OPINION: Bike lanes on Superior Street



Branded by Outdoor Magazine as the “Best Outdoor Town” only a year ago, Duluthians embrace the possibilities provided by our beautiful landscape. Throughout the city are hiking trails, mountain bike trails, ski hills, rivers… oh, and a giant lake for endless water activities.

In this city of outdoor opportunities, Superior Street is the hub of downtown.  Local shops, cafes, restaurants, theaters, and businesses line the streets to provide locals and tourists with what could be a vibrant, successful and welcoming downtown district. Our current street design, however, is very “car-centric”, with most attention given towards vehicles, a little towards pedestrians, and none towards bicyclists.

On an average summer day a couple hundred people ride bicycles on Superior Street for their commutes to work, shop, or eat. Despite Duluth being such an “outdoor” city, bicyclists are left fending for their lives each time they try to commute downtown-- dodging the cars backing out of diagonal parking spaces while vehicles crowd them in the lane and turn into them at corners.

Duluth will soon be tearing up Superior Street for necessary underground utility updates, giving us a once in a lifetime opportunity to rebuild it in alignment with our vision of Duluth as an outdoor city that also welcomes all people to spend time downtown.  People would no longer need to head into the woods for outdoor opportunities; active outdoor experiences would be integrated within our city life as well. More young people than before are ditching cars and using public transportation, biking, or walking. This shift in how we view commuting should be reflected in how we design for the future.

People would no longer need to head into the woods for outdoor opportunities; active outdoor experiences would be integrated within our city life.

Cities across the nation are realizing the changing demands of its populations and streets are being redesigned for multimodal transportation.  Rethinking how we move people around a city has become integral in creating successful communities. In 2009 Duluth adopted a “Complete Streets Resolution,” stating that when feasible all new streets will be built for all types of commuters of all abilities, whether walking, busing, biking or driving. Superior Street not only has that feasibility, it is the place to do it right. Unfortunately, these guidelines are not being followed.

The current Superior Street re-design plan provided to the City Council does not include a protected bike path on Superior Street, the main destination for downtown visitors. Bicycle riders will need to commute on Superior Street regardless of whether they have a safe way to do so or not.  By approving this plan, our city councilors are stating that on-street parking is more valuable than the safety of all commuters. The process taken for the Superior Street redesign illuminates that Duluth lacks a holistic, comprehensive approach to multi-modal transportation.  This could lead to a missed opportunity to create a great public space downtown for all people.

This is an issue of environment, health, safety, equity and economics.

Duluth Bikes, a recently formed group of bicycle lovers and advocates, has provided the city with a sample alternative design that includes ample pedestrian space, on-and-off-street parking, protected bikeways and lanes for vehicles and public transit.

This is an issue of environment, health, safety, equity and economics. A protected bike lane on Superior Street would allow us to lighten our footprint on the environment and reduce traffic congestion. It would also promote healthy lifestyles in our community and reduce risk of injury and death for cyclists. Not everyone has the privilege of owning a vehicle, but everyone should have the right to safely commute. In addition, evidence shows that creating a more pedestrian and bike friendly area leads to people spending more money at nearby businesses, benefiting our local economy.

We have one chance to do this right.  Take a few moments to make your voice heard. The City Council will vote on Monday, September 28 on the current plan that does not include any bike infrastructure. Contact your city councilors today to tell them to “Vote No” for the current plan and to take this opportunity to create the best Superior Street possible. We must build for the future of Duluth, not the past.

Email council@duluthmn.gov or view the Duluth City Council website for councilor phone numbers. Visit the MPIRG office in KSC 272 if you have any questions or comments.

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