Bike Lane Backlash Spreads to Businesses in Duluth

The campaign to drive more cars off our streets by converting vehicle lanes to bike ways has taken off in Duluth. A community group has decided the parking on one side of a mile and a half strip of road lined with businesses should be replaced by a bike lane this summer, according to the Duluth paper.

The bike lane, proposed by Places for People — a Zeitgeist Arts “campaign in the Hillside to engage residents and entities around better street design that prioritizes people, not just motor vehicles” — would, if approved, stretch 1.5 miles along East Ninth and Eighth streets from Sixth Avenue East to Woodland Avenue. That section of road is slated for reconditioning by the city of Duluth this spring and summer.

But several businesses refuse to go along with the proposal, saying the loss of parking spaces would dramatically affect their customers and bottom line.

Jeff Hofslund, owner of Foreign Affairs of Duluth, an auto shop in the 700 block of East Ninth Street since 1997, said that he uses both sides of Ninth Street to park customers’ vehicles during the day. On busy days, he uses the adjacent avenues to park cars, too. He said less parking availability on Ninth Street would confuse customers and negatively affect business.

“I question why put (a bike lane) on the street with the most impact to the most people — with the most consequences for businesses — when you have other choices,” Hofslund said.

Across the bridge over Chester Creek, Jillian Forte, general manager and head chef of At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Cafe on the 1900 block of East Eighth Street, shares those concerns.

“I think for small business owners, it’s kind of a big deal. If there’s no place to park, your customers just drive away,” Forte said.

Despite enormous stakes for shop owners, the bicyclists didn’t have the courtesy to run the proposal by their neighbors in the business community whose property taxes will help pay for the $1.4 million roadwork.

“We didn’t even have a voice in this. I’m here all day. They didn’t even come to my front door and say, ‘Hey, can we talk about this?'” Hofslund said.

Shawna Mullen, Zeitgeist’s active transportation coordinator, said the purpose of this survey was to get a sense of what the people living in the community wanted from this project. While the group planned on gathering input from businesses as well, Mullen said, they ran out of time because the project was originally slated for 2019, but was moved in 2018.

Duluth businesses still have a ways to go in their campaign to return sanity to their street. But the backlash against arbitrary placement of bike lanes has spread to the North.