On 18 February we have a community event in White Bear Lake. Starting at 5:30 this evening the doors to the police safety room behind City Hall will open. Inside, smiling City Staff will have arranged colored and black and white map segments of White Bear Lake on tables. They will be ready to explain to a curious population the rules of engagement. Though residents will be asked to identify routes and destinations and barriers and parts of town where trails need improvement or do not exist at all, what attendees will really being doing with their colored pens, stickers and comments is letting the City Administration and City Council know that being able to get anywhere in White Bear Lake without a car…and feel safe when doing it…is a high priority.
“BIke Trails” are not a special interest expense. They are the proven foundation to a more livable and successful community. The interconnected infrastructure we are working together to build is what will attract young families because of safe routes to schools and our many parks, build real estate values and keep more business with local merchants. We are by history a resort community nestled in layers around a spring-fed lake, a destination to many in the Metro. With a broad geography and changing demographic, we need to adopt and implement a modern plan weaving together the civility that is White Bear Lake’s heritage with a welcoming and safe accessibility throughout the community, regardless of ability or age . Tonight is the first step.
It’s another day at the Clinic. And the Minnesota Department of Wheels (MDOW) is trying to cover-up their addiction; it’s a car-problem. The Clinic is confronting the MDOW with the facts, that people increasingly see “transportation” for what it can and should be. It’s an uneasy moment. The MDOW is a smoker in a room filling with non-smokers. It plays along like any addict being called out and quickly says it wants to quit, but the internal peer pressure is great. The Clinic is listening for more.
To show how hard it has tried to change over the years, the MDOW quickly tells the Clinic about having authorized millions of dollars of reports and studies to figure out how to integrate everyone into one big happy roadway. Hat in hand, stating its perennial inability to pay for improved or new bike or pedestrian infrastructure, the MDOW oozes smoke as it feels the buy-in from the Clinic. Able to morph into its true self, the Department of Cars, Trucks and More Cars and Trucks (DOCTAMCAT), it takes the state-sponsored stage and speaks glowingly of blue-sky, open-ended concepts like Complete Streets. Sincerely leans toward the audience bending ears about context-sensitive solutions and then, as it eases back from the podium out of view, leaves us in our white lab coats with the wink and a nod of upcoming multi-modal policies….cautioning while encouraging that maybe..next year… there will be a new form at the project level. It skillfully buys time to protect the addiction by presenting a willingness to change. The Clinic is impressed. But the addiction is strong, and the promise of change becomes the perfect defensible window dressing. After all, change takes time.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The State Bikeways Act of 1977. Americans with Disabilities Act 1990. Complete Streets 2010. These are merely dates when the issue is formally recognized. If you are a government agency you are in the best possible position; public acknowledgement of the problem and control of the bureaucratic process to integrate it into your system.
Back at the publicly recognized MDOW, the dust builds on the shelved studies. Project managers pursue the STIP, preach Cost Participation to municipalities and set schedules to dollop a fresh coat of paint on rotten boards. Well-meaning social workers ( aka state legislators) enact laws to give hope to the non-motorized and to reform the smokers. But before they go to lunch they always seem to forget to include the instructions outlining and mandating implementation. The cycle is set back into motion and the addiction enabled. “Here”, they say to the well-dressed, politically connected representatives of the MDOW, “we have a lot more money for you and we know you will spend it well.