City hires new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator

Matthew Dyrdahl will be just the second to fill a post created by former Mayor R.T. Rybak

Matthew Dyrdahl is scheduled to start Feb. 23. Credit: Submitted image

It took nearly a full year to fill the vacancy, but the city finally has a new bicycle and pedestrian coordinator.

Matthew Dyrdahl broke the news of his hiring in a Twitter post late Tuesday afternoon. Currently the active transportation coordinator in the Minnesota Department of Health’s Physical Activity and Nutrition Unit, Dyrdahl is scheduled to start in his new position Feb. 23, according to a city memo.

Director of Public Works Steve Kotke said a reorganization of his department that affected bicycle and pedestrian planners was a factor in the hiring delay. Public Works was also busy filling other open positions as the economy improved last year, Kotke added.

“In short, this took longer than I would’ve preferred,” he said.

The reorganization of Public Works creates a new Transportation Planning and Programming division that puts planners working on bicycle and pedestrian projects in the same office as planners working on motor vehicle projects. The new division is responsible for developing conceptual plans for new transportation projects before turning those ideas over to engineers, and it’s also charged with improving community engagement by doing more outreach earlier in the process.

“That just gives us more latitude on incorporating design elements and design ideas” into finished projects, Kotke said.

Bicycle planning previously found a home in the Traffic and Parking Services division that is, in part, responsible for vehicle lane striping. But the city is no longer just painting bicycle lanes on streets; there’s a new emphasis on adding protected bicycle facilities physically separated from motor-vehicle traffic.

In hiring for the coordinator position, Kotke said he was searching for someone who could be “our in-house expert who understands the innovations and cutting-edge out there.”

“Especially as we talk about bicycle facilities and pedestrian facilities, there’s just a lot of things going on, not just in the U.S. but throughout the world,” he said. “I need somebody who really has that knowledge and expertise that can help us as we start putting together these concepts.”

Dyrdahl will be just the second-ever Minneapolis bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, a position created during the R.T. Rybak administration. Shaun Murphy, a public works employee appointed to the position in 2012, left the city in February 2014 to work on an organic farm in Wisconsin.

Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said the city has a “tremendous” staff of bicycle and pedestrian planners, but added the lack of a leader left a void in the department.

“We understand these things take time,” Fawley, who served on the interview committee for the coordinator position, said. “We hope in the future it won’t take a year.”

Fawley called the internal reorganization of Public Works staff “exciting,” adding that it should lead to better, earlier community engagement on transportation projects. But he also said the city still doesn’t have enough people dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian issues.

“There are (street) repaving projects every year that we just can’t think about pedestrian or bicycle improvements on because there isn’t the capacity purely from a design perspective,” Fawley said.

Kotke noted Mayor Betsy Hodges’ budget includes funding to hire additional transportation planners this year — “which we’re in very much need of here,” he added.

Dyrdahl holds a master’s degree in planning from Florida State University and a bachelor’s degree in community development from St. Cloud State University. He is a League Cycling Instructor as certified by the League of American Bicyclists and a member of the American Institute of Community Planners.

On his Twitter bio he writes: “I don’t own a car. I prefer bicycling. I take transit when it makes sense. I like Car2Go and Nice Ride as extra fun options. I run races to stay motivated.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the bachelor’s degree Dyrdahl earned at St. Cloud State University. It was in community development, not urban planning.