Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mankato city planners looking for bike route input

Even the most pessimistic cycling advocate would have a hard time denying the progress Mankato has made as a bike-friendly community in recent years.

In addition to adding several in-town bike paths, city planners built the Minneopa trail last year and the Greater Mankato Convention & Visitors Bureau released a trail map earlier this year complete with suggested area bike loops.

Aside from that, the Greater Mankato Bike & Walk Advocates verified cycling interest in the area with the successful Mankato River Ramble this past October. The inaugural tour ride drew more than 1,500 participants and drew rave reviews from all participants.

The League of American Cyclists recognized Mankato's efforts this past spring by awarding them with honorable mention status as a bike-friendly community. A prestigious honor no doubt, but Mankato city planners and bike advocates are looking for more next year.

"That really helped us assess where we're at as a bike-friendly community," Greater Mankato Bike & Walk Advocate founder Tom Engstrom said. "They told us what we need to improve on, and the city is taking steps to do that."

A big part of that step has been the city planners providing a large poster board map of Mankato for cyclists to draw out their regular bike routes with markers. According to Engstrom, the objective of the map is for city planners to get an idea of where cyclists regularly ride in Mankato. From there, the city will use the input to determine whether it's appropriate to label bike lanes on those routes.

Greater Mankato Multisport Club founder Chris Crocker said that local bike advocates are also looking into posting signs throughout the city directing cyclists to the various trail systems in town.

"We're hoping to go to the city with ideas of how to have better signage in Mankato and North Mankao," Crocker said. "The trail system infrastructure has already been built. But since the trails aren't all connected, there's no signage to help you find anything if you're not familiar with the area."

The poster board map had previously been available to cyclists at Flying Penguin Outdoor Sports and will be on hand at the Bike and Walk Street Film Festival, which will take place from 1-4 p.m. on January 14 at the Blue Earth County Library.

The festival, hosted by the Greater Mankato Bike & Walk Advocates, is open to the public and will feature about an hours worth of short videos on other bike-friendly communities. Engstrom hopes the viewing will help spark a brainstorming session from those in attendance.

"It'll be cool to watch them as a group," Engstrom said of the videos. "It'll help us learn how things work elsewhere and it might give us some ideas of things we can do here."

After the videos, an open forum will be held where those in attendance can make suggestions on how Mankato can make itself a better community for non-motorized commuters. Area cyclists will also have a chance to mark down some last-minute routes on the map, as Engstrom plans to present the map and the results of the forum to city officials shortly after the festival.

Immediately following the festival, Engstrom and other cyclists plan on going on a short bike ride through town that will likely end at Pub 500 for drinks and social hour.

Both Engstrom and Crocker expect a good turnout for the event and also expect the community's input to have a major impact on city planning in the near future.

"You have to give the city a lot of credit," Crocker said. "People want the community to be more friendly to bikers and pedestrians and the officials are listening."

For more information, contact Tom Engstrom at

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