Duluth Sidewalk Study

Elderly Pedestrians walking along shoulder of busy road in Duluth, MN

Why do sidewalks matter?

Did you know that it’s estimated that up to 40% of the U.S. population does not drive? This includes children, of course, but also people who are disabled, elderly or choose not to drive. Sidewalks, not roads, are the main transportation facility for a big chunk of our community.

We’ve all seen people walking in the roads, but it’s not hard to see that sidewalks provide a preferable space for pedestrian travel than using the street. Take a close look at the picture for this post – it’s one that we took several years ago of an elderly couple making a perilous winter journey (presumably out of necessity) along the shoulder of Central Entrance near Miller Hill Mall, Duluth’s main commercial district.

Besides providing a safe passageway for all to use, investing in sidewalks—infrastructure that promotes walking—has many benefits spread widely across the community.


It’s not news that an increasing portion of the population, including many children, lack regular physical exercise. And walking is one of the most practical ways to increase physical activity among a broad population.

Health experts believe that more balanced transportation systems can contribute to improved personal and community health not only because they accommodate and encourage active transportation, but also because they provide opportunities for increased social interaction and, with more “eyes on the street” can reduce crime.


A good sidewalk network, by providing “walkable” infrastructure, is strongly linked to a community’s economic vitality. According to the Seattle Department of Transportation, “walkable neighborhoods typically have active streets that promote commercial exchange, while providing safe and efficient ways for residents to travel on foot.”


Sidewalks can also promote less reliance on automobiles, when walking is an option for shorter trips.


Walking tends to be particularly important for elderly, disabled and lower-income people who have few opportunities to participate in sports or formal exercise programs and more limited transportation options.

And most trips that anyone makes have a walking component, whether it is between a parking spot and a final destination or to and from a transit stop.

That’s Where We Come In

The MIC has been working with the City of Duluth and area stakeholders on a two-phase study of Duluth sidewalks. In today’s financial climate, resources for sidewalk maintenance and development are limited. Good information is needed to utilize those scare resources efficiently. A number of citizen groups in the Duluth area, as well as city administration, have requested that sidewalk information be developed to assist with making targeted decisions about sidewalk improvements. The results of this analysis will be used to determine future capital improvements for sidewalk development, preservation, snow removal and maintenance.

The first phase—the sidewalk inventory—has been underway since last spring to develop an accurate inventory of where sidewalks are located and what condition they are in. When it’s complete, this information will be presented as a searchable GIS tool.

The second phase of the study—priority pedestrian modeling¬ will identify which sidewalks are the most heavily used, based on pedestrian generators such as schools, retail areas and transit stops. Other information considered in the model includes population density, poverty rates and transit ridership.

So, what do you think?

Negotiations on the new federal transportation bill may eliminate funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure and dedicate it to the construction of roads and bridges only. Are sidewalks part of your personal transportation network? What ones around town do you use, or present obstacles?

Co-writing credit: Rondi Watson

Central Entrance Survey Results Are In:

Let’s Make Life a Whole Lot Easier for This Guy

Person attempting to cross busy Central Entrance roadway in the center turn lane, Duluth MN
The City of Duluth has an interesting long-term vision for Central Entrance.  They, along with area residents and businesses, see it as having the potential to be an inviting and attractive destination within the City.  They would like it to function as the “main street” of the Duluth Heights neighborhood and become more walkable with better access to area businesses.

Which is almost hard to imagine, if you agree with the many other residents who currently regard Central Entrance as basically unpleasant—as a road to be tolerated while running errands or going to work, if not outright avoided.

And there’s a reason for this.  Central Entrance is classified as a principal arterial roadway, meant to efficiently move high volumes of traffic between urban areas.  Although a vital cog in Duluth’s transportation system, Central Entrance is simply not conducive to modes of travel besides driving—to people walking or biking, as you would expect along a true “main street.”

The Transportation Experience

Our Central Entrance Corridor Study, currently underway, aims to identify ways to improve the transportation experience for everyone, drivers and non-drivers alike, who travels along that roadway.

Specifically, we are examining the transportation network in this area and identifying changes that will make the corridor more compatible with the vision for the future land use.  The ultimate objective is to maintain traffic mobility and flow, while improving safety and that sense of livability that a “town center” or “main street” implies.

As part of our planning process, some of the data we’ve collected so far includes information about the roadway such as sidewalk locations, bike routes, transit routes and stops, driveway access points, traffic counts, traffic control locations and types, and crash information.

Traveler Survey – Baseline Attitudes

We also conducted a survey to assess people’s attitudes toward traveling on Central Entrance.  Postcards were mailed to 3000 residents and businesses in the area, inviting them to go the MIC website and take an online survey and more than 100 people responded.

We asked them to rate the following characteristics— traffic congestion, passing other vehicles, pedestrian safety, speeding traffic, making turns and accessing local businesses— on a scale of very bad, bad, acceptable, good and very good.

Here’s what we learned.

How do you travel along Central Entrance?

An overwhelming number (95%) travel the corridor by car and over 90% make at least two trips through the corridor per week.  Over 55% make at least six trips per week and 28 % make 10 or more trips per week.

What are your destinations on Central Entrance?

Many people traveling through the corridor have multiple purposes for their trip. Access to shopping and services was the top weekday trip purpose chosen by 85% of respondents.  Work and social activities were destinations identified by just over half of the respondents.

Travel times during the week were heavily weighted toward morning (6-9am) and afternoon (4-6pm) peak travel times for work destinations and toward evening times (4-10pm) for those heading to social activities.  Weekday shopping travel was evenly spread throughout the day.

Weekend users of the corridor indicate that shopping, social activities and recreation were the primary destinations.  Travel times on the weekend were mostly during the daytime hours of 9am – 6pm.

Do you ever avoid traveling on Central Entrance ?

80% of respondents replied that they did.  When asked why, almost 90% listed congestion as the primary reason and 72% had concerns with excessive travel time.

Biggest Issues?

Pedestrian safety was rated the lowest—between “Very Bad” and “Bad”.  Traffic congestion, speeding traffic and making turns were three other areas that ranked low.

Overall rating of Central Entrance?

Almost 65% chose “bad” or “very bad.” Only 6% chose good or very good and almost 30% chose acceptable.

It’s fair to say that those surveyed do not view Central Entrance in a favorable light.

So our job—finding ways and making recommendations to make pedestrians (like the fellow in the picture, above!), bicyclists and transit users, as well as drivers, feel more comfortable along that corridor.

Are these survey results consistent with your view of that roadway?  Do you share the City’s future vision for the corridor as a neighborhood center—not place to be avoided but an attractive destination?

Freighter Ballet

I spotted these two ships earlier this season, conducting a maneuver to enable both boats to enter the Duluth-Superior harbor with only one lift from Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge.

Preserving a Landmark

At first glance, the ballet these two ships performed looked like a demolition derby on a massive scale but turned out to be an impressive display of seamanship on a beautiful spring day.

The result fits nicely with a plan by the City of Duluth to lessen wear and tear on the bridge by reducing the number of times the bridge lifts each day.

The plan, recently approved by the US Coast Guard, was aimed at recreational boaters limiting them to entering only on the half hour from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May 27 to the Tuesday after Labor Day.

The system was tested last year and it reduced the number of lifts by over 1,000, a 23% reduction.  This not only saves wear on the Aerial Lift Bridge but also reduces roadway congestion on Canal Park and Park Point.

The bridge will still lift on demand for traffic like these freighters – but it was nice to see they are willing to do their part to preserve the iconic bridge.

Moving Stuff by Water – Cheaper, Safer, Greener

We were reminded at today’s National Maritime Day celebration at the DECC that maritime transportation is vital part of the national and our own local economy.

Waterborne transport efficiently moves both bulky natural resource materials and finished goods to global destinations.

Jim Weakly, president of the Lake Carriers’Association, in his keynote address, pointed out that Without water transportation the cost of all goods would be much higher.  Moving bulk goods by water is the most efficient, least costly, safest and most environmentally friendly method of transportation.  If water transportation was not available, all of those goods and materials would have to move by land which would increase congestion and cause higher levels of air pollution due to increased fuel use.

The Forgotten Mode?

Maritime transportation can be the forgotten method of moving goods and people—even here in Duluth, home of many a boat nerd.  Ships are visible to the general public when they are in port but while in transit may be many miles from shore and it’s out of sight, out of mind.

Here in the Twin Ports, iron ore from the Minnesota Iron Range moves to steel mills in the lower Great Lakes. Grain from western Minnesota and the eastern Dakotas moves to destinations throughout the world.  Nationally and internationally, finished consumer export and import goods arrive and depart from our coastal ports.  Almost everything we consume has at some point moved by water.

National Maritime Day

Originally held in observance of the value and importance of the U.S. maritime industry, National Maritime Day commemorated May 22, 1819, when the SS SAVANNAH sailed from her home port of Savannah, Ga., bound for Liverpool, England, becoming the first steam vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  The observance later became more of a day to honor merchant mariners and merchant marine veterans, primarily those involved in WWII and other armed conflicts around the world.

Today, through efforts of numerous organizations including the Propeller Club of the United States, National Maritime Day is observed as a combined salute to merchant mariners, merchant marine veterans and the entire maritime industry, focusing attention on the benefits maritime brings to America’s economy, trade, national security, employment, environmental protection, recreation and quality of life.

M/V Hon. James L. Oberstar

The Interlake Steamship Company has announced the renaming of the ship Charles M. Beeghly in recognition of the Hon. James Oberstar, retired United States Congressman from the State of Minnesota.  The naming of the ship is in recognition of Congressman Oberstar’s work toward improving maritime transportation in the Great Lakes.  A ceremony christening the newly named ship will be held harbor side of the DECC on Tuesday May 23 at 10:30am.