Brainerd City Council: Putting a plan together
A group of involved citizens has started to identify ways to make the city of Brainerd more accessible for walkers and bicyclists. The city's Walkable Bikeable Citizen Committee presented a draft of a non-motorized transportation plan to the Brai...
A group of involved citizens has started to identify ways to make the city of Brainerd more accessible for walkers and bicyclists.
The city's Walkable Bikeable Citizen Committee presented a draft of a non-motorized transportation plan to the Brainerd City Council Wednesday night in a casual work session.
The city council had created the committee in 2013 and tasked it to use planning policy, issues education, information gathering and other methods to work with city, neighborhood, school and other partners to develop walkable, bikeable neighborhoods, according to the plan.
The nearly 100-page draft plan includes goals and strategies for implementing and promoting the non-motorized transportation plan, as well as a timeline of recommended projects to improve the city's walkable bikeable infrastructure. There's also a copy of the city's Complete Streets policy, adopted by the city council in March of 2015, the results of a community survey and a walkability audit.
Welcoming the council members, Laura Rathe, committee member, said "I hope I'm preaching to the choir." A walkable and bikeable community improves community health, increases property values, is safer for kids and keeps elderly residents in their homes longer, she said.
"We've changed our culture to a culture that's very safe to drive a car in," Rathe said. "Not so safe to walk and bicycle in."
The projects recommended by the committee range from painting crosswalks and "sharrow" symbols on the road to alert motorists of the existence of a bike lane, to adding sidewalks and multiuse trails to fill in gaps. Council members agreed the easier fixes like painting crosswalks could be done promptly, while sidewalk projects would require more planning time.
The section of the plan prioritizing the recommended projects is its heart, committee member Anne Nelson-Fisher said. The committee spent months looking at a long list of options for where sidewalks or trails should go, she said, so the recommendations don't come lightly.
The projects are broken into three tiers, with each tier comprising three years. The first tier is from 2017-2019, the second tier from 2020-2023 and the final tier from 2024-2027. There's an average of 116,386 square feet of sidewalk construction proposed in each tier, for an average of 38,795 square feet per year.
The easy crosswalk painting projects are all in the first tier, Nelson-Fisher said, because they're the simplest to accomplish. The first tier also focuses on better sidewalk connections in northeast Brainerd, with routes to get people to shopping areas at the mall or to schools.
The tiers also include an average of 159,163 square feet of multi-use trail construction in each tier, for an annual average of 53,054 square feet of trail.
A multi-use trail or sidewalk on Southeast 13th Street from Washington Street to Thiesse Drive is proposed for the first tier. It's difficult because of space constraints, Nelson-Fisher said, but the committee felt it belonged in the first tier "because of how limited we are in non-motorized routes going north-south in that part of town."
The project recommendations are partly based on a walkability audit done last summer by the Region Five Development Commission, Nelson-Fisher said, the results of which were included in the draft plan.
The committee also considered the needs of those who only have the option of non-motorized transportation, Rathe said. They don't have sidewalks where they live, she said, so it's important to fill in those gaps.
"How do we make it safer for people who are here already," Rathe said. "How do we improve things for people who are here and then how do we bring people here?"
"Anything you do that upgrades things for people who live here is going to make it more attractive," committee member Mary Aegerter said. "It's not like we're dealing with A and B, they're together."
A 2014 household survey, included in the draft plan, noted the largest barriers to walking and biking in the community are the lack of sidewalks or safe routes to bike and the speed of traffic, Nelson-Fisher said.
"We need to make alternate routes better marked and better advertised," Nelson-Fisher said, "so that people have ways to get to places they want to go."
The committee estimated sidewalk construction costs at $20 per square foot and trail construction costs at $4-$10 per square foot. This would be an average annual cost of $775,900 for sidewalk construction and an average annual cost of $371,378 for trail construction, at a cost of $7 per square foot. Neither of the estimates include costs for Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, which would add costs to the projects.
Costs for these projects can't and shouldn't be borne solely on the shoulders of individual property owners, Nelson-Fisher said. Rather, it will involve cost sharing and a community wide effort. Some of the sidewalk projects could qualify for Safe Routes to School grant funding, she said.
The draft plan is exciting, council member Chip Borkenhagen said, as it outlines steps to build the community Brainerd has the potential to be. He used the analogy of planting trees, that often the person planting the trees won't benefit from them once they've fully grown. Rather, it's for the benefit of the people who come after the planter.
"There will be some thanks for us in the future for the vision that we're pulling together right now," Borkenhagen said.
The projects proposed in the plan are needed, council member Dave Pritschet said, but the bill "scares me." The city will have to think creatively about how to finance the projects, he said, but the draft plan represents a great first step to making the city more bikeable and walkable.
"We need to make it accessible for young people ... but we have to look toward the older generation too," Pritschet said. "It'd be great if we could wave a magic wand and it would all be there."
It's important to see the plan prioritizing handicap accessibility, council member Sue Hilgart said, as there are places in the community that aren't handicap accessible. But still, the funding piece will have to be determined, she said.
The plan is pretty great, council member Gabe Johnson said, and serves as a great vision for the city's long-term future. Brainerd can't attract people with huge lots like the city of Baxter can, he said, so the city needs to emphasize the walkability it can provide.
"It's a lot of money, but I like that you did the prioritization and I think there are things that we can get done," Johnson said. "Especially the crosswalks, I'm confident we could do those."
The completed plan will serve as a good tool when the city is planning future construction projects, council member Kelly Bevans said. It will help to tie it into the larger, long-term planning picture, he said.
"I can see this being of great value over the next 20 years to use in conjunction with where we're going," Bevans said.
Bevans pointed to the proposed trail project on Southeast 13th Street and said he might not support it. The street is already a major north-south vehicle artery in the city, he said, so it might not make sense to include bikes and pedestrians on the route as well. Rather, he proposed improving the Spur Line Trail for multi-purpose use.
"As much as we like the idea of 13th because that's where all the traffic is," Bevans said. "That's also why it maybe wouldn't be the best alternative."
There's already regular pedestrian use on Southeast 13th Street without the presence of a sidewalk, Rathe said. So much so, there's a worn dirt path in the grass from regular use.
"People walk in the street, in the ditch and on the grass on that street," Rathe said. "So that's an obvious place to make it safe, because people use it already."
Bicyclists and walkers aren't compatible and shouldn't be on the same sidewalk or trail, council member Mary Koep said. Her husband has had many close calls with bikers when he's been walking on sidewalks, she said, so a plan should clarify separate space for bikers and walkers.
"You want to make the town better, but better for who?" Koep asked.
Hilgart echoed Koep's concerns, mentioning sidewalks in downtown Brainerd aren't friendly for walkers with the amount of bike traffic on them. She asked if there were a better place for bikers other than walking areas like sidewalks. Section 1335 of the city code allows bicyclists on any city sidewalks while dictating they must yield to pedestrians. It also states any bicyclists in the downtown area must walk their bikes.
Shared costs for sidewalks with homeowners should be looked at as a financing option, Koep said. She brought up two points about that, though: people in affluent neighborhoods who don't want sidewalks have the influence to prevent their construction.
"Those people don't want a sidewalk, and I'd be willing to bet, they'll never have one," Koep said.
People who live in the areas of proposed sidewalks should have a say in the matter, Koep said. The city installs the sidewalks, she said, but the homeowner is responsible for maintaining them.
"We have sidewalks on both sides of us and we're on a corner lot," Koep said. "I don't particularly like them. They're there, we take care of them. But if I had an option, would I want one? I think not."
Council President Gary Scheeler was absent from the meeting.
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