Busy Central Avenue heading toward Highland School and Highland Complex will be under the microscope.

    Although bicyclists and motorists need to always be on the lookout for each other when they’re out and about on various roadways, on Central Avenue in Crookston’s northeast corner starting very soon the two are going to have to be especially aware of each other, and make an especially concerted effort to share the road.

    That’s because the Crookston City Council is on the verge of green-lighting a “bicycle demonstration project” requested by bicycling enthusiasts and proponents in the “Bike Crookston” group that will launch on a “smaller scale” on Central Avenue before the 2017-18 school year starts and, if it goes well, could expand to a “grander scale” later.

    Bike Crookston members Tim Denny, Kirsten Fagerlund and Corene Everett made their pitch to the council’s Ways & Means Committee this week, and the committee unanimously voted in favor of giving the project the go-ahead.

    The main indication that the stretch of Central Avenue from Elm Street to Barrette Street and then the turn toward Highland Complex – near Highland School – is in the midst of a “bicycle demonstration project” will be several “sharrows” painted on the road’s surface. The sharrows will consist of an outline of a bicycle and two lines sort of pointing forward like the tip of an arrow, Denny explained.

    “They’re signs showing the road is shared by vehicles and bicycles, but it’s not an actual bike lane,” he said. “It will familiarize riders and motorists with these symbols, but the road itself will not change.”

    Central Avenue was chosen mostly because it’s a busy street used by many motorists and bicyclists of a variety of ages that will provide ample data to collect and analyze as future bicycling initiatives are envisioned for the community, Denny said. And, he added, it will force motorists and bicyclists to be especially aware of each other and respect each other’s space. In locations where vehicles are parked on both sides of the street, he said “bikes and cars are going to have to squeeze to get through.”

    A couple council members, Ward 4 Dennis Regan among them, were a bit uneasy with vehicles and bicycles having to share such close quarters. Denny said he understood the concern, but added that the education and awareness that will result is a big plus.

    “Communities that want to become bike-friendly have to face this decision,” he said, adding that when Bike MN hosted a workshop in Crookston earlier this summer, their representatives indicated that Central Avenue was the “perfect” location for a bicycle demonstration project.

    Everett said Bike Crookston members will use a template to paint the sharrows on the road surface, and they will be in place before school starts. But the paint won’t have a lot of staying power, she said, so once it fades away the demonstration project will be finished. Data will be observed and collected during the “couple months” that the paint lasts, Everett said.

    The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota is on board with the project, as is Polk County Public Health and the Toward Zero Deaths initiative, Fagerlund noted, adding that it’s possible Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide a grant to cover materials costs.

    With Crookston leaders and bicycling proponents talking about longer-term possibilities, such as a “road diet” downtown that would reduce the number of traffic lanes on Main and Broadway from three to two to make way for a bicycle lane, Denny said the bicycle demonstration project is a logical first step toward making Crookston a bicycle-friendly community further down the road.

    “Bikes ride in the road lanes as part of state law, but it’s still confusing to some,” he said.

    “I think this would be great; I have no problem with it,” Ward 6 Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said.
    Crookston Police Department Lt. Darin Selzler added that the CPD is fine with the demonstration project as long as it abides by current statutes.

    Bike Crookston will report back to the council after the demonstration project concludes. If it goes well, paint that lasts longer could follow, on Central Avenue and elsewhere, Fagerlund said, adding that City crews indicated a willingness to apply the sharrows to the road surface in the future.