Complete Streets: More active transportation options boost Rochester plan to attract international business

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post-top-RochesterRochester is poised to become an international destination for people focused on wellness—not just those coping with illness.

The $5.5-billion Destination Medical Center (DMC) project will soon transform Rochester into a center for healthy living, allowing the Mayo Clinic to compete with other first-tier medical institutions for patients, health professionals, research projects, and the growing numbers of people seeking to learn more about wellness. Additionally, the project will help Rochester emerge as a focal point for health-related businesses and education programs.

Expanding Rochester’s walking and biking opportunities is crucial to this vision in a number of ways, declares DMC’s manager Heidi Mestad, including

  • improving people’s health and fitness,
  • managing expected increases in visitors and residents,
  • increasing the social connections that foster a vibrant community, and
  • attracting the highly-trained young professionals that Rochester needs to remain at the top of the health care field.

“People today want more chances to walk and bike and take a bus,” she explains. “As we build out DMC, this will give people more modes of transportation to move around than just cars. That’s the urban lifestyle the Millennial Generation and retiring baby boomers want.”

“People today want more chances to walk and bike and take a bus.”

Even before DMC plans were rolled out, Rochester was making improvements in biking, walking, and transit as part of Complete Streets—a state policy passed by the legislature in 2010 and signed by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

Mn/DOT describes Complete Streets as “an integrated transportation approach that: includes all modes of transportation (transit, freight, automobile, bicycle and pedestrian)” and “serves everyone, all ages and abilities.”

Mitzi Baker, interim planning director for Rochester and Olmsted County, notes that Complete Streets “bring more life and sense of community to Rochester. It gives us a strong sense of place, making us somewhere where people really enjoy being.” At the same time, “it also allows us to use existing infrastructure in a more efficient way—a conservative concept because it saves public money.”

Greater opportunities for people to travel on foot or bike, by transit, or with a combination of modes is essential for downtown Rochester in order to accommodate anticipated growth, says Jeff Ellerbusch, supervisor of analysis and planning at the Rochester/Olmsted Planning Department. Unless steps are taken now to make other types of transportation safer and more convenient, the increase in visitors and residents could mean that promising development opportunities are crowded out by parking facilities and traffic jams.

“Complete streets allow us to use existing infrastructure in a
more efficient way.”

Rochester already boasts 100 miles of bike trails, 23 miles of on-street bike lanes, and 514 miles of sidewalks, Ellerbusch says, with plans to expand them. Proposals are being drafted for a bike-sharing system in partnership with the Twin Cities Nice Ride program and for expanding the bus system with better service on evenings and weekends.

A new vision for transportation in Rochester is already becoming visible on the street level.

  • Second Street Southwest, between downtown and St. Mary’s Hospital, has become more pedestrian friendly with better sidewalks, landscaping, disability access, and bump-outs at corners, where the curb extends into the intersection to make the crossing distance shorter. The project will eventually extend all the way to Highway 52. A bike lane is being discussed for a parallel street and streetcars may one day glide along Second Street.
  • First Avenue Southwest now sports wider sidewalks, more trees, and a pedestrian link to downtown. A bike lane will also be added.
  • Broadway, a major downtown thoroughfare, is also slated for a Complete Streets makeover which will include a median and curb bump-outs. Already, a short stretch of Third Street South that connects to Broadway has been made a pedestrian way that links to the extensive network of riverfront trails. Bike and pedestrian improvements are planned for a number of other streets downtown.

For more information about Complete Streets, contact Shawntera M. Hardy at 651.294.7141 or hardy@fresh-energy.org.

Photo: “rochester_mn_downtown32” by j_m_wetherington, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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