In Wednesday’s Northfield News, there’s a letter to the editor titled Mill Towns bike route isn’t safe from Andrea and Gary Iseminger questioning the safety of the bike lanes for the Mill Towns State Trail as it passes through Northfield.
Do they have a valid argument? I’m not sure. See their letter below.
To the editor:
Residents should be alarmed by the dangers to cyclists and drivers of the Mill Towns State Trail, approved by both the Friends of the Trail and the city of Northfield. Bicycle lanes are already on the pavement on East Fourth Street from Union to Prairie. Although the route claims to be based on the Minnesota Bicycle Transportation Planning and Design Guidelines, these guidelines set five feet as the minimum width for bicycle trails; lanes marked on Fourth Street are barely half of the recommend width. The city council resolution that established these lanes acknowledges the inadequacy of their width: “The bicycle route design guidelines note that ‘experienced’ cyclists will be comfortable with this facility whereas ‘average’ cyclists are less likely to use the facility.”
On the contrary, we believe that “average” cyclists are indeed likely to use the lanes and will find themselves uncomfortable and seriously at risk. Minnesota guidelines state that routes should be designed for the average cyclists. The Bicycle Federation of America estimates that “fewer than 5 percent of riders qualify as experienced.” Consider this in the context of the Mill Towns website, “We believe the Trail will deliver 100,000 riders a summer to downtown, mostly on weekends.”
The Northfield Public Works Department advised residents that an earlier plan for the trail was changed “in order to avoid routing bicycles behind parked cars on Fourth between Washington and Division.” Surely the same risk to safety exists for all of the current route.
East Fourth Street is a main route carrying heavy traffic, often at excessive speed, from Division Street out of town to the east. Those who have traveled on other trails for recreational cycling in the Minnesota system will attest that many of the riders are parents accompanied by young children on bicycles or by babies being pulled in trailers behind bikes. All parking on Fourth for residents and guests is concentrated on the south side. Residents backing out of their driveways will have difficulty seeing cyclists approaching behind the cars and will not see the smaller vehicles for children. The same is true for all vehicles trying to cross Fourth Street from the south at any point; drivers will have difficulty seeing approaching riders and will have restricted passage through the lanes of cyclists, expected to be several thousand each day on summer weekends.
Beyond Fourth Street into town, there are no separate lanes for riders of the Mill Towns State Trail. Cyclists and vehicles must travel together without bike lanes from Fourth and Union across Division to the Fifth Street bridge, with “Share the Road” signs posted, one per block. Does anyone think that this will create safe passage through the congestion of downtown?
We wonder why the Friends of the Mill Towns State Trail and the city council of Northfield have approved this route under any circumstances, especially when there are alternative routes that are less invasive to the city and its historic district on the East Side.
Andrea and Gary Iseminger, Northfield