Break Trail While the Sun Shines (and Plan for Them All Year Round)

This past week, after our first snowfall of the season, it’s been easy to spot the routes that people take when they travel on foot. 

Previously-invisible pedestrian pathways are revealed as the snow is packed down underfoot.  Some are traversed only lightly while others are obviously heavily used.  Some are tough going while others are (comparatively) easy to negotiate on foot.

The Lincoln Park Pedestrian Plan, one of our recent planning efforts, was dedicated to discovering that same information — what routes people (especially school-aged children) take as they make their way through the neighborhood and how “walkable” those pathways are.

During a walkability audit in the summer of 2011, an overgrown segment of Devonshire Street was identified as a significant barrier between the new Lincoln Park Middle School and the adjacent neighborhood.  (Check out the “before” picture, below, which shows James Gittemeier, a Senior Planner with the MIC, pointing out where a new trail could be built).

Community Trail Project

Two weeks ago (aided by a fortunate fair-weather interlude), students and community members worked to bridge that gap by building a new trail connection to the school.  By clearing brush, digging up roots and rocks and placing gravel, they created a footpath that links the existing sidewalks along Devonshire Street.

The result is a direct route between the school and the eastern section of the adjacent neighborhood as well as a pathway with a more gradual slope in a neighborhood perched on one of Duluth’s steepest hillsides. (In the “after” picture, at top of the page, you can see how there’s now a trail there, and that it’s being used even in the winter).

Community Planning Partners

The finished project may look like a simple little trail, but it’s a great example of how the MIC can leverage the resources and missions of multiple community partners to achieve mutual goals.

The MIC, as the MPO for Duluth and Superior, has a primary, long-term goal of developing a safe, integrated, multimodal transportation network for this region.

Project partners in this effort, the Healthy Duluth Area Coalition, the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) have a primary, long-term goal of encouraging active lifestyles for our kids.

The City of Duluth, through its Comprehensive Plan and Parks and Trails initiatives, has a primary, long-term goal of strengthening neighborhoods by creating and maintaining connectivity through its sidewalks, bikeways and trails.

Safe Routes to School Planning

The Devonshire trail was a small, manageable project that began with conversations the MIC has had within the neighborhood and accomplished with the help of community volunteers of all ages.

We are now undertaking a new planning Safe Routes to School initiative to build on this work and this neighborhood enthusiasm.

Stay tuned for more information  as we work to involve the community in what we hope will be another successful “before” and “after” planning effort.

 

An Intern’s-Eye View

What is the MIC, Anyway, and What Do They Do?

Have you ever wondered how great trails such as the Lakewalk come about or what goes in to planning the major road construction projects you see around town?  Well, this summer I gained some insight into this process through my internship with the Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council, or the MIC.

With one year remaining in my Environment and Sustainability program at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I was able to gain valuable experience in the professional world of transportation and land use planning.

What I have gained most in my time at the MIC is a greater appreciation for the intricacies of the transportation network and a motivation for creating healthier and more sustainable ways for the people of the Twin Ports to move about their city.

The folks at the MIC come to work each day with the goal of making the transportation system in the Twin Ports as friendly as possible for all of its users.  They have the tough task of creating a network that balances the needs of all types of commuters, and connects our citizens in the most safe, efficient and sustainable ways possible.

The MIC also provided me with a good avenue to express my sustainable development concerns and promote alternative transportation options.

The summer months offer prime conditions for focusing on bicycle behavior and infrastructure. I assisted the MIC in conducting the first-ever count of bicycles and pedestrians in the East Hillside neighborhood, hosting a Bikeable Community Workshop, and finding ways to accommodate bicyclists in the new DTA Multimodal Transportation Center.

As I head back to school this fall and leave the MIC in a formal sense, I look forward to continuing to work on these same issues in the academic realm.  I also am excited to see these projects come to fruition, particularly the upcoming bike/ped count this September and the development of the Multimodal Transportation Center.

Perhaps what I’ll miss most is my bicycle commute to the office by way of the Lakewalk each day as my destination is up the hill to campus now.  But I’ll still be out there plenty, and looking forward to the future completion of the Cross City Trail, as well as the other great projects the folks at the MIC are tackling.

 

Duluth-Superior’s Harbor Technical Advisory Committee: A Model for Successful Stakeholder Participation & Coordination

Aerial view of the Ports of Duluth-Superior “A committee that actually gets work done”

The HTAC is a working group for addressing challenges and opportunities in the Duluth-Superior harbor, while promoting the port’s economic and environmental importance to both communities.

It is one of three advisory committees to the Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC), the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Duluth-Superior urbanized area.

And it is unique–the only stakeholder group of its kind in the country.

More important, it is, in the words of former Duluth Seaway Port Authority Director Adolf Ojard, “a committee that actually gets work done.”

Complexity, Controversy and Collaboration

Port-centered issues are usually complex, often controversial and sometimes downright contentious: dredged material management; marine safety; port security; land and recreational uses; economic development proposals; accelerated corrosion of maritime infrastructure; ballast water and invasive species management; legacy environmental degradation and habitat restoration initiatives –to name a few.

None of these problems affects one group alone, and none can be addressed except through the coordinated action of many diverse organizations and individuals. The HTAC has emerged as a national model for doing just that, through planning, collaboration, information sharing and long-term institutional involvement.

Its diverse members all hold a stake in the continued success and health of the harbor. Participation on the HTAC encourages representatives from industry, government, academic, environmental, regulatory and citizen groups on both sides of the bridge to recognize that although they have distinct missions they also have shared goals.

HTAC members, in other words, are genuine stakeholders who have, over its 20-year history, learned the value of playing nice and working hard together.

Result: a new paradigm for dredge material handling

Aerial view of Erie Pier re-engineered as a PRFOne recent example of the HTAC’s successful, collaborative planning process is what’s happening at Erie Pier. It might seem a little hard to get excited about this “hidden in plain sight” facility on the Duluth waterfront—but it represents an entirely new paradigm for dredge material handling.

Thanks to the efforts of many HTAC members who undertook an intensive multi-year planning process, and to the US Army Corps of Engineers which subsequently agreed to make a significant investment in redesigning and re-engineering the facility, a major physical restructuring of the full-to-capacity Contained Disposal Facility at Erie Pier was undertaken to convert it to a Recycle-Reuse Facility.  It utilizes hydraulic sorting to separate out the clean, uncontaminated sand and silt that’s dredged from the shipping channels for reuse in large-scale projects such as road construction and landfill cover.

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority now manages Erie Pier dredge materials as a valuable, re-usable resource instead of a waste product.  By creating a cost effective and environmentally sound alternative to standard dredge material disposal practices, it will save local taxpayers the millions of dollars it would have cost to develop a new CDF.

Sincerest form of flattery

It also has the potential to change the way other Great Lakes ports manage their dredging operations.  Erie Pier has recently gained the attention of the Canadian federal government, which is looking at the Erie Pier facility as a model for a new hydraulic sorting procedure at one or more of their dredging sites.

Most port communities face similar challenges.  For this reason, we’ve been invited to present the HTAC model at many national-level planning and port conferences in recent years.

More Information/Get Involved

You can follow or participate in this notable initiative that’s happening right here in Duluth-Superior.  For more information or to get on our meeting mailing list, check out the HTAC page on the MIC website at dsmic.org/htac.

Writing credit: Andy McDonald contributed to this article.

Photo credits:
Duluth-Superior Harbor aerial view – Gary Lidholm, USDA Forest Service, Superior National Forest

Erie Pier aerial view – Google Earth 2010