by CHRIS ROGERS
Last week, Winona city staff rolled out a new proposal to create bike lanes and bike boulevards on select streets. The plan would eliminate on -street parking on Huff Street to make space for bike lanes on either side of the road. The proposal would also add painted bike lanes on part of Fifth Street and paint “sharrows” on Lake Boulevard, Seventh Street, and a quiet section of far western Gilmore Avenue. Currently, the bike lane on Main Street is the city’s only dedicated bike lane.
So far local cyclists both praised and critiqued the proposal. One local business owner said the loss of Huff Street parking would hurt his business. The City Council has not yet approved the proposal, but gave staff the go-ahead to seek public input on the plan before seeking council approval of a final plan.
“Finally the city is moving on this, and hopefully soon,” Winona cyclist William Boike wrote in an email to the Post. “Additional lines and stripping would certainly make it safer for me and the others,” Boike stated, adding, “A double-lined bike lane does not guarantee safety but does form a very noticeable visual that does catch your eye.”
This is just a pilot project, Assistant Winona City Planner Luke Sims explained. The city’s 2017 Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan called for the city to spend millions creating bike lanes and bike paths across the city. Sims said the current proposal represents some of the lowest-hanging fruit from that plan. The new bike lanes and sharrows would cost the city a grand total of $5,800 and would be marked with simple latex paint. If successful, the markings could be redone with more long-lasting epoxy paint, Sims explained.
Under the plan, the city would create five-foot-wide bike lanes on either side of Fifth Street that run from Harriet Street — just west of Huff Street — to Franklin Street. That would leave an eight-foot-wide parking lane on either side of Fifth Street, and two 11-foot-wide travel lanes.
Things get a little trickier on Huff Street. At a mere 36 feet wide at its narrowest, there is a lot less room to work with on Huff Street. Most of the road is so narrow that no on-street parking is allowed. However, narrow parking lanes are squeezed in on a few blocks near campus and offer valuable parking to nearby businesses. There is also one block of on-street parking on Huff Street in the residential neighborhood just north of Lake Park.
There is not enough room for on-street parking, bike lanes, and two-directional vehicular travel on Huff Street. To make room for the proposed bike lanes, the city’s proposal would eliminate on-street parking on nearly all of Huff Street.
Winonans have called for bike lanes on Huff Street before, but the city has never been willing to implement the idea because of the loss of parking it would require.
“Obviously for my business it would be a huge negative,” Warpzone video game store owner Wyatt Russell said. “We already have a parking problem when school is in session. Customers will often complain about having to park far away because students fill up those spots. But to lose those spots, it would be bad.”
The Post reached out to other business owners who were not immediately available for comment.
“That’s a real issue,” Winona City Council member Al Thurley said of eliminating parking on Huff Street. Sims presented the proposal to the council last Monday. Thurley stressed that he approved of city staff seeking input on the plan, “As long as it’s a dialogue, not, ‘We’ve made this decision; we’re moving forward with it.’ Because that is not carved in stone. At least I’m not convinced of it. I’ll keep an open mind.”
City staff highlighted the fact that Huff Street connects Lake Park to bluffside parks — such as Holzinger Trails, Sugar Loaf, and Garvin Heights — and feeds into downtown. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan identified it as a high-priority route for improve bicycle and pedestrian access and safety. “I see many advantages to going ahead with that, with connectivity and our long-range goals,” City Council member Pam Eyden stated.
“Huff is a gateway to the city, so we need a bike lane all the way to the new bridge bike trail which then goes to Levee Park,” Boike stated.
Huff Street is too narrow for those parking lanes anyway; cars already stick out into the travel lanes even when it’s not snowy, City Council member Michelle Alexander said. She noted that Huff Street has been a hot spot for pedestrian and bicycle accidents and said she hoped the city could move forward on the plan.
Council member Paul Schollmeier also supported the plan.
Some cyclists criticized the proposal as not going far enough to separate bikes from traffic. Some cities create on-street bike lanes that have a large buffer area or even a physical barrier between bikes and cars. The proposed bike lanes would be immediately next to traffic, and the Fifth Street bike lanes would also be in the “door zone” of parked cars.
“The focus of on-road cycling infrastructure needs to be on providing infrastructure that separates cyclists from motor vehicles by a physical barrier. Paint is not a protection,” Winonan Mike Kennedy wrote on social media. “A white stripe on a road will not make someone who is hesitant more likely to ride a bike, which is why many cities have moved past the idea of ‘sharrows,’” he continued. “They give people a false sense of security, and often cause drivers to get too close to cyclists. In a quiet neighborhood during summer use, paint and bollards can help. But most of these proposed Winona streets are busy, and you could paint frescos on them and nobody would notice. These routes deserve protected lanes or separated paths as a long-term, safe solution.”
Sharrows are arrows with a bicycle symbol painted onto the main travel lane of a street. The city’s plan would extend the existing sharrows on Seventh Street and add new ones on the full length of Lake Boulevard, a section of Clarks Lane, and the far western portion of Gilmore Avenue that is west of Highway 61. Bicyclists have the right to ride on city streets regardless of sharrows, but the symbols are meant to remind drivers to expect cyclists and share the road. The city calls streets with sharrows bike boulevards.
Bike boulevards do not help, former Winona bike commuter Matthew Hillis Byrnes wrote in an email. “Basically, they don’t make bicyclists safer; they just make city officials feel good about themselves,” he argued, citing a study published in the Institute of Transportation Engineers Journal that found motorists engaged in more dangerous passing of cyclists on bike boulevards than on streets with no sharrows. “A lane with a shoulder is safer than a bike boulevard. Real progress takes time, money, and planning; sharrows require a can a paint,” Hillis Byrnes stated.
Boike and Winonan Reggie McLeod both raised concerns about motorists entering the bike lane. When one car is turning left on a two-lane road and the car behind the turning vehicle crosses the fog line to pass the turning vehicle on the right, there is a danger for the passing drive to not see cyclists ahead of them on the shoulder or in a bike lane, McLeod wrote in an email. “I have almost been killed a couple of times over by Bluff Siding,” he mentioned.