KARLA MYRES (left) from Clear Lake and former Sherburne County Forester Tim Edgeton took part in a group workshop activity selecting bike routes during a MnDOT statewide bicycle system planning meeting last week in St. Cloud. (Photo by Ken Francis.)

MnDOT gathering input on bike plan

Subhead: 
Staff Writer
Ken Francis
Bicycling is becoming more and more popular in Minnesota, and the Minnesota Dept. of Transportation (MnDOT) is working to make it easier for bicyclists to get from place to place.
Last Wednesday, more than 60 people attended a two-hour statewide bicycle planning meeting held by MnDOT at the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud. It covered District 3, and was one of nine meetings MnDOT has scheduled over the next month for its different districts throughout the state.
District 3 includes Aitkin, Benton, Cass, Crow Wing, Isanti, Kanabec, Mille lacs, Morrison, Sherburne, Stearns, Todd, Wadena and Wright counties.
Greta Alquist, planner at MnDOT’s Transit Section, told the group the meeting was an opportunity for members of the public to evaluate existing bicycle facilities and give their input about what they would like to see.
“The purpose of the study is to get a better understanding of how we can integrate biking into our transportation system in a more efficient way,” she said. “We also want to know what the public thinks in terms of what we can do better.”
MnDOT had a preliminary statewide planning study in 2012. About 300 people participated in that study and all the comments were included online.
Alquist said it was clear from the study that people wanted better planning for bike facilities, trails and connections between destinations.
“What we heard - we needed to improve how we can be more consistent about how we think about bikes in all of our projects, to make sure we’re at least asking the right questions,” she said. “While we have one of the best systems in the country for bike infrastructure, there are still a lot of gaps.” 
Hands-on Workshop
Antonio Rosell  of Community Design Group, a consulting firm hired by MnDOT to do a bicycle system study, was the meeting’s coordinator. He set up a series of workshop activities for participants to use as a guide for their biking preferences. 
In addition to filling out a comment card and a survey of their bicycling habits, the group was asked to evaluate different existing roadside paths. 
Along the walls of the room were photos of roadways with different biking areas, including two-foot and four-foot wide paved and unpaved shoulders on rural roads, separated bike lanes on city streets and shared bike/motor vehicle lanes. Participants marked which they preferred,  where they felt safe riding and where they would never ride.
In another exercise, participants were asked to choose the best things MnDOT could do to make it more convenient for more people to ride a bike.
The top answers were:
* Fewer gaps in bicycle routes;
  * More miles of off-street trails;
* More miles of wide roadway shoulder;
* More separation between bicyclists and cars.
When asked where MnDOT should direct its bicycle infrastructure investments, the top responses were:
* Routes and connections inside cities and towns;
* Routes between cities and towns;
* Routes providing access to Main Street/Downtown districts;
* Routes to regional parks.
Choosing Routes
In other activities, participants formed groups and chose their top 10 preferred destinations on a map, then selected existing roads as possible bike routes to connect their destinations.
“What are some destinations you want to reach, either long distance or locally within your own city or town, and how can we connect those?” asked Rosell. “What are the routes that are the most important to you?”
Alquist said people knew a lot more about their local areas and which routes are currently used by bicyclists. She said MnDOT needed that input when trying to plan connections.
“We just control state highways, but we recognize there are a lot of highways that go straight through town,” she said. “We want to know how our roads can either provide a connection or are currently a barrier.”
When asked how MnDOT could have any impact on roads not under its jurisdiction, Rosell said it would be a collaboration.
“As part of the project, we are compiling all of the comments and will share all of the information with the cities and counties, and partners that are involved with MnDOT work,” he said. “Even if your comments are not specific to a MnDOT road, they will be going to the proper place.”
Tim Mitchell, with MnDOT’s office of bicycle planning, said the goal is to have a draft plan done this summer.
Anyone who was not able to attend the workshop can take part in the study online. Questions, surveys and local interactive maps are available on www.mndot.gov/bike.
 
 
 
 
 

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