Lalley: Moving people around isn't easy or cheap

Midwestern cities are struggling to adapt to transportation needs and realities. There are answers out there if local elected leaders want to listen.

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A lone cyclist rides a bike in Duluth during the pandemic in 2020.
File / Duluth News Tribune
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Transportation is an amorphous word and ill-suited for one of the major challenges faced by the growing cities of the Upper Midwest.

Throw “active” in front of it and you’re poised for a fine bit of bureaucratic muddling.

But that’s what we’re left with — “active transportation.”

It’s a concept we hear about when leaders in Sioux Falls, Fargo, Duluth, Rochester, etc. talk about problems moving people hither and yon in their cities. The first discussion is always about how many millions they need to spend building new and wider roads.

Then somebody usually says, Hey, what about bikes and the bus?


At which point, the poor sap from the planning department, who invested heavily in an advanced degree in urban infrastructure, and understands better than most how it should work, who wrote a thesis on the potential for an efficient utopia that maximizes the human potential and tax dollars, has to stand up and explain it all.

Yes, that person says, if we can encourage our great selfless citizenry to not drive everywhere, and maybe walk a half mile, or ride a bike three, or take a bus ten, that would reduce the need for more and wider roads and cost people less money day to day.

And then they sit down, because they’ve been to this chicken and egg rodeo before.

How do we get more people to forgo their vehicle, particularly for short trips, for other forms of propulsion? Better access to mass transportation. Better ways to ride a bike safely on streets. Better options to walk across a six lane arterial with getting whacked by a right-on-red SUV.

It costs money.

Then a well-meaning guardian of the taxpayer will say: Why should we spend the money when nobody rides their bike, walks or takes the bus?

And the transportation rodeo moves on to the next budget item.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about recently, while reporting stories and talking to people in the communities.


In Sioux Falls, the city is moving toward creating an active transportation board, similar to a planning committee, that would have actual power to champion policy. It will combine a bunch of like-minded groups in the tentacles of city government into one body.

The Falls Area Bicyclists in Sioux Falls recently gathered in force at a city budget meeting asking the council to dedicate 1% of road funding to active transportation infrastructure, such as the 15th Street corridor from downtown to the Kiwanis Avenue near the Great Plains Zoo.

In Duluth, the city council recently approved a 10 mph speed limit on a small section of the Lakewalk path along Lake Superior, citing potential conflicts between the tourists, walkers, bikers and the rest.

And I chatted with Tom Smith, the manager of the Great Northern Bicycle Co., which is in a sweet rehabbed train station in downtown Fargo.

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Tom Smith of Great Northern Bicycle Co. in Fargo explaining a new bike lane.
Chris Flynn / Forum News Service

Tom opened the shop in 1987 so he’s seen a lot of growth and change in the bike world. He had a piece of advice for the planners and public officials tasked with transportation, active or not.

“Thank you and continue working toward continuity,” he said.

Two things in that statement that stick with me.

First, Tom appreciates the difficulty of the task.


Second, the idea of continuity. Too often, we get stuck in our heads, believing our way is the solution to the world’s problems.

I know I do.

Continuity, on the other hand, suggests inclusion, rather than exclusion.

People aren’t going to quit driving, we know that. But maybe they’ll drive less.

The incredible surge in electric vehicles, from cars to bikes to skateboards, means there are more options than ever.

How then, do we cram all that into one system that provides real options for movement while respecting and conserving tax dollars?

I tend to think the elected leaders need to be a smidge more open to the ideas of the person with the advanced degree in urban planning and a little less to the complaints about potholes.

Or call Tom.

He’s got a few ideas.

Patrick Lalley is the engagement editor and reporter for the Forum News Service in Sioux Falls. Reach him at
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