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Time to Open Up: The Highland Parkway Bike Boulevard

August 22, 2008 By Joe Radosevich, 2008 George Washington University Shapiro Public Service Fellow
Recently, residents from Highland Park in Saint Paul met about a proposed Bicycle Boulevard in their neighborhood. Though such boulevards would be new to the Twin Cities, they could dramatically and efficiently improve our quality of life. If we want the Twin Cities to be one of the best places in the world to live, we need to remember how important innovative investments were to our past success, and be willing to try some new ideas again.

The proposed route, which would be more welcoming to bicyclists and pedestrians than a normal street but remain open to local motor traffic, would run on Highland Parkway from the Mississippi River Boulevard to Edgcumbe Road and then follow Edgcumbe north to Jefferson Avenue before turning east for one block along Jefferson.

Bicycle Boulevards would be new to the Twin Cities, but communities like Berkley, California have had them for decades. In Portland, Oregon, residents have enthusiastically supported the routes after some initial skepticism and today the city is considering many more boulevards to weave the whole city together.

In these cities, Bicycle Boulevards have boosted property values while curbing traffic congestion. The routes make it easier to bike and walk within the neighborhood, and attract residents out of their cars. More bicyclists and pedestrians on the route create a safe space for riders of all ages, and discourage motorists from choosing the route. The increased foot traffic also means more eyes are on the street, discouraging crime.

Nearly 100 Highland residents showed up to Monday's meeting, and many were concerned about traffic, crime, property values, parking, and road safety. Neighbors are understandably uneasy about the new plan; many say that the bicycle priority street would be confusing and dangerous. Unfortunately, no one answered their questions well, despite ample evidence and examples from other cities that their concerns are misplaced. In Portland for example, many boulevards have had zero crashes since opening five years ago.

It's important to the future of the Twin Cities that we are willing to try innovative ideas to improve our quality of life, and keep our region attractive to people and businesses alike. Bicycle Boulevards may be new to the Twin Cities, and initially confusing to users, but that is no reason to reject them as a way to greatly and inexpensively improve our quality of life. We have to be willing to try new things.

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