by Frances Edstrom, columnist
I have to applaud the city for trying to address the problem of parking around apartment buildings in Winona. Parking is certainly a problem in neighborhoods with large numbers of rental buildings, and in particular around the university and in the downtown area. Recently, discussion has been had at city hall about allowing special bike racks to replace a number of required off-street parking spaces for such rental properties.
There is a faction at city hall that is of the opinion that if people would just ride bikes around town, all of our parking problems would be solved — thus the bike rack solution to parking.
However, as tempting as it is to envision all the students at our universities happily jumping on their bikes, the reality is quite different.
Kids come to college with cars. It’s not like the olden days, when a university could forbid any but upper class students to bring a car to school. These days, students bring cars so they can get to jobs around town, so they can go home on weekends, and, frankly, just because they own one.
Even in good weather during the school year, a careful observer will notice that not many kids ride bikes, except on the bike path. Bike racks on the campuses are not full, and it is predominantly pedestrians that motorists must try to avoid on Huff, Main, and Broadway.
If the city wants a biking-instead-of-driving citizenry, it is going to take more than bike racks. It is going to take a massive education program that has a buy-in from the universities and their students to convince people to give up their cars. It is also going to take a very careful and well-engineered system of biking lanes and enforcement of the laws that bikers must follow in order to avoid the inevitable accidents between bikes and cars. A bike stencil on the side of the road is not a solution.
As an example, I was driving down Main Street one afternoon, when a biker shot off the sidewalk into my path. I slammed on the brakes, just missing her, but she fell off her bike. I asked anxiously if she had been hurt, and she yelled at me, “You were supposed to stop for me!”
I replied that I was not required to stop for bikes, only for pedestrians. It was obvious that she didn’t know the distinction between a person on a bike and a person on foot when it comes to the “pedestrian” law.
The city would also like to discourage other motorists, not only students, on city streets. That’s like trying to put the genie back in the bottle. Winona is a long, narrow city, not conducive to citizens from the far west or east ends, the recently settled valleys and bluff-top developments, and the small towns on both sides of the river hiking or biking into town. No matter how many curb bump-outs the city builds, it is going to have to deal with cars if it wants any sort of commerce at all in the city.
It would behoove city leaders to be more pragmatic and less idealistic when it comes to its parking problems.