Seasonal Sidewalks

Carole

This is Carole. She is 73 years-old. She cannot use her walker and get close enough to the cross-walk button to press it because of the ice and snow. So she has to leave her walker by the cross street ( 4th Street) and go unassisted to the cross-walk button, lean over the piles of snow and ice and press it to get the signal to recognize she is there and wants to cross the road. Once she hears the mechanical ” Wait”, she then inches her way back to her walker, which is what you see her doing above. She worries about having enough time to cross the wide highway that cuts through the center of town. She says she constantly is looking over her right shoulder because of the yellow turn signal. Cars are focused on getting through the light and often not looking for people in the crosswalk. A teenage girl was struck at this same intersection by a turning  car two summers ago. Her young body was injured, but she walked away. Carole would not have been so lucky.

The City of White Bear Lake and MnDOT spent close to $6 million dollars to repave and beautify U.S. Highway 61 in 2013-2014. Money was also spent on ADA compliant ramps and detectable warnings. But despite all of the by-the-book-engineering the crossing corners are designed with no consideration as to how they will be maintained in the winter, which is half the year. The perennial build-up of snow and ice erases the investment made into the ADA curbs, and the detectable warning is telling someone to cross and precious seconds tick away,  pedestrians and bikers contemplate how to get over a pile of icy snow to cross four lanes in 30 seconds.

So whose job is it to take care of this mess? In exchange for securing the rights to put rigid obelisks in a median adorned with hand-painted cast concrete, MnDOT saddled the City with Maintenance Agreement #05182. It clearly states that the City will be responsible for “all future maintenance of the Pedestrian Trails / Walkways, and Treated Concrete.” Two years into the contract, City Hall is claiming thatMnDOT is responsible for clearing the crossing corners. Hmmm. No language in the contract about that. But what about the sidewalk and trails? City Engineer Mark Burch ( with a straight face) told me that the City has always considered our pitifully incomplete sidewalk on the east side of the highway to be “seasonal.” A first for me. I even Googled it and to my surprise Bike Walk Twin Cities ran a piece called “Seasonal Sidewalk Disorder” . You might be thinking, “Doesn’t anyone at the Public Works Department know how to use a shovel?” Have you ever seen the manual to operate a shovel? Get real.

Bottom line is that Carole and bunch of other people’s lives are being interrupted because of  bad engineering and no leadership from either MnDOT or the City of White Bear Lake. Actually it is worse than that. Both entities are not in compliance with ADA law as per the Federal Highway Administration. Carole talked with me a bit and told me that several of her friends, who also have walkers, do not go downtown because of the crossing-corners and because the road is too wide and too fast. She called it “tricky.”  This decreases Seniors mobility, confidence and health. These people live two blocks off the downtown in an apartment building. They live there because the are close to services and stores.

White Bear Lake’s not-for-everyone-road-design and winter maintenance situation is not unique in Minnesota, or by other accounts, in any other state. As you move around your town take notice of crossing corners and if you are lucky enough to have full mobility think about how you would get down the sidewalk and across the street in a walker or wheelchair. Starting to see more obstacles? You might live in a seasonal community or state.

 

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Bike / Ped Mapping of White Bear Lake is Community Building, Not Special Interest

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.

The Clinic is Being Seduced Again

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.

When You Reason with a Bureaucracy and No One Listens

 

Kudos to the inspired resident who, on a whim I am told, began a new Facebook page, ” Take Back Hwy 61 in White Bear Lake.” The response has been intense with several hundred “likes” in less than a week. None of us enjoy construction, but the underlying distain for the “beautification” of the road over a more inclusive use of available corridor space is rising to the surface quickly.

NE Bike Walk has been involved for sometime in trying to understand the decision making behind the road design and its car-centric disposition. Does City Hall value commuters more than residents? Why was over $2 million allocated for a project that requires on-going maintenance, uses precious lake water and places hard objects, like big welcoming signs, in the median?

The City/MNDOT plan for Highway 61 was unveiled to the public in the Fall of 2013 a few months before the project would close and no changes would be accepted.

Here is a copy of the letter White Bear Lake Bike Walk Taskforce members sent to the City Council in the Fall of 2013 looking to start a dialogue about how to design the road so the community of White Bear Lake would receive the best possible return.

To WBL Council Members

Transition Stillwater

Things are starting to heat up in the NE region. Last week we posted for people we met at Mahtomedi’s Rite Of Spring event. Thanks to Dennis Lindeke for getting in touch with NEBikeWalk, on a tip from Dorian Grilley from the Bike Alliance,  and making room for us in the Bike Room.

I bumped into Sean Gosiewski from Alliance for Sustainability at the Rite Of Spring and he made the pitch for us to attend this week’s event in Stillwater. Sounds great. Sure, we’ll be there.

So, to those who picked up a little green piece of paper at the Stillwater Library with our mission statement and this blog address…welcome. This little blog is the tinder part of working together to get a really big fire going for safe biking and walking in the NE Region, which we have embraced as “the birthplace of the regional bike trail gap.”

If you attended the Rite of Spring event and came to this blog last week, you will now experience a strong case of deja vu.

The objective of the NE Communities Bike Walk is to create an alliance of people in surrounding communities who want to improve safe local and regional transit opportunities for those who bike, walk and run. From a website functionality perspective our hope is to grow our on-line presence as a resource for regional change and more effective communication. For example, we envision providing direct links you can copy to reach local, county and state officials. This will streamline getting our collective and individual messages out to those we have elected who can legislate and drive change….and make sure the laws in place are followed for bike and ped.

Maybe more manually than digitally to start…we think it is important for people to define their local routes…to map out their communities, find the best, and safest routes and share them openly. MNDOT resurfacing and reconstruction projects offer a once in 25 year chance to provide a greater community gain than simply fresh pavement. Understanding when these projects will happen and getting in touch early with the people designated by MNDOT to manage them  and ensure all projects  are scoped for bike and per facilities is key. State and local officials need to understand roads are for everyone. They also need to be educated on the laws surrounding bike and ped inclusion into road projects.

So..if you believe in using existing road infrastructure for a greater community gain, and that organizing to establish new, safe off-road trails can enhance the vibrancy, livability and prosperity of our towns and cities, we want to collaborate with you or your group.

If we did not get your contact information at the Transition event, please email us at nebikewalk@gmail.com.

Thanks for stopping by

Mahtomedi’s Rite Of Spring

This post is being written especially for those of you who talked with April, Jim or I at Mahtomedi’s Rite of Spring event on Saturday April 26th. To save on paper we printed the smaller cards with our mission statement and the link to this blog site…which currently is our web-like gathering location in lieu of a website.

Our objective. We are looking to create an alliance of people in surrounding communities who want to improve safe local and regional transit opportunities for those who bike, walk and run. From a website functionality perspective we hope to grow our on-line presence as a resource for regional change and to more effectively communicate with each other. For example, we envision providing direct links to local, county and state officials to make it easier to get our collective or individual messages out to those we have elected who can legislate and drive change.

Maybe more manually than digitally to start… we think its important for people to define their local routes…. to map out our communities, find the best, and safest routes for all to see.  MNDOT resurfacing and reconstruction projects are a once in a 25 year chance to do something to improve the roads around us and it’s important to have roads scoped for bike and ped and local and state officials include these facilities in their planning.

So….if you believe in using existing road infrastructure in a more inclusive way, and that organizing to establish new, safe off-road trails can enhance the feel, livability and prosperity of our communities, we want to collaborate with you or your group.

The best way to communicate, add your name to the list, etc.  with us at this point is by sending an email to nebikewalk@gmail.com.

Thanks for stopping by

 

 

 

The Evolution of the DOT

Lat week I had a chance encounter with two men I had never met, MNDOT Commissioner Charlie Zelle and Chief of Staff Eric Davis. It occurred after a scheduled event held at Century College on 12 December. Everyone had left and I was 20 minutes late and unknowingly asked two guys in the hallway if they knew the room the bike meeting was held in. They corrected me. It was a transportation meeting and pointed out the room. I asked them if they had attended the meeting and one of the men introduced the other as Commissioner Zelle, and then introduced himself. “You are Commissioner Zelle,” I exclaimed, tapping him on the arm. “Who are you,” he responded. “I am Mike Brooks,” I said. “Oh, you are Mike Brooks. It is good to have a face to connect to the name.”  Approachable guy the Commissioner.

We laughed and talked briefly. We only had a minute, maybe two, so my main point to him was about the Strongtowns  presentation made in White Bear Lake on 15 October  advocating for squeezing more local benefit from MNDOT projects. I also told him our Mayor, who attended the Strongtowns presentation,  was hesitant to suggest taking a new look at the project, slowing the approval process down,  for fear of MNDOT moving onto the next project leaving our highway without the refresh. The Commissioner seemed concerned at that and mentioned involving an ombudsman.

A street-level conversation with the head guy at our state DOT, what could be better. I think the Commissioner is built to listen, and he is taking it all in looking for implementable ideas with focus.

What follows is a re-posting of an 18 December blog (that’s today!)  from the Strongtowns site. It is entitled, “The Next Generation DOT.” It takes a higher level view of what faces  all DOT’s and suggests what is not working and what new approaches might be more prudent given their situation.

So, before we move onto the guest blogger….Commissioner, it was good to meet you. Eric, the same. Hopefully your ombudsman can come to White Bear Lake soon before the deal on #61 is closed-up tight to fit into the schedule. We have a great opportunity. It’s your road, but it cuts through our City and it is our City’s estimated $1 million to $1.5 million that is allocated for enhancements beyond the budgeted cost to resurface the road.  In frankness, we have not done a good job engaging our local and downtown business leaders…to let them see on paper what U.S. 61 could offer to bridge the core downtown from East to West…and MNDOT’s involvement in that discussion is key. We also need a little more time.  That’s not asking much for Christmas is it?

The Next Generation DOT