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The Carletonian

Northfield bike lanes cause debate among residents

Mallory Atack
Signs protesting the addition of a north-side bike lane and damage to nearby trees on Wall Street Road.

For weeks, a number of Northfield residents have been outraged by their city officials when a plan for the town revealed that there would be new protective bike lanes installed on a number of Northfield roads. These protective bike lanes will have a new curb to separate the bike lanes from the rest of the road. 

There are numerous projects approved by the Northfield City Council that would include bike lane improvements, including the 2023 Reclamation and Overlay Project and the Wall Street Road Improvements project. These projects have been in the process of voting, approval and construction since 2022. The 2023 Reclamation and Overlay Project includes nine different bike lane projects (among other street improvements), and the Wall Street Road Improvements project focuses on adding/extending bike lanes on Wall Street Road. The 2023 Reclamation and Overlay projects are south of Carleton’s campus, and the Wall Street Road Improvements are east and slightly south of Carleton. 

For the Wall Street Road Improvements project, the current plan, as explained during a Northfield City Council meeting on Oct. 3, would take until November 2025 for construction to finish. The 2023 Reclamation and Overlay Project is predicted to finish construction this month. 

Ever since the original plans were released for the various bike lane improvement projects, many Northfield residents have voiced their concerns about the costs, both fiscal and ecological. Two Facebook groups in particular, Northfield Happenings and Concerned Citizens of Northfield Minnesota, have many vocal members discussing both sides of the debate.

Financially, citizens voiced their concerns that the construction of the bike lanes would cause tax increases. One person stated on Facebook: “We need to demand the City be more fiscally responsible and stop spending tax payer money.” The original plan for the bike lanes on Wall Street Road will cost $7,530,000, though one of five alternative plans could save $200-300K. The plan for the 2023 Reclamation and Overlay Project predicted it would cost  $5,228,371. 

The other primary source of outrage among many residents was due to the plan’s collateral damage: a number of trees, many of which are hundreds of years old, would have to be chopped down or damaged for Northfield’s plan. 

While discussing the alternative plans to the primary plan on Oct. 3, Public Works Director and City Engineer David Bennett stated: “I think it would be great if we didn’t have to take any trees down, but in the reality with road construction and road lining I think it’s really not practical to do that.”

However, many residents remain persistent about the protection of the trees lining the roads set for construction. Residents have been particularly concerned about the safety of trees in regards to the Wall Street Road Improvements plan. The road currently has a partial bike lane on the south side, and Northfield is planning to extend this south side bike lane along with adding a north side bike lane.

On this stretch of road, there are numerous trees that would be cut down during the construction process. Frustrated citizens have placed signs near the threatened trees stating, “Save These Trees! South Side Trail is Enough! Contact Your City Councilperson Now!”

Many citizens also claim that people don’t use bike lanes to the level that Northfield is building them. One Facebook user said,, “I have yet to see a bike in one of these stupid lanes!” 

Some users, however, have already begun to enjoy some of the finished lanes. “I’ve both ridden my bike and driven on the ‘new’ Maple [one of the streets included in the 2023 Reclamation and Overlay Project] and give it a thumbs up!” said one Facebook user.

Many of them expressed feeling as though the Northfield City Council does not care about their opinions. One person wrote on Facebook: “Our City Council does not listen to the people. Government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. Time to withdraw that consent at the next election.” 

Earlier this year, a petition was formed against some of the bike trails, and it gathered over 1100 signatures. When the city was presented with the petition, they supposedly disregarded it, and the petitioners sued. However, according to one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Todd Zehnder, the city “presented a scenario whereby we plaintiffs would be subjected to the risk of extreme financial peril that was just too onerous to bear.”

The lawsuit was dropped, but citizens remain frustrated with the situation, with Zehnder questioning, “Do you agree with Mayor Rhonda Pownell that this is being done ‘in the best interest of the entire community’ or is it really being done ‘in the best interest of Mayor Pownell’s extremely progressive personal agenda’?”

Not all Northfield residents are against the prospects of new bike lanes, however. As one citizen commented on Facebook, “I wish that Northfield had more bike lanes when I was a kid after all the times cars almost sideswiped me while driving way too fast.” Someone else stated that “bike lanes are a worthy investment for residents’ safety, both bikers and drivers alike.” In response to someone’s concern about the environmental loss of trees, one person argued, “Even an acre of forest isn’t enough to offset the carbon emitted by burning a hundred gallons of gasoline.”

Additionally, many residents remember a cycling accident from August 2022, in which a 14-year-old girl was killed while riding her bike. Many cite the tragedy when considering the importance of instating protective bike lanes, one Northfield resident commenting, “Being so opposed to bike lanes seems silly when last summer there were multiple bike accidents that resulted in at least one fatality that I know of.”

Many citizens continue to advocate against the various construction projects. However, in the end it will be up to the Northfield City Council to determine if there is an alternate plan for bike lanes in Northfield, though for many projects, it may be too late to stop the construction or alter the plans. The bike lanes have proven to be a controversial topic for Northfield residents, particularly on Facebook, and many have strong opinions on the matter. For now, the next step is to wait to see which design alternative, if any, Northfield City Council selects for the Wall Street Road Improvement project. This decision will be made Oct. 17.

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