled the position faster. But he said that part of the delay was thinking about where the position fit within the Public Works department Kotke runs, and part was reorganizing the department to create a new division focused on transportation planning.
Part of that long process involved considering whether the position was classified properly. Several bike and pedestrian groups have urged the city to give the next coordinator additional influence within Public Works. Kotke said he had a long conversation with Murphy about what worked and what didn’t with his position.
The job was originally conceived as the city’s point person on biking and pedestrian issues. Besides supervising a staff of three, Murphy advised city engineers on best practices and safety issues relating to biking and walking as they planned city infrastructure.
Murphy was hired in 2012, when striping ordinary bike lanes was in vogue and so he was put in the traffic division of Public Works. Now the city is moving to wider buffered bike lanes and those protected with a physical barrier. Kotke said that shifting the coordinator and his staff to the new transportation planning division means that input regarding bike and pedestrian needs will be built into road projects from the start.
The desire for more authority for the coordinator comes from a sense among bike advocates that even when Murphy agreed with points they made about improving street projects, he couldn’t always sell their suggestions within the department. “I think that there are sort of some old-guard people and culture and philosophy in Public Works,’ said Amy Brugh, board president of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. “I think that’s changing.”
One transportation engineer with considerable bike planning experience, Hennepin County’s Bob Byers, praised Murphy for his ability to serve as a communicator with council members for bike and foot traffic planning, and for heeding the concerns of engineers. “It would be nice to get someone like that in there again,” he said.
Kotke said he’s hoping to announce the new coordinator this month. Nick Mason, who chairs the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, sat in on the early round of interviews for the hiring of a coordinator, and said he’s excited by the people who were finalists for the position. “Any of those folks would do a great job,” he said.
Minneapolis is losing its traction among the nation's top bicycling cities, according to the latest biennial ranking from Bicycling magazine.
Minneapolis topped the magazine's list of the 50 most cycling-friendly cities in 2010, shocking the biking world by ranking ahead of biking mecca Portland, Ore. Then it slipped to second behind Portland in 2012.
The latest ranking released this week put Minneapolis at third. We're ahead of Portland (No. 4) but New York and Chicago vaulted ahead of both cities to claim Nos. 1 and 2 respectively.
St. Paul? Try No. 40.
The rankings are following after an analysis of census data and information collected about bike infrastructure by cycling advocacy groups. But there's an emphasis what's happened recently that may work against Minneapolis.
It's been late to the parade on implementing protected bike lanes, the hottest new technique for trying to persuade people to ride instead of drive. New York and Chicago jumped to the top of the list after recently adding miles of such lanes -- in which something more substantial than painted lines separate bikes from drivers.
But the city now has a goal of 30 miles of protected lanes by 2020, with plans to build them yet this fall on W. 36th Street, and possible additions next year on 26th Avenue N. and E. 26th and 28th Streets. Hennepin County will add them next year on a short stretch of Washington Avenue. Mayor Betsy Hodges recently proposed spending $750,000 next year on protected lanes.
Minneapolis has drawn bike world attention for the Midtown Greenway and Cedar Lake Trail, and was an early adopter of bike-sharing. A federal pilot project pumped millions of dollars into the Twin Cities for pedestrian and biking projects into the city, but that money has largely been spent. And in the magazine's rankings, painted bike lanes are oh so 2012.
The magazine's ratings seem intended to makes sure that biking cities don't rest on their laurels, said Hilary Reeves, spokeswoman for Transit for Livable Communities, which administered the pilot project in the Twin Cities.
Local bikers and others interested in creating more protected bikeways for Minneapolis will have two opportunities to help shape routes, starting Tuesday.
Tonight’s meeting at Open Book , 1101 Washington Av. S., is scheduled for 5:30-7:30, with a program from 6-7 p.m. Part of the agenda is brainstorming routes for bikeways on Minneapolis streets, with participants divided according to sector.
What’s a bikeway? Sponsors define them as any space where a biker can bike in separation from passing traffic or pedestrians, except at intersections. Bikeways can be protected from traffic by curbs, bollards parked cars or a different elevation.
The idea behind the concept is that more bikers of all ages will use bike routes if there’s a physical demarcation of their space that’s more than paint, according to Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition.
The push for such bikeways is coming from two sources. One is the Bikeways for Everyone coalition of about 30 local advocacy groups. It is supporting a city set goal of creating 30 miles of bikeways by 2020 as part of its climate action plan.
Need examples of a bikeway? The park paths qualify, as does the Midtown Greenway. But more typical of on-street bikeways is the one added last year to the Plymouth Avenue Bridge, where plastic stakes separate the bike lanes from traffic. There’s also the elevation-separated Loring Bikeway in the Hennepin-Lyndale bottleneck, connecting Loring Park and the Bryant Avenue bike boulevard. A new bikeway is scheduled to be installed this year on W. 36th Street, between Bryant Avenue S. and Lake Calhoun. The Portland and Park avenue bike lanes would be bikeways if they were protected with bollards or curbing.
The city also is seeking input on where to install more bikeways. That open house is scheduled for May 8 from 4:30-7:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall. Maps showing ideas gleaned at Tuesday’s Bikeways for Everyone session will be forwarded to the city as part of that input.
The push for bikeways comes as the city has run through its share of the money the Twin Cities got from the Nomotorized Transportation Pilot Project, a federal stream of money for biking and walking arranged by former U.S. Rep. James Oberstar.
That means that new bikeways likely will compete for transportation dollars with other city and county transportation spending. Fawley said that when bikeways are added as part of an already planned street protect, such as is planned for Washington Avenue, the extra cost is negligible. But bikeway advocates also hope to retrofit some streets not due for substantial improvements. For bollards, Fawley said, the cost can range from $20,000 to $100,000 per mile.
Where might bikeways be added? Fawley suggests 15th Avenue SE between Como and University avenues, which he called the street most heavily trafficked by bikers in the Upper Midwest due to its proximity to the University of Minnesota. His coalition also advocated earlier for protection for the Portland-Park lanes. Two other possibilities include 26th and 28th streets.
One detail the city will need to address is plowing bikeways in the winter. Fawley suggest that bollards could be removed seasonally, or that the city could plow only the most heavily used bikeways, as Montreal does, using smaller vehicles as the university does.
(Photo: A biker was killed in a collision with a truck in 2011 on 15th Avenue SE, one potential location for a bikeway. Advocates argue that a protected bikeway there would better define space for bikers and motorists.
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