Goals enumerated for Ramsey County coordinated bike and pedestrian plan

Rich Davis enjoyed a walk along a Maplewood trail with dogs Charlie and Maverick April 4. (Linda Baumeister/Bulletin)
Rich Davis enjoyed a walk along a Maplewood trail with dogs Charlie and Maverick April 4. (Linda Baumeister/Bulletin)
Bikers relished in the temperate spring weather last week while traveling the trails in Ramsey County. (Linda Baumeister/Review)
Bikers relished in the temperate spring weather last week while traveling the trails in Ramsey County. (Linda Baumeister/Review)

Over the hum of discussion at the latest listening session for the Ramsey Communities Countywide Pedestrian and Bicycle plan on March 31 at Roseville City Hall, words like "funding," "connectivity," "Denmark," "bike lanes," and "enforcement" consistently stood out.

Ramsey County announced its intention last November to create a coordinated pedestrian and bike system that would fill in the gaps between existing trails and bike paths in the county's 19 communities.

This spring, the county is convening similar listening sessions with various groups — law enforcement, educators and under-served communities — to get input on a final pedestrian and bike plan slated to be completed in October.

The listening session on the last day of March was attended by people who could be characterized as pro-biking and walking; there was at least one bicycle parked in the meeting room, some folks had bike helmets and reflective clothing in tow and sensible footwear was seen all around.

Connie Bernardy, the director of Active Living Ramsey Communities and also a DFL member of the House of Representatives from Fridley, said attendees were there as individual citizens, though many had ties to cities, schools or business, like New Brighton Director of Parks and Recreation Sandy Breuer.

As for the bonafides of others in attendance, they included Gene Gjerdingen, a systems analyst at Bethel University who bikes year-round, barring only the most inclement of weather. He hit the meeting on the way home form work; his bike was parked outside.

In all, attendees said they were from Arden Hills, Little Canada, Mahtomedi, Maplewood, New Brighton, Roseville, St. Paul including the St. Anthony Park neighborhood and the city's East Side, Vadnais Heights and White Bear Lake.

St. Paul approved its own city-wide bike plan last month.

Postcard from the future

Jack Broz, a transportation engineer from Avenue Design Partners, kicked off the listening session, thanking those who showed up for doing so on one of the most pleasant evenings of the spring thus far.

Broz asked those assembled to take part in an unconventional activity: contemplate their overall goals for a countywide pedestrian and bicycle plan, and put the goals into the form of a hypothetical postcard sent 25-30 years in the future from them to a descendant.

The 20 or so responses overlapped in places and diverged in others, though the overall feeling amongst the group was that a successful plan would make biking and walking in the county safer, less intimidating and more convenient for all.

More specific responses from the group included:

• Being able to exit a bus anywhere in the county and continue the journey on a sidewalk that goes somewhere.

• That walkers and bikers are "welcomed and considered legitimate users" of roads and infrastructure.

• Children can once again, and without worrying their parents, bike to school ("It would be a wonderful thing," said one attendee).

• Improved crossings and snow removal on trails during the winter, and improved sand and debris removal in the spring.

• Zoning changes that would encourage walkable communities and roads that aren't solely dedicated to cars.

• The ability for anyone in Ramsey County to walk or bike to anywhere else in the county, without hesitation.

Dutch standard

From overarching goals, Broz guided the group to specifics and more spirited discussions.

Attendees said key features of a successful bike plan would include access for all, better lighting and bike racks, better collaboration between cities, lower speed limits on roads, greater connectivity, and mimicry of how the Dutch treat bicycle transportation.

In order to make the above happen, the group said policies and programs such as education, greater enforcement of traffic laws and rules, and changes in the way transportation projects are funded and planned would be necessary.

The biggest barriers to doing so, the group said, include funding issues, the car-driving public's perception of walkers and bikers, and policy makers and engineers who don't understand bike and pedestrian needs.

The group said the barriers above could be remedied by electing bike-friendly officials, more education on what it's like to walk and bike in the community, and lobbying force.

In order to measure if biking and walking initiatives are actually having a positive effect, attendees said bike and pedestrian injury statistics, demographic counts and changes in laws, such as lowered speed limits, could indicate if actual improvements are occurring.

'Where can you?'

Ramsey County Commissioner Mary Jo McGuire is co-chair of Active Living Ramsey Communities and said that the county board is supportive of the bike and pedestrian plan and is ready for action.

"It's one thing to say you want it and another to make it happen," said McGuire, who represents District 2 in the county, which includes Little Canada, Mounds View and Roseville.

Bernardy said a representative from the National Center for Biking and Walking said the county was "on the leading edge" with respect to its efforts to coordinate with cities and come up with a coordinated bike and pedestrian plan.

Regardless of the occasional digs made at engineers during the listening session, Broz said the ideas brought up during the meeting were "fundamental."

"It's low hanging fruit," Broz said, adding later, "This is not crazy talk."

After the more than two-hour meeting let out, Betty Wheeler, an attendee who lives in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul, thanked Bernardy for her efforts on coming up with a collaborative, countywide plan.

"You can't imagine the difference this is making," Wheeler said, adding how her neighborhood, which she describes as "progressive," wants to walk and bike as a small means to deal with climate change, but struggles with trucks rumbling through the area.

Wheeler asked, "If you can't get a bike path that's safe in St. Anthony Park, where can you?"

At least one bicycle enthusiast admitted that when he drives his car behind a slow-moving cyclist, he ends up "crawling out of [his] skin." Another recounted how his niece was "arrested" while following traffic rules on her bike, though she was deemed to be blocking traffic.

Bernardy and Active Living Ramsey Communities will convene more listening sessions in the coming months, including two for the general public. The time and locations of the two public meetings have yet to be determined, though they're likely to be in May and September.

For more information visit www.ramseycountypedbike.org.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

 

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