By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Mankato and North Mankato have been recognized for their commitment to bicycling with a “bronze” designation from the League of American Bicyclists.
“You could say we medaled,” said Paul Vogel, Mankato’s community development director and a bicyclist. Last year, the cities were noted with an “honorable mention.”
The designation puts Greater Mankato on par with Rochester and St. Paul, which have a bronze rating. Minneapolis has the second-highest ranking, “gold,” just below “platinum.”
There isn’t one single explanation for the designation. Vogel said it’s as much an acknowledgment of what the cities have already been doing as recognition for what’s been done in the past year. Still, both cities are making biking more of a priority.
Vogel said there are open house meetings later this month with state agencies to advance a trail between Mankato and St. Peter.
Later this year, the City Council will see a policy designating streets as bicycle routes. These aren’t bike-only lanes, but would have markings like road signs and street paint reminding motorists to pay attention.
There are more bike racks downtown, and the city continues to build more trails and sidewalks as it rebuilds roads. When Thompson Ravine Road was reconstructed, a trail was added. Likewise, both sides of Carney Avenue will have sidewalks when it’s rebuilt this year.
North Mankato, which submitted its application jointly with Mankato, has asked the Minnesota Department of Transportation to build a trail from near the intersection of Lor Ray and Commerce drives to Hiniker Pond, Mayor Mark Dehen said.
“We’ve worked it down to about $250,000,” he said.
Likewise, a trail is planned with the County Road 41 crossing over Highway 14, said Dehen, also a bicyclist.
He said the cities are also looking to cooperate on linking the veterans monuments on a sort of trail between the cities. They won’t have to build anything, but Dehen said a map and perhaps signs are in the works.
Vogel gave much of the credit to volunteers, especially to the Greater Mankato Bike and Walk Advocates, who have been working toward this rating.
The Advocates’ Tom Engstrom said the medals system gives cities a pathway to improve their “bike friendliness.” It is measured using the five “E’s” — engineering, encouragement, enforcement, education and evaluation.
The first River Ramble, last October, attracted 1,534 riders on 12- or 42-mile rides and is an example of encouragement.
“That ride had a lot to do with our getting recognized this time around,” Engstrom said.
The Advocates also hold classes and have spoken with police about how to enforce bicycling laws.
Vogel said the support for biking and walking is growing in local governments around Mankato. It has health benefits, and is good for local business.