An article in the Alexandria (MN) Echo Press mentioned what might be one of the most unique bicycle facility designs being considered in Minnesota right now.
Imagine a five-block section of Alexandria’s Broadway completely reconstructed and redesigned to include: A bicycle lane; shorter and safer pedestrian crosswalks; kiosks and signs to show visitors where downtown businesses and attractions are located; and streetscape touches like trees, prairie grasses, benches, bike racks, a clock tower, planters and walkway patterns.
The article mis-uses the term “bicycle lane.” The proposal would more correctly be described as an off-street path, which are far from unique. But what’s unique about this project is the context. Alexandria’s Broadway is the town’s traditional Main Street. Old buildings front directly onto sidewalks, intersections are frequent, historic (looking) lighting lines the roadway, and parking lots have (mostly) been constructed behind the buildings rather than in front of them. In this context, is an off-street path appropriate?
The proposal calls for a two-way path located along the west side of the roadway. European-style cycletracks have existed in an urban downtown context for many years, and American cities like New York and Portland have constructed two-way cycletracks as well. But this proposal is quite a bit different than two-way cycletracks in how it treats intersections, which makes it better described as a traditional multi-use trail. In this proposal, the path would be located on a curb at the same elevation as the sidewalk, and uses conventional pedestrian ramps and crosswalks to allow cyclists to cross the intersections. The proposal does not include any bicycle-specific signals or other design elements (other than colored crosswalks) at intersections to give cyclists preference over turning vehicles. Here is a rendering of the proposed design:
Click here for additional information about the overall project.
- On one hand, if constructed, this will probably the closest thing to a two-way cycletrack in Minnesota, perhaps a necessary experimental and evolutionary step towards constructing more advanced cycletrack designs. In addition, the most likely users are children and recreational cyclists accessing the nearby Central Lakes Trail (i.e. the intended users are not experienced bike-commuters).
- On the other hand, engineers have been reluctant to construct two-way off-street paths in urban contexts like this because of safety concerns at intersections – concerns this design doesn’t directly address (i.e. the design requires cyclists to behave like pedestrians at intersections).
So what do you think? Despite the drawbacks, is this design a net-positive for the recreational cyclists most likely to use the trail? What do you think? What would you have done differently?
Disclaimer: While I personally was not involved or consulted in any stage of this project, my employer played a minor role as an engineering sub-consultant to the consultant that produced this design. However, my colleagues and I have thick skin, and welcome constructive criticism. If the design has drawbacks, they need to be identified.