Do the pros of a narrow Jefferson Parkway outweigh the cons?

I bike the sidewalks along Jefferson Parkway between Bridgewater Elementary and the Northfield High School a lot more since we’ve moved.

Jefferson Parkway Jefferson Parkway

I don’t remember what year it was revamped and made narrow. (Anyone?) And I don’t remember which city staffers were instrumental in the change. But I do remember hearing lots of complaints about it after it was done, eg, from farmers about its inaccessibility for large farm equipment.

I don’t use the Parkway during school rush hours so I don’t know if it works well during those times.  But it otherwise seems to work and the traffic-calming aspects of a narrow roadway seems to work, too.

29 thoughts on “Do the pros of a narrow Jefferson Parkway outweigh the cons?”

  1. Griff, your post indicates one of the shortcomings of the narrowed street for cyclists because you say you ride on the sidewalk. Bicycles are vehicles and belong in the street, however the narrowed, “mediated” street is too narrow to allow bicycles and cars.

    Attempts at managing bicycle and pedestrian traffic weren’t well-planned like the badly conceived bike/pedestrian path – sidewalk – street intersection at Jefferson Parkway and inadequate pedestrian crossings at Bridgewater School and the Senior Center/NCRC locations.

    Keep bicycling, though!

  2. Sure, there are some shortcomings, but Jefferson Parkway is a great example of mixing vehicle traffic and many, many bicycle and pedestrian activities.
    The medians do help slow traffic, which is the key to keeping the area safe, and they make it more comfortable for pedestrians, especially little ones, to cross.
    For example, compare the ‘feel’ of traveling Jefferson Parkway with the feel of traveling Jefferson Road, which has wider lanes and no center medians. The obstructions do make drivers slow down and pay closer attention.
    It would be great to make some minor safety adjustments to J.Parkway and focus on making Jefferson Road a safer, more accessible route between downtown and the homes and businesses to the south.

  3. Other than having to ride a bike on the sidewalk, which I do because it is the only safe place to bike, there are two other issues with that stretch of road.

    One is completely behavioral. Many drivers in Northfield do not yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk. This is especially dangerous at the end of the school day on the stretch of Jefferson Parkway west of Division and during soccer nights (which is nearly every night in the summer) on the stretch east of Division.

    The second issue is also behavioral but seems to be related to the road design. When the road widens after the narrow stretch, drivers seem to feel that means it’s time to increase speed. Often you see people speeding up just as they approach the soccer fields, even on nights when there are cars and kids swarming the area. Fortunately, the Northfield police patrol that area heavily, but the posted speed of 30 mph is really too fast for some of the situations encountered on Jefferson Parkway.

  4. I agree with Mary and Betsey. The design of Jefferson is not well thought out at all. Avg speed on Jefferson east of Division is about 40 mph, nowhere near the posted 30 mph. Mary’s right rarely do autos yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. The bike lane on Jefferson east of Division is helpful, but it disappears right before Division traveling west, making the approach to the Division/Jefferson intersection treacherous. Jefferson pkwy west of Division is too narrow to allow for a bike and car. The few times I have ridden through this area, cars zip by me within inches instead of the 3 ft required by law.

  5. The “Parkway” concept is Randy Peterson’s from when he was the City Engineer. I happen to like the look and feel that it provides. The concept, if I recall correctly, was to create a ring road for the town that didn’t turn into an high-speed traffic route, but did provide relatively quick access around the edges of town.

    I think that this was started around 2000 or 2001. The question is whether it will be completed in the same Parkway style or if we will have a patchwork of designs that reflects the changes we experience in City staff.

    Randy also focused on narrowing some of Northfield’s wider streets when they were resurfaced to “calm” traffic, incenting people to use the streets designed to get across town more quickly (Water, Washington, 2nd, 4th, 7th, Woodley, etc).

    Randy, are you out there to correct me or to add more color to the story?

  6. The Parkway concept might work (as it does in Minneapolis and St. Paul) IF it included safe and adequate bicycle and pedestrian facilities (e.g. separate off-road bike and pedestrian paths). Having only a sidewalk is not adequate, as bicycles and pedestrians are an unsafe mixture unless the bicycles are going less than five miles per hour.

    Narrow lanes and traffic calming are great, and I’m all in favor of this approach. Forcing bicyclists to choose between a too-narrow roadway and a five-foot-wide sidewalk is not acceptable, however.

    I was recently driving on one of St. Paul’s wide through streets (Minnehaha Ave. W.), which has one narrow (10-foot-wide) traffic lane in each direction, narrow (seven-foot) parking lanes in both directions, and a five-foot bicycle lane in both directions (between the traffic lane and the parking lane). Seems like a pretty good, extremely low-cost (paint) retrofit that works for both motorists and bicycles.

  7. Bruce, couldn’t Jefferson Road be a test of retrofitting? The parking lane is unused, and creates an oddly placed center line for drivers. The paint is worn out, and perhaps it would be good to test repainting it with a center line and bike lanes. That, plus the sidewalks in place, would make it a good model for other roads.

  8. Sorry, hit send too soon. Maple would be another great street for bike lane markings, especially since it connects directly with the soccer fields.

  9. Bruce,

    I don’t think that Jefferson Parkway was designed for bicycles. The designated bike paths that were planned were intended to incent cyclists to use those routes as their main way through town.

    From what I can tell by casual observation, the implementation of the bike path master plan is far from complete. I would welcome signage telling drivers that the road they are on is part of the bike path master plan, suggesting caution. Further, combine this with a large map kiosk on Bridge Square that shows the bike paths, ala the London Tube Map, in various colors. Then, you could mark signs on each road with those colors to indicate which path you are on.

    I’ve been away from this long enough to be underinformed on the state of implementation of the master plan, but hope that designated bike paths would be highlighted much more vibrantly than they are now. The white paint on a narrow stip down 4th St. or Hwy 3 does not seem sufficient.

  10. Anne (#7), yes I think Jefferson Parkway could be a good retrofit candidate. I was out for a ride this morning and swung through Jefferson (between Prairie and Raider Drive), and a simple paint job could easily establish a good on-street bike lane. The sole exception would be the short stretch between Division/246 and Raider Drive, where “Share the Road” signs could alert drivers and cyclists to be particularly alert to bike/motor vehicle shared use.

    David (#8), the Parkway clearly wasn’t designed for bicycles. That’s just the problem. A major ring road that does not accommodate bicycles is a major oversight, in my view. A road of this nature should be usable for all transportation options, motorized and otherwise.

    The Task Force on Nonmotorized Transportation chaired by Bill Ostrem reported to the City Council a short while ago and has numerous recommendations directly related to implementation of bicycle facility improvements (both on-road bike lanes and bike routes, and off-road paths). The Northfield Parks, Open Space, and Trail System Plan dated 12.15.07 (I have an electronic copy but can’t readily find it now on the City’s website…) shows a “Linking Trail-Core” along Jefferson Parkway from Spring Creek Road to the Cannon River.

  11. Bicyclists aren’t the only users who don’t like Jefferson Parkway. Does anyone remember how upset farmers were with the design? Apparently,i t is too narrow for certain types of equipment to navigate.

    As a walker and an automobile driver, I like it, because the narrowness slows down most drivers. I admit, however, it would be dicey to navigate on a bike on a busy day. Too bad the Non-Motorized Task Force wasn’t around when the road was designed!

  12. Jane M, I think that you are saying it is working just as it was designed to work. That’s a positive outcome.

    So, Bruce A, I don’t necessarily agree with your statement “that is the problem”. Jefferson Pkwy was designed to do what it is doing.

    I recall having concerns about the whole concept of a “ring road”, but I have no problem with some streets being built to facilitate car traffic and some streets being designed to accomodate both cars and bikes. There are some streets that are, and should remain, wide enough to accomodate the farm implements and other large vehicles that need to traverse the city.

    I do think that we need to make the bike routes far more easily identified.

  13. I live just off Jefferson by the soccer fields. Two insights: Northfield Police do pull over a number of speeders on this road (my teenage sons have warned their friends to never speed on this road as we see the flashing lights often). That the speed limit is inforced is good. Second, it is dangerous to bike on the road going either way on Jefferson…I always feel like my life is on the line as there are some very narrow paths on the road (I do not ride my bike on sidewalks). If the paint markings could be changed to help out with this I would be pleased. The number of kids and adults biking to the schools and soccer fields make this an important issue to be addressed. Maple St. is wider and I do feel safe biking there…painted bike lanes wouldn’t hurt to draw attention to drivers to drive safely.

  14. David,

    While I likewise have no problem with “some streets being built to facilitate car traffic and some streets being designed to accommodate both cars and bikes,” there should be a very limited number of streets built that do not facilitate bikes. Doing otherwise relegates bikes to a second-class transportation option, which I believe is foolish and short-sighted in a progressive 21st-century community. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only “streets” built to facilitate “car traffic only” should be limited-access roadways (i.e. freeways). There are certainly some high-traffic-volume streets where bicycles are more appropriate on safe, well-designed bike paths off-road, but there should never be a situation where bicycles can not safely travel either on-road or on an off-road bicycle path.

    Federal law, as quoted in the introduction of MnDOT’s Minnesota Bikeway Facility Design Manual,  stipulates that “bicycle and pedestrian ways shall be established in all new construction and
    reconstruction projects in urbanized areas (unless prohibited by law, excessive cost, or sparse population or other factors indicate absence of need).”

  15. Is there, somewhere, a bike trail map of Northfield? I find the apparently random patches of actual marked bike lanes confusing. For example, a marked section of bike trail seems to pop up out of nowhere on the road behind Target, only to disappear again after a few yards. I was riding along that stretch of road a couple of weeks ago, when a motorist yelled out his window to me: “Ride on the f***ing sidewalk!” Am I wrong in thinking that sidewalks are for pedestrians and the road is to be shared by cars and bikes? Unfortunately, I do have to ride on the sidewalk down Jefferson Parkway, or I end up with a line of cars with impatient drivers backed up behind me. I generally prefer to ride where I don’t run the risk of being sworn at by a motorist.

  16. Rob, the Chamber of Commerce has a brochure “Biking and Walking Routes” that Welcome Services distributes to newcomers, but it covers a large territory besides Northfield, like Faribault-Castle Rock-Cannon Falls, Kenyon, etc. There are also “Suggested Bike and Walking Routes.”

  17. Bruce A, it seems to me a question of volume. What is the volume of cars versus bicycles using the streets? The allocation of street “space” should probably reflect this.

    I’m not anti-bike by any stretch. But, it seems to me that local neighborhood streets are almost always low traffic and thus accomodate both bikes and cars easily, at least in a town our size. That means that a large majority of streets in Northfield are by default both bike and car friendly. That’s my personal experience, anyway.

    Arterial streets designed to move traffic across or around should be available for both bikes and cars, but that is not the same as saying they should always handle both bikes and cars. If car traffic represents 95% of all vehicular traffic in town (just a guess, as it is probably 99.8% in the winter months) then the provision of arterial streets for cars should be the top priority. It helps to keep the cars off of the neighborhood streets, for one thing.

    I am firmly in favor of making it easy and safe for bike traffic to get across town and to destinations like downtown, Target, etc. But, I also think that does not require that every arterial or ring road be designed for both cars and bikes. Every foot of asphalt requires a higher cost of building and ongoing maintenance, while adding to impervious surface runoff problems. What would the cost per bicycle trip be of widening and maintaining Jefferson Pkwy to accomodate bikes too?

    It seems more fiscally prudent, and perhaps even more environmentally prudent, to create routes where cars don’t have to stop and start often (reducing emissions) and where impervious surfaces are minimized, unless you can demonstrate that the per bicycle trip use would be so very high as to justify the costs.

    The above is true so long as you provide alternate routes for bikes which are safe, well-signed, well-marked, connect to each other and connect to important destinations. It seems to me that is what the bicycle trail master plan was supposed to do.

  18. David, you’re right about the purpose of arterials and the cost of “remodeling” Jefferson Parkway or other existing arterial roadways for bicycles is probably prohibitively high.

    BUT looking ahead to when roads are reconstructed as part of an ongoing pavement maintenance program or when new arterials are constructed, then the cost of designing and building our streets to accommodate motorized and non-motorized traffic drops precipitously when we make “complete streets” part of the on-going transportation planning and implementation.

    AND looking back, Northfield has not done a very good job of ensuring that there are connecting local streets (with low traffic volumes appropriate for cycling) to many destinations – the school mega-campus of the Middle School, Bridgewater and the High School is a good example.

    For the present, then, short of rebuilding the roadway entirely, I think we should look for what lower cost alternatives could improve safety and connectivity on particularly high-risk, high-volume segments like Jefferson Parkway in front of Bridgewater like improving the trail/sidewalk connections, especially at intersections.

  19. Betsy B,

    Even when rebuilding a road, the economic (ongoing maintenance) and envirionmental (runoff, heat retention, possible increased emissions, reduced incentive for cars to use arterial routes) have to be weighed against usage by cyclists. It’s not just the one-time costs of initial construction.

    I would be intrigued to know if anyone has ever conducted a count of average daily bicycle traffic in the area? To make a case for road widening, it would seem a first step to have specific counts on roads in the area of those roads considered for widening to accomodate bikes. This information on auto usage is a fundamental input when roads are designed.

    In a world of unlimited resources, financial and environmental, it would be ideal for bikes and cars to share all roads. But, resources are scarce and environmental impacts are not easily reversed. For the costs of widening and maintaining roads that might have 100 bicycle trips per day, would those resources be better spent on education about, and development of, the routes already designated?

    In cases where there is a demonstrated high demand for use, but no existing path, then the expense could be warranted. My point is that it seems wasteful to default to making every street marked and wide enough to accomodate vehicles that use the roads relatively infrequently.

    For illustrative purposes, calculate the square-footage of asphalt needed to widen Jefferson Pkwy to accomodate bikes and then imagine that as one parking lot of asphalt. If it’s 6 feet on each side, then that would be over 60,000 sq. ft of pavement per mile of road, or roughly the size of a parking lot at a large retailer per mile of road widened.

    How much does each sq. ft of pavement cost to install? How much does each square foot of pavement cost to maintain? What are the other costs from managing increased runoff, etc? Once we know this, divide this by the number of times the road will be used by a bike and calculate the per trip costs. Compare this cost to the alternatives routes already available and see if the cost per trip to widen a road is a reasonable expense of taxpayer money.

    Right now, we just know it’s something we’d like to have, but not the price of fulfilling our wishes.

  20. David K,

    I know one of the problems we have in this discussion is that we don’t have data on how much people are biking, but to be on topic, this post is directly referring to Jefferson Parkway in the area around the schools. With all of the schoolkids around that area biking to and from school, and with the soccer fields also along the route, doesn’t it just make sense to have accommodation for bicycles in that area? You said that

    In cases where there is a demonstrated high demand for use, but no existing path, then the expense could be warranted.

    It seems that you contradict yourself with that quote. You say we shouldn’t spend the money to retrofit the road, but at the same time, you say that if the area has a demonstrated high demand for use, and no existing path, we could move towards one. I’m not saying by any stretch that I have demonstrable proof that the area has high bicycle demand, but it seems that when you have children in the equation, more attention should be paid.

  21. David K,

    You’ll get no argument from me on your points that we don’t know the cost of what we might be dreaming about and that we don’t have all the data we need to make a realistic assessment of the cost.

    However, you don’t even approach the policy issue which is how important is non-motorized transportation? Is counting the number of cycle trips per day and then calculating the cost per trip a sufficient measure of the value? What if part of the policy goal is to increase the use of non-motorized transportation?

    So, I’ll simply say that IF Northfield believes that non-motorized transportation is important, then the fiscally responsible way to make non-motorized transportation safer and more accessible is to build the design and construction of bicycle facilities into their transportation program.

    And I think that non-motorized transportation is becoming a priority. The Northfield transportation plan, which seems to have disappeared from the public radar screen, does move toward a “complete streets” policy, so the need for a transportation network that serves many modes of travel is a priority with at least the consultants, staff and the small section of the public involved (and I was/am a member of the Technical Advisory Committee for the transportation plan). The Comprehensive Plan, also rather delayed, also makes compactness, walkability, and human rather than automobile scale development features of its policy recommendations. The Non-Motorized Transportation Task Force (of which I was a member) along with the school district received a Safe Routes to School grant to study how to improve walking and cycling to schools.

    Just how important is this issue? Residents of Northfield will have to speak up (or walk and ride around) to show their support to answer that one.

  22. Betsy B, perhaps my approach to the policy issue is too far buried in my notes on cost per ride. I believe that there should be a well-marked, connected set of designated bike paths, like that in the bike trail master plan (I think that was its name), which facilitate safe and convenient transportation by bicycle across town and to destination points.

    All of that is sprinkled through my admittedly long posts. 🙂

    Gabriel R, I don’t think it’s a contradiction, but an acknowledement that in some cases the costs can be justified. It would seem that access to such a large area as where the three schools are housed might reach the threshold. But, I don’t know how many children do or want ot bike to school. Knowing that, along with the costs to provide appropriately safe and easy access that is not on sidewalks would help anyone who has to make that decision. We would all agree that preventing children from being hurt is a high priority.

  23. The Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force is working on exactly the issues raised on this thread.
    There is a bit of ‘chicken and egg’ problem with measuring bicycle demand, since bicyclists tend to avoid streets where there are problems, creating the impression that changes aren’t justified.
    A better approach might be to work with the many bicyclists in town, have them target an area and then measure use after the changes are made. If there’s no change in use, it would indicate the process has to be reworked.
    One reason for asking the council for a one-year extension of the task force was to provide enough time to move from discussing problems to creating solutions. One idea is to make at least one bicycle route through each part of town, using existing streets and paths where minimal changes are needed. The process would continue by expanding those routes and including bicycle and pedestrian routes in new projects.
    The task force did host a public meeting last fall to gather input, but attendance was weak. It would help if people would look at the bike route maps and existing roadways and suggest ways to begin forming these priority routes.
    One of the top priorities from the first year’s work was addressing the school and recreation cluster around Jefferson and Division intersection. Ideas for improving that — and for other areas to be considered — would be of great help to the task force.

  24. Please be advised that no matter how you plan the roads, there are still people who will do what they want to do and this time I have proof.
    Yesterday, I saw a teen on a bike approaching a three way corner, coming off of a major curve, looking down at his cell phone.

    Most of the people on bikes that I come upon while driving downtown and now almost anywhere, are not doing anything like they should be doing.
    I am a slow and careful driver, but I am loosing patience because I know I am looking at someone who will either be involved in or cause an accident sooner than later.

  25. When I was in Fargo last week with my son, he pointed out (laughingly) what they had done for bicycle paths. There are occasional streets where parking was only allowed on one side. On the opposite side, about one per block, 8 feet off the ground, is a blue sign designating a “bicycle route”. Since he is an avid bicyclist (many times with my grandaughter in tow in a cart behind him) and had done his whole senior Landscape Architecture project on a greenway system for the whole Fargo/Moorehead area, his evaluation of this method was that it was a waste of time and money. It seems the restricting of parking on one side just provides a wider street and enables cars to drive faster there. His evaluation of safe cycling routes centers around separating the two types of vehicles. I think he is correct on this, just from what I have observed about operators of both types of vehicles around Northfield. The unfortunate thing I see in this approach is that most streets around town do not have enough boulevard beside them to allow for this type of solution.

  26. Thanks, Bruce, I guess Jefferson Parkway would be a good candidate as well, but I was talking about Jefferson Road and Maple, where it’s just a matter of painting lines. Seems that could be done this summer as a test, with other roads targeted next summer.
    BTW, the turn lanes at 246 and Jefferson Parkway also need to be tweaked with paint to improve the flow. It would be a shame to have all new paint put down and then decide to make the changes.

  27. Nicely said Gabe (#20). Is it as dangerous biking in Berlin as it sometimes is on Jefferson Parkway?

  28. In response, Steve R. (aka Dad), no, it’s not as dangerous at all. Every main drag here has bike paths that are clearly marked with either red paint or bricks. There are even dedicated bicycle stoplights. It is quite strange that a huge metropolis such as Berlin can build a safer bike infrastructure than our quaint town.

  29. The problem with Jefferson parkway is the implementation not the concept. Traveling west on JP toward Division St/246 the road is fine, wide enough to accommodate cars and bikes with a dedicated bike lane. the last block before 246, however, the road narrows and the bike lane is removed. then it widens again to have two lanes, straight/left turn and right turn. the road is hour glass shaped. The narrow funnel portion is dangerous as it is not wide enough to accommodate both bikes and cars. If you reduce the median at that spot, you can fit both forms of transportation through.

    the same thing happens on Jeff. Pkwy west of Division. The road is hour glass shaped. parts are wide enough for cars and bikes and parts are too narrow. Cars should yield to bikes here but do not. The law requires 3 feet of space when passing a bike and the lanes are too narrow to accommodate this. The median should have been smaller in spots to make room for both bikes and cars and the bike lane should continue.

    I agree with Anne that Jefferson road would be a good road to experiment on. The parking lane is almost invisible and rarely used. You could repaint the lines , add a bike lane and see how it works. The same is true for maple. both are good north south roads wide enough to accommodate bikes and cars and are main routes to destinations.

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