MANKATO — Minnesota’s already-solid standing as a national leader in bicycle tourism will serve itself well in what one industry expert says will be a continued surge in the sport’s popularity.
Tim Blumenthal, a nationally recognized expert in recreational bicycling, was the keynote speaker in the state-sponsored 2011 Minnesota Bicycle Tourism Summit Thursday at the Verizon Wireless Center.
Blumenthal, from a bicycling advocacy organization called Bikes Belong, said Minnesota already has established itself as a leader.
“I believe that in Minnesota, which is already the No. 4 ranked state in the category of bicycle-friendly states, you have huge potential here,” Blumenthal said. “I think you’re doing the right things and you have great people here. There’s a level of civility and politeness and openness that I don’t find many places.”
More people than ever are biking recreationally. And more government funding has been put into biking programs and trail-building projects in the past few years than has been spent in the previous half century.
Twenty years ago, the federal government spent about $20 million. But in the last few years, that number has grown dramatically. In 2009-2010, because of stimulus funding, $1.4 billion was spent on bicycling and trails projects. Last year, a non-stimulus year, the funding was at about $791 million and funded roughly 3,000 projects.
Blumenthal said he’s seen a number of trends that are starting to define the current and future of the sport, several of which fall in the area of government-sponsored aid of recreational biking.
A lot of cities have tried a bike-sharing system over the years, but only recently has it been pulled off successfully in large metropolitan areas. “It’s actually getting people who haven’t ridden bikes in years get back on bikes,” he said.
Other cities have experimented with so-called protected bikeways. This idea entails cities shutting down roads to automobile traffic for a specified time period during which the riding of bikes is encouraged. It usually coincides with some kind of event.