Asset Management For City Sustainability and Resiliency Goals

By Shannon McGrath, Director of Asset Management and Jack Woolery, Asset Management Specialist, WSB
July 15, 2024

Cities exploring ways to maintain and improve infrastructure sustainably cannot overlook asset management. Thorough data collection and a thoughtful asset management plan can provide the necessary recommendations needed to mitigate weather-based risk, as well as ensure communities are reaching climate goals through green infrastructure strategies.

How can asset management further sustainability and resiliency goals for your community’s infrastructure? Here are some things to consider.

Data and Technology

Good data is the key to asset management. Data collection can be done through visual field inspections or using technology such as Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR). In visual inspections, expert(s) travel to each individual asset to collect data and provide more detailed information than could be acquired through inspecting photos and maps.

Conversely, LIDAR is a remote sensing technique that uses light to make measurements and collect geographic locations for all above-ground infrastructure. The light pulses create a three-dimensional image that models the infrastructure with useful measurement data.

Using an Asset Management System (AMS) integrated with a Geographic Information System (GIS), any data collection can be combined with information like a site’s physical condition, soil quality, traffic volumes and an asset’s vulnerability to extreme weather events like flooding for better risk-based planning and prioritization. Additionally, water and wastewater assets may implement a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, so system monitoring is further automated which reduces the number of in-person trips required while also providing asset stakeholders or elected officials ease of access to the information they need. To further that point, an AMS paired with 3D modeling provides an easier means of communication between internal stakeholders (e.g. planning, design, construction and asset management) and external stakeholders (e.g. elected officials and the public). The combination of expert analysis and technologies provides the information necessary to optimize an asset’s longevity.

Risk Assessment and Management

Identifying risk and risk mitigation strategies greatly improves asset resilience against risks such as extreme weather events and premature deterioration. This risk assessment can be broken down in two ways – an enterprise risk assessment and an asset level risk assessment.

With an enterprise risk assessment, locations with heightened risk of extreme weather events are subjected to an enterprise assessment which is larger in scale and can cover a sizable geographic area like a whole community, region or state. For example, communities prone to flooding may have a flood vulnerability model developed as part of an enterprise risk assessment with recommendations for new projects and upgrading current assets.

On a smaller scale, an asset level risk assessment inspects an individual asset rather than a larger location. Through an asset level risk assessment, for example, a roadway is examined to identify underground utilities, asset condition and impact of failure such as impacting a critical healthcare facility or a residence. Factors such as soil type and its impact on pipe corrosion could also be considered.

Risk assessment is tailored to fit both qualitative and quantitative approaches like climate modeling for a region or coordinating with long tenured staff and agencies with institutional knowledge on what best practices have worked for a particular asset. Risk assessments and asset management plans provide ways to improve resiliency and sustainability, prioritize mitigation strategies and costs in financial planning and prevent the loss of institutional knowledge, cutting down on unnecessary work repetition.

Incentivizing and Financing

A growing trend in states like Michigan and Minnesota is the development of state government task forces and advisory councils focused on asset management. These groups incentivize owners to have asset management plans in place to improve resiliency and sustainability. By having a management plan, asset owners and communities can properly identify at-risk areas that require updating and meet evolving state and federal climate goals. With a plan in place, communities can take advantage of the substantial federal investments for sustainable infrastructure from programs like the Infrastructure and Jobs Act (IIJA) or state infrastructure grants and legislation.

For example, the IIJA has provided upwards of $7.5 billion for the purpose of updating outdated infrastructure to improve climate friendliness and the ability to withstand climate-related disasters. Without a quality asset management team and plan in place, communities could easily miss out on these opportunities.

How WSB Can Help

WSB’s multidisciplinary team includes experts in asset management who understand sustainability practices and policies, as well as how infrastructure is impacted by natural environments and climate-related issues. By staying at the forefront of techniques and technologies like the use of 3D modeling and automated data collection systems, asset stakeholders, elected officials and the public will have all the information necessary to make the most informed decisions. We work with communities to create a holistic, comprehensive asset management approach that brings real value and is customized for your community or project.

Shannon has spent over a decade advancing asset management at local, state, and national levels by serving on asset management committees, advisory panels, and project management teams. While working at MnDOT, Shannon directed the agency-wide asset management planning including projects, research, policy, innovation, strategic planning, and implementation in collaboration with internal and external stakeholders.

[email protected] | 651.492.9291

Shannon McGrath Director of Asset Management

Jack is a survey technician working on projects for civil engineering, land development, and planning by collecting field data and completing documentation via use of survey equipment and land record maps. He helps facilitate the connection between field and office by reading and comprehending engineering plans, developing processes to efficiently meet all required criteria in plan sets, and transferring field data back to various design software while maintaining data integrity.

[email protected] | 612.518.4263

Strategic Advice for Attracting Renewable Energy Developers

By Ameer Kian, Sr Project Manager, WSB
July 15, 2024

As the global shift towards sustainable energy gains momentum, cities have a unique opportunity to position themselves at the forefront of the renewable energy movement. Attracting renewable energy developers not only contributes to environmental sustainability but also brings significant economic and social benefits. Learn strategies that cities can use to attract renewable energy developers and capitalize on the growing green economy.

Benefits of Attracting Renewable Energy Developers

Cities stand to gain immensely by attracting renewable energy developers.

  • These projects often lead to direct economic benefits such as job creation in construction, maintenance, and operations of energy facilities.
  • Renewable energy projects contribute to a cleaner local environment by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
  • They enhance the city’s appeal to environmentally conscious businesses and residents, positioning the city as a leader in sustainability and innovation.
  • Having local renewable energy sources can improve energy security and stability, reducing vulnerability to external energy price shocks and supply disruptions.

Creating an Inviting Regulatory Environment

The foundation for attracting renewable energy investment is a supportive regulatory framework. Cities can streamline permitting processes, offer tax incentives and establish clear guidelines for renewable activity projects. These measures reduce hurdles and make the city more attractive to developers looking for efficient project approval timelines.

Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships and offering Financial Support

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are a powerful tool for cities aiming to attract renewable energy projects. By partnering with private firms, cities can share financial risks while benefiting from the expertise and innovation of the private sector. These collaborations can lead to the development of state-of-the-art renewable energy facilities that might not be feasible through public funding alone. Additionally, cities can provide tax incentives or low interest loans to further reduce the financial burden on developers.

Investing in Infrastructure

Adequate infrastructure is crucial for the development and distribution of renewable energy. Cities that invest in upgrading their electrical grids, improving connectivity and ensuring the availability of suitable land for large-scale projects will be more appealing to energy developers. Furthermore, developing clear interconnection standards can help reduce the complexity and timing needed for the connection of renewable energy systems to the grid

Fostering Community Engagement and Support

Gaining the support of the local community is essential for the success of renewable energy projects. Cities can facilitate community engagement through educational programs that highlight the benefits of renewable energy, such as reduced carbon emissions and stable energy prices. Public forums and workshops can also be used to address any concerns and gather valuable feedback from citizens.

How WSB Can Help

Embracing renewable energy is a strategic decision that can lead to substantial rewards for cities. By creating a favorable business environment, investing in necessary infrastructure and engaging with the community, cities can attract top-tier renewable energy developers. WSB is uniquely qualified to assist cities in navigating this transition, having both renewable and municipal advisory experience. With our expertise in planning, environmental consulting, renewable energy, public engagement and city engineering, we can help you develop strategies that align with your goals and maximize the benefits of renewable energy projects.

Ameer leads and executes complex renewable energy projects, with a demonstrated expertise in managing teams, optimizing project lifecycles, and delivering innovative solutions. His project management experience includes planning, scheduling, budgeting, risk assessment and stakeholder management. He is passionate about renewable energy technologies, such as solar, battery storage and EV charging.

[email protected] | 763.388.3493

Earmarks: Congressional Funding For Your Project

By Morgan Dawley, Sr Director of Municipal, WSB
July 15, 2024

While the timeline for fiscal year 2025 earmark requests have passed, smart planning now can prepare your project for success in future funding years. Through advocating, coalition building and coordinating with your congressional elected officials, your project can obtain the funding it needs. Now is the time to educate yourself on earmarks and what you must do to gain congressional funding to support your project.

What Are Earmarks?

An earmark, also referred to as “Congressionally Directed Spending” or “community project funding,” is a funding allocation presented by an elected Member of Congress. It is written into a spending appropriations bill that directly funds a specific project. Earmarks fund a variety of projects across multiple disciplines such as transportation, structural projects, water treatment plants, civic centers and other local projects that enhance community priorities, expand economic development and provide job opportunities.  

It is most common to receive project funding by applying for a grant through an agency, but this comes with limitations and requirements that must be met while also competing with other projects for funds. These requirements can be hard to obtain due to lack of financials or requirements that are not applicable to your project.

What differentiates earmarks from the typical grant application process is the targeted approach to funding a specific project rather than an agency receiving a large amount to distribute. With earmarks, project funding is still competitively awarded, and you must convince your Member of Congress of the positive impact your project will have on the community to receive funding. A successful earmark request is extremely beneficial because it demonstrates public support from your Member of Congress.

Do Your Preparation

It can be helpful to research similar projects that have received earmark funding in the past. The House and Senate appropriations committee web pages provide full lists of past projects that have received funding along with the amount received. This can help you prepare your submission.

Staying up to date on political trends will benefit your request as well. If your project aligns with the current views of the House or Senate— your project will have a greater chance at receiving funding. For example, if your Congressional Member strongly supports environmental sustainability, an application prioritizing this is set up for success. Alternatively, submissions may be denied for various reasons like limiting spending, conflicting policies, etc. Being well-versed in today’s politics provides valuable information as you request earmark funding.

In addition to researching past projects and current political trends, your project must have some level of study to help define the need for the project before the first meeting with your Congressional Member and their staff. Within this study, be sure to include the anticipated scope and estimated costs. Consider creating a project “one-pager” that helps summarize the information, costs and the funding request into a simple, visually compelling format that you can leave behind and they can use for briefings.

Requesting Earmark Funding and Coalition Building

When it comes to requesting earmark funding— where do you start? The first step is engaging with your elected officials and explaining why your project deserves to be funded.

Earmark funding request forms are found on the websites of your Representative or Senator. Through a submission, they gain insight to valuable information like your project’s purpose, location and the amount of funding requested.

Once the application is submitted, the best path to receiving funding is through meeting with your elected official’s staff through coalition building. Meeting in-person provides the opportunity to explain in greater detail the need for funding and the benefit your project provides.

If your project benefits multiple communities or groups, it is in the best interest of the earmark request to present a coalition of support. By directly advocating for earmark funding and showing the project’s wide-reaching benefits, the potential your elected official will provide their support increases. For example, if a county is presenting the earmark request and has the support of multiple cities and communities, the project will provide a more convincing argument.

How WSB Can Help?

Earmarks are an incredible way for projects to receive congressional funding and support. WSB’s team of experts will support you with your earmark funding request. Our team helps determine your project’s scope, estimate overall costs and help facilitate and manage the process for acquiring the desired earmark funding for your project.

Morgan brings over 20 years of experience in municipal, transportation and civil engineering projects. He has been providing consultant city engineering services, including strategic planning, preliminary design, project development, and public engagement. He is passionate about finding solutions that are right for the client and that help neighborhoods and communities achieve their goals and vision for the future.

[email protected] | 763.287.7173

Morgan Dawley

Leveraging Federal Funds to Revitalize Underutilized Land

June 17, 2024
By Ryan Spencer, Director of Environmental Investigation & Remediation, WSB

With so much additional federal funding coming from legislation like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there are plenty of opportunities for communities to address brownfields and revitalize land. Communities with underutilized land, especially those with documented contamination, must possess a detailed understanding of the grant filing process to efficiently rectify this issue. Grant applications can be a complicated process. However, it is beneficial for communities to pursue grants to not only clean up pollutants and health hazards, but also further benefit residents with projects like affordable housing.

But where to start? Here are some ways your community can leverage federal funding to revitalize and develop underutilized lands.

Funding Sources

Regarding federal funding opportunities, the primary source when it comes to underutilized contaminated land is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Often projects requiring land revitalization stem from brownfield sites where contamination (known or perceived) is preventing the area from being redeveloped. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided a huge influx of funding specifically for cleanup and redevelopment projects, and the EPA announced in early 2024 that over $1 billion in funding was available for new and continued cleanup projects. That provides a huge opportunity for communities across the country.

Other funding opportunities are available at the state and county levels from economic development agencies or pollution protection agencies.

It’s also important to note that most grants are on a schedule and the time of year heavily impacts available funding.  Further, most grants are competitive and only the projects that best fit the grant agency’s goals will be awarded funding in each cycle. Depending on the time of year and how many grants have already been granted, communities may be required to wait until the following cycle before applying. To best leverage federal funding, knowing the goals of the agency, the stated goals of the grants and the funding timelines is imperative for communities with revitalization projects.

The Right Grant for the Right Project

When looking at federal grants, it is important to identify how your project aligns with grant application requirements. Not every grant may be the right fit for your project.

Land use projects that have the most potential for receiving funding are those targeting contaminated brownfield areas, those benefiting environmental justice areas and those that increase tax base, jobs, and affordable housing availability. Federal agencies give grants to the projects that score the highest by need and when communities clearly communicate how a project aligns with a grant’s overall mission. Before applying, interested applicants must understand if their project fits within the parameters of the grants. For example, private developments are typically excluded from grants while cleanup projects that lead to the construction of newer affordable housing have greater potential.

How WSB Can Help

Brownfield assessment, cleanup, and revitalization involves many steps, but WSB works with communities and can help navigate the process. That assistance can include environmental assessment services, assistance with grant applications and securing funding sources, community engagement, helping with project readiness, brownfield revitalization planning and design, and more. Revitalizing underutilized land is an investment that can pay off in big ways for communities. Federal grant funding provided by the Federal Infrastructure Bill can assist with jump starting, assessing, and cleaning up sites across the country. With extensive knowledge and experience, the professionals at WSB are here to help communities identify, apply for, and best leverage federal funding to clean up contaminated land and improve quality of life for residents.

Ryan Spencer is our director of Environmental Investigation and Remediation and has worked in the environmental consulting industry servicing both public and private sector clients. He is proficient in the planning, management, and completion of environmental due diligence, remediation, and brownfield grant writing. 

[email protected] | 612.723.3644

engineer with hardhat using tablet pc computer inspecting

SUE: What Your City Needs To Avert Disaster

June 17, 2024
By Tony Terrell, Director of Utilities Management, WSB

If your city has an upcoming construction project, using subsurface utility engineering (SUE) can provide numerous benefits, while helping avoid potential catastrophe. In any community, but especially in heavily developed cities, not knowing the exact location of subsurface utilities puts projects at risk and could mean unnecessary delays, unexpected costs, and even harm to communities by temporarily depriving it of water, electricity or gas.

With that in mind, let’s review what SUE is and why your city should think twice about forgoing it.

What Is SUE?

SUE is a service that uses pipe & cable locators, electromagnetic hand-held utility locators, ground penetrating radar, and vacuum excavation to locate and identify utility lines buried beneath the ground. The vacuum excavation process is unique and entails the use of a high-pressure sprayer and a 100-to-200-gallon tank that turns the soil into mud. That mud is then vacuumed out to receive a physical line of sight on utilities buried as much as ten feet below the ground surface. Through vacuum excavation, the exact horizontal and vertical coordinate and the depth of a utility can be measured. The ground penetrating radar is a geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. The GPR can identify different material types underground and is used to locate utilities that are difficult to find, and where the electromagnetic locators had issues. What’s more, SUE uses a quality ranking system that helps construction projects have the right data and a clear understanding of how to avoid colliding with utility lines.

Utility Quality Levels

Using SUE equipment as described above, a utility quality level can then be applied which denotes how precise the location data is. These quality levels fall into four levels of A, B, C and D. Through this quality level scale, design teams and construction teams are better equipped to ensure utilities are not impacted by any excavation work.

The Risk of Forgoing SUE

Forgoing the use of SUE creates the risk of damaging or destroying utility lines. This disruption would not only delay the ongoing project but would also create substantial cost of repairing the utility line and potentially cutting off services to the surrounding community. This is especially critical when working in heavily developed cities with large, condensed populations, and where damaging a utility has the potential of cutting off electrical, water or gas utilities to a large population. Additionally, studies have shown that forgoing SUE services can lead to problems and potential utility damage that will incur costs beyond the initial cost of performing SUE services for a project. On average there is a nearly 5 to 1 cost difference between risking utilities and using SUE to prevent these issues from occurring.

Why is SUE important

  • Provides valuable information from which to make valuable decisions for roadway/bridge projects.
  • Unnecessary utility relocations are avoided
  • Eliminate unexpected utility conflicts typically encountered on transportation projects
  • Improved safety
  • Reduce project delays, saving time and money
  • SUE is a viable technological practice that reduces project costs

How WSB Can Help?

To avert potentially damaging or destroying a utility during construction, cities should reach out to the experienced and talented team at WSB to discuss how SUE will keep costs low and protect not only your project, but the surrounding community. By staying at the forefront of technology and techniques, WSB provides the information and peace of mind cities need to complete their project safely.

Tony has over 30 years of roadway design experience including time at the Oklahoma DOT in the Roadway Design Division. He has worked in bridge design, right-of-way plans, railroad plans, and traffic/traffic signal plans. His work in utility relocation work involved with for all phases of the design, writing right-of-way easements, drawing final utility relocation plans, coordinating the utility relocation, verifying that all utility relocation work has been done and finalized.

[email protected] | 405.808.4127

Recap of the 2024 Minnesota Legislative Session

June 14, 2024
By Jacob Ringstad, Graduate Engineer, WSB

The end of the 2024 Minnesota legislative session in St. Paul brought opportunities for communities across Minnesota. With changes to regulations and new grant investment opportunities, now is the time for communities to dive into better understanding of what happened this session and what changes and opportunities resulted from this year’s session. I was able to discuss with Anne Finn, Director of the League of Minnesota Cities’ Intergovernmental Relations, about the impact on cities for this session.

Budgets and Bonding

This year, lawmakers did not pass a capital investment bill. Many communities see a lack of a bonding bill as detrimental to asset preservation and local infrastructure. This failed bonding bill contained building asset preservation, money to remove lead and PFAs from local water systems, and $40 million dedicated to local communities. Additionally, the bonding bill failing to pass this year likely means there will be a large appetite for a bill in the 2025 legislative session. Communities with future construction projects and bonding needs must stay up-to-date and plan for what is to come in 2025. Anne encourages these cities to continue meeting with their representatives about the importance of these funds in your communities.

Efforts to Improve our Transportation

The 2024 session saw an additional $11.35 million investment in the Small Cities Assistance Program. These funds will be evenly distributed to cities with populations under 5,000 starting July 1st. These funds can be used to improve city assets and even include an option to use the money to pay debt service on bonds. One new policy opportunity Anne mentioned was state guidelines were enacted for establishing pedestrian malls. This new law will help to guide communities looking to expand pedestrian transportation and safety in high density areas.

A Focus on Environment

The 2024 legislative session saw massive investment from the Environment and Natural Resources Budget and Policy bill. An additional $46 million will be invested into programs dedicated to protecting Minnesota’s water, air, soil and wildlife. Anne specifically mentioned, “New grant programs created for community tree planting with $8 million for statewide use and another $3 million dedicated to the seven-county metro area.” To maximize use of this new funding, construction projects that can highlight sustainability should keep a close watch on these new investments and be ready as soon as the grants become available.

Expanding Housing Infrastructure Grant Program

Alongside new funding, counties are now able to take advantage of opportunities previously limited to cities. Under the 2024 legislative session, the Greater Minnesota Housing Infrastructure Grant Program was expanded to include county-managed construction projects, creating new opportunities, such as the development of housing, streets, water supply systems, sewers, utilities and more.

How WSB Can Help?

The 2024 session included several new state investments and policy changes that impact communities. With WSB, communities can feel secure with a talented team of experts who will help walk you through finding funding, applying for grants and ensuring every opportunity is on the table for your projects.

Jacob Ringstad has 2 years of experience in the city engineering. He has worked with city and township clients out of our Minneapolis and Saint Cloud offices to assist in improvement planning, design, and construction. Alongside his engineering work, Jacob has joined professional associations that involve the legislative affairs of the industry.

[email protected] | 6120.214.0962

geotechnical surveying

Geotechnical Survey: Three Issues it Can Mitigate in Your Project

June 7, 2024

By Richard Zamora, PE, Director of Geotechnical Services, and Zack Munstermann, PE, Geotechnical Engineer, WSB

A geotechnical survey is a necessity for any construction project to gain an in-depth understanding of underlying soil conditions in order to mitigate costly issues that, if not properly addressed, could damage foundations, walls, pavements and utilities. A good geotechnical survey provides the necessary information like soil strength, depth to bedrock, groundwater levels or slope stability. Knowing what to look for and what to address will improve a project’s design, construction efforts and operations over time. With that in mind, here are a few of the top issues a good geotechnical survey can help to identify and mitigate in your project.

Depth to Bedrock and Related Costs

A geotechnical survey is necessary to understand subsurface conditions and how they will impact a project’s earthwork, structural stability, and costs. Depth to bedrock can heavily influence cost and foundational stability. For instance, if a structure is not designed and built with consideration to bedrock depth, excavation costs could increase and the foundations and walls may experience damage over time requiring future repair work. Shallow depth bedrock is often a benefit for stability and lower project costs. On the other hand, deep layers of bedrock could cause foundational stability issues and will require far more excavation, or a redesign of the foundation leading to higher project costs. What is present in the ground beneath a construction project will dictate potential long-lasting issues that require attention like recurring damages and sinking foundations.

Clay Swelling and Chemical Treatments

Swelling clay, if not properly treated, will drastically increase the risk of structural damage and the need for costly repairs over time. Clay acts like a sponge that cyclically absorbs water and swells before drying and shrinking. After clay soil is properly evaluated through a geotechnical survey and testing, the soil needs to be treated. A survey identifies how much the clay could potentially swell or shrink over time, in order to right-size the treatment plan and not waste valuable resources on excessive excavation, or other costly mitigation measures. One common solution is a moisture treatment, where moisture is mixed into the clay during mass excavation and forced to swell; then, the pre-swelled soil under the foundation is replaced. This ensures swelling does not affect the building.

Chemical treatments are another way to stabilize clay. For shallower structures and pavements, lime and cement can be used and requires less excavation. However, the potential for chemical treatments is also dependent on the presence of sulfates. Sulfates in the soil will react negatively to lime or concrete and worsen the subgrade support. The geotechnical survey will not only help determine whether clay swelling is a problem, but also what treatment is feasible to limit risk and costs.

Presence and Impacts of Groundwater

In addition to soil conditions, a geotechnical survey will identify the potentially detrimental threat of groundwater. Understanding where groundwater is present in the site strata is important, particularly for those structures that have a basement or subsurface utilities. A geotechnical survey can determine groundwater depth at various locations within a construction site. Groundwater can complicate excavations, increase the lateral pressures applied to structures and foundations causing deterioration, and can destroy underground utilities. Proper identification presents the opportunity to develop a subsurface drainage system, or other mitigation alternatives, to keep below-grade utilities, structures, or retaining walls safe. Without a geotechnical survey, the threat posed by groundwater may go unnoticed or be underestimated until it is too late.

How WSB Can Help

At WSB, our Geotechnical team has decades of experience working on projects across the U.S. WSB is prepared to adapt to the needs of local municipalities and to local geology no matter where in the country a project may be. With a highly trained team of experts, clients can expect prepared solutions that mitigate risk and ensure a project’s success.

Richard has over 32 years of experience in the transportation industry of which over 24 years were with the Colorado Department of Transportation. He held various positions throughout his time with the CDOT and a majority of his roles related to pavement and materials including state pavement design and pavement management engineer. In his time at CDOT he implemented pavement design standards, materials quality assurance specifications, and managed the region’s pavement management program.

[email protected] | 719.266.3900

Zack has over 17 years of experience in the Geotechnical profession across multiple states and various levels. Prior to joining WSB, Zack was a project manager and staff engineer coordinating with his team to conduct subsurface explorations, laboratory testing, and preparing geotechnical reports with recommendations for a vast array of projects.

[email protected] | 719.266.3900

bike and pedestrian space

What Is Driving the Demand for Bike and Pedestrian Park Space?

May 20, 2024

By Jordan Gedrose, Landscape Architect, WSB

Published by League of Minnesota Cities in the May-June month’s issue of the Minnesota Cities Magazine. MN Cities Magazine May-June

In recent years, there has been an increase in demand for bike and pedestrian park spaces across the nation, which has also become prevalent in cities across Minnesota. The trend reflects a shift in societal values. There are several factors we are seeing connected to this trend, including public engagement influencing demand, recognition of bicycle and pedestrian park space benefits, and the effects these types of park spaces have on city infrastructure.

Public engagement

Public engagement is increasingly encouraging communities to prioritize investments in bicycle and pedestrian park space, reflecting a growing interest in recreational spaces and active transportation corridors. As community members and stakeholders become more vocal about their desire for healthier, safer, and more sustainable communities, decision makers are responding by allocating resources to expand and enhance infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians.

Advancements in technology, such as social media, have provided new methods to collect citizens’ feedback and has led to an increase in community engagement participation. These methods allow cities to notify community members about opportunities through a variety of channels, which reach a high percentage of the people in each area. Online interactive maps, comment boards, and virtual meetings — methods spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic — allow for greater participation and input than only hosting in-person events.

The pandemic also underscored the importance of outdoor spaces for recreation and social distancing, while also emphasizing park spaces and trails that cater to diverse user groups. By engaging the community, cities and counties can clearly understand needs and are better prepared to provide meaningful bike and pedestrian experiences.

Health benefits

Bicycle and pedestrian park spaces offer a multitude of benefits that contribute to the health, activity, and environment of a city. Regarding health: bike and pedestrian park spaces promote physical activity and healthier lifestyles by providing safe and accessible trails for walking, jogging, and cycling, which can lead to a reduction in the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. These spaces are designed to be accessible to all age groups and abilities. Research provided by City Parks Alliance found that walking loops increase park use by 80%.

Connectivity

Infrastructure that allows bicycle and pedestrian park spaces fosters connectivity between neighborhoods, business districts, and recreational areas — enhancing overall mobility and accessibility for residents and visitors alike.

Communities, big and small, are experiencing improved connectivity, heightened accessibility to amenities, and a revitalization of public spaces spurred on by bike and pedestrian focused infrastructure. Properties located near parks and trail corridors typically attract investment, as parks and trails are often viewed as desirable amenities that enhance quality of life and contribute to a higher standard of living. According to City Parks Alliance, houses near parks or trails have 8-10% higher property values than those in the surrounding community.

Bike and pedestrian park spaces contribute to the creation of vibrant and inclusive communities by providing opportunities for social interaction and recreation — fostering a sense of belonging and connection among residents. These spaces provide opportunities for people to connect with nature, even in urban environments, which has shown positive effects on mental well-being and reducing stress.

Environmental factors

In regard to the environment, prioritizing bike and pedestrian infrastructure promotes active transportation and encourages residents to opt for emission-free modes of transportation, reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. By promoting active transportation and reducing reliance on cars, bicycle and pedestrian park spaces contribute to more sustainable and resilient cities, with improved mobility, accessibility, and environmental stewardship. Bicycle and pedestrian corridors also provide habitat corridors for wildlife, contributing to the biodiversity within a community.

Notable challenges

While these spaces offer many benefits, a few challenges of incorporating bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure may include funding, maintenance, site constraints, and community opposition. The expansion of bicycle and pedestrian park space significantly impacts city infrastructure, ushering in a wave of changes to communities.

Cities across Minnesota are seeing an increase in demand for bicycle and pedestrian park space attributed to an increase in community engagement participation and acknowledgement of the health, recreational, and environmental benefits. Cities have continued to adapt to this evolving infrastructure demand through comprehensive planning efforts and investment in park and trail infrastructure. By implementing these improvements, communities can enhance their quality of life for residents and position themselves as an attractive destination for tourists.

Jordan is a landscape architect with 8 years of experience. He has a passion to harmoniously integrate design into the natural environment. Throughout his career Jordan has worked with many communities to deliver transformational park and streetscape improvement projects. He is committed to collaborating with the client and providing thoughtful design input to create unique outdoor spaces that respect the surrounding physical and social context.

[email protected] | 612.263.0687