New plans adopted to guide ‘complete streets’ 

The stage is set to gradually make Burnsville more hospitable for walking, cycling and wheelchairs.

The City Council on Tuesday approved a multimodal transportation plan and “complete streets” policy, which have been in the works since March.

The multimodal plan includes analyses of the city’s transportation network and barriers to getting around by means other than motor vehicles. It includes an equity lens, identifying areas where factors such as poverty and high proportions of disabled people create the most need for nonvehicle transportation improvements.

Those areas are generally located along Highway 13 and Interstate 35W and around Burnsville Center.

The complete streets policy calls for a safe, accessible transportation network that accommodates people of all ages and abilities, including cyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, wheelchair users and motorists as well.

When the city undertakes new transportation projects, such as street reconstruction or rehabilitation, staffers will fill out a complete streets worksheet that will point to opportunities to make multimodal improvements.

Burnsville is probably “in the middle of the pack” among cities in adopting multimodal and complete streets practices, City Engineer Jen Desrude said in an interview.

“Complete streets, that term has been around for awhile,” she said. “I think we had been looking at our street projects with a bit of a multimodal lens, but not going as far as we want to now that we’ve done this full analysis.”

City Council Member Dan Kealey, an avid cyclist who has been outspoken on topics such as bike lanes and safe wheelchair crossings, said the efforts are long overdue.

“I just think we have to recognize that cities across America today have changed quite dramatically, that it’s not about getting in your car and pulling into a parking lot and getting out,” Kealey said in an interview. “It’s about getting on your bike, on your scooter, on your rollerblades, or just walking. And quite frankly, we have not done justice to our wheelchair community for decades.”

The city’s top priorities for improvement projects will be the areas of greatest need, such as where a disproportionate number of residents don’t have access to a car, Desrude said. City-hired consultants on the multimodal and complete streets studies used census tract information to identify those areas. Outreach to diverse communities helped the city gather feedback.

“That’s our first priority and it kind of stems out from there,” Desrude said. “We do have recreational opportunities — we’re not ignoring those — but this is more about active transportation. Active transportation means not in a car — walking, biking, rolling if you are in a wheelchair.”

Some multimodal projects may be stand-alone projects, particularly filling in trail system gaps, Desrude said. The city may seek outside grants for such projects, she said.

Other projects will come over time with scheduled street rehab and reconstruction.

“It will take awhile,” Desrude said. “We’re going to be filling in gaps and figuring out where the greatest need is.”

The city will be “piecemealing it over time,” Kealey said.

“In a city like ours, where we have a lack of sidewalks, it’s going to take a very long time to be able to get to the point where we can support multimodal transportation through complete streets to the degree that there’s a walkable, accessible area to get to all the various destinations that a given resident might want to get to, whether it’s a service, appointment, shopping, whatever, from their home,” Kealey said. “This is a big challenge for suburbs like ours where we don’t have a lot of sidewalks.”

Demand for active transportation is highest in areas with high concentrations of destinations such as schools, parks and businesses, the multimodal plan said. In Burnsville, those areas are around Highway 13, Nicollet Avenue, McAndrews Road, County Road 42 and Burnsville Parkway, it said.

“A well-maintained active transportation facility is safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities,” the plan said. “The facility is accessible year round and free of debris, snow, and heaving or other obstacles, allowing people bicycling the maximum width of a street, bike lane, or shared use path.”

The complete streets plan also includes a set of traffic-calming techniques, Kealey said. It’s a welcome addition in the COVID-19 era of audacious speeding, he said.

“We’ve got drag racing and hot rodding going on all over the place,” Kealey said. “I personally hear it happen on Travelers Trail in front of my townhome almost every other day.”

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