Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator
The Star Tribune has run an article regarding an apparent conflict between funding for firefighters and for a new Bicycle and Pedestrian coordinator in Public Works. I don't see it. I support having both an adequately staffed fire department and an adequately staffed Public Works department that includes a new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator within our transportation team. I believe that transportation services, including maintaining streets, traffic signals, parking services and related infrastructure in a core essential service the City provides.
I am concerned that the article presents a false choice between this coordinator position and public safety. In fact, the bike/walk coordinator position is a public safety position. According to the records from our Public Works department, there were 46 bike/ped fatalities in Minneapolis between 2000 and 2009, and 5,509 bicyclists and pedestrians (that we know of) have been hit in that same timeframe.
These are big numbers, and it's easy to lose sight of the human suffering behind each one. So I ask you to remember Audrey Hull, the young woman who was hit and killed in Ward 2 earlier this year, and the pain that unnecessary tragedy caused to her family and friends.
Safer, better designed infrastructure can save lives. That's not an assertion, it's a fact, borne out by the studies that have looked into road treatments like bike lanes. By helping us build more and better bike and pedestrian infrastructure, this coordinator will help prevent deaths like Audrey's.
There are other, less important arguments against the clear implication of this story - that the City is wasting money on "fluff" as we consider cutting core services. The problem with this line of reasoning is that this position is not being created with new dollars, and it will save the City money.
The Public Works administration has reallocated resources in its department in a more efficient way to create this position. Currently, there are at least three City employees who do some bicycle and/or pedestrian coordination, in addition to other duties.
Better coordination will ensure that we spend our scarce resources more effectively. The cheapest, easiest way to install an on-street bike facility is to do it as part of another planned project. That's how we got bike lanes on Franklin in the Seward neighborhood this summer, and how we're getting lanes added to Riverside. But we're also at risk of missing opportunities - the portion of Franklin west of Minnehaha and the portion of 26th Ave S from Franklin to the Greenway are good examples. A coordinator will help the City identify and seize opportunities to build bike facilities in the most efficient way, getting more for our constrained funding.
And a large part of this person's job will be to find additional resources from outside the City. Much of the progress we've made over the past few years has been due to federal and state funding programs - the Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot program, the State Health Improvement Program, Communities Putting Prevention to Work, SAFETEA-LU, etc. If we are to continue to improve safety for bicyclists in Minneapolis, these outside sources of funding are essential.
Other communities that have had success in making bicycling and walking safe and convenient choices have full-time bicycle or bicycle and pedestrian coordinators. It's not a new idea, where Minneapolis is out on a limb; Portland, OR, Chicago, IL, New York, NY, Boulder, CO, Davis, CA, San Francisco, CA, Miami, FL, Washington, DC, and Boston, MA, all already have bicycle coordinators.
The decision to create this position a very deliberate and thoughtful one, arrived at because it is a good idea. It was a good idea when it was put forth as a unanimous recommendation from our Bicycle Advisory Committee, it was a good idea when it was embraced by our Public Works administration, and it's a good idea today. In fact, I believe that it's taken us too long to hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. It will improve public safety, prevent unnecessary death and injury, and ensure that Minneapolis is making the most effective use of our limited resources. It is irresponsible to suggest that this is "fluff," or in any way less worthy than any other City funding for public safety, and I will strongly oppose any attempt to redirect funds from this position to other uses.