By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
A Mankato area bicycling group is forming to hold biking events, teach people to ride safely and work with cities to create space for bikes. Oh, and they like walking, too.
The Greater Mankato Bike-Walk Advocates will start by holding classes through Community Education and Recreation this summer. There will be three classes, one for kids ages 5 to 7, one for 8- to 12-year-olds and another for teens and adults.
The Advocates’ eventual goal is to help Mankato become a Bicycle Friendly Community, a designation of the League of American Bicyclists. Along the way, they’d like more people to become confident on their bikes.
The benefits of bicycling, according to the group, are legion: improved health, reduced congestion and pollution, lives saved due to safer biking conditions, more efficient use of public space and an economic boost from attracting people who share those values.
Recreational trails are nice, but the group is more concerned with bicycling as transportation, said Tom Engstrom, one of the planners.
To that effect, they’re focusing on creating safe routes for bicyclists on Mankato and North Mankato streets.
In some places — such as Thompson Ravine Road, which is being reconstructed this summer — that means multi-use paths next to streets. Engstrom isn’t totally comfortable with that idea.
“Riding on sidewalks is the least safe place,” he said, partly because motorists don’t look there.
Possible routes, including a “spine” through the valley in Mankato (perhaps on Broad Street) and “ribs” into neighborhoods have been identified by an Envision 2020 subgroup and are being submitted to local governments.
There have to be more studies done to determine specific routes, though.
Lisa Bigham, planning director for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s 7th District, said the work of that subgroup has been very helpful to planners.
Bruce Chalupsky, an architect and planner with Paulsen Architects, has also been lending his expertise.
But getting more people to ride bicycles is their biggest goal, and Engstrom said education will be necessary to attract casual bikers who don’t feel safe on the road.
The community education class for teens and adults is eight hours long and designed to do just that — give bikers the confidence to take a trip to, say, River Hills Mall without being afraid of getting run over. Madison Avenue, for example, is not the safest road for bicyclists, so planners might focus on a side street.
The group is planning a June 12 ride, though the location and time are not yet set.
Cities around the world are giving people more options for travel, Engstrom said.
“We’d like to see that same choice brought here.”