Bikers take to the streets

Mankato bikers will have their own lanes on each side of 20 miles of city streets within five years under a policy the city hopes to begin implementing this summer. File photo

MANKATO — Area bikers and drivers will see a mammoth increase in the number of bike lanes in Mankato in coming years.

Starting this summer, new lanes will run along Broad Street from downtown nearly to Tourtellotte Park on the city's north end. Lanes also will be added to Mulberry Street, leading to the Veterans Memorial Bridge, and Cherry and Poplar Streets, connecting the Broad Street bike lanes, through downtown, to the Minnesota River Trail and Sibley Parkway.

By the end of 2016, bikers will have a nearly unbroken route of dedicated bike lanes stretching the length of the city within the Minnesota River Valley — from Highway 14 to West High School.

And within five years, 40 miles of bike lanes covering 20 miles of streets will tie virtually every corner of the city to the system or to bike trails connected to the system.

"It's a very sound implementation process, focusing on the core (of the city) starting this year and then radiating out from the core," said Community Development Director Paul Vogel.

The city, county and region have done a good job of creating biking and walking trails, Vogel said. The on-street bike lanes, one part of a much broader Complete Streets Plan and Policy the Mankato City Council is expected to adopt Monday, ties neighborhoods and business districts not only to each other but to to the trails.

"It's linking those assets with on-street bicycling," Vogel said.

The bike lanes range mostly between 4 feet and 5 feet, depending on road width.

Major growth in 2015, 2016

This summer's work will include painting the bike lanes, along with adding signs, on Broad Street from Thompson Street (about five blocks from Tourtellotte Park) to Cherry Street. Lanes on Cherry will lead across Riverfront Drive, where they will continue on Minnesota Street (near downtown Hy-Vee) and A Street to Poplar Street. The bike lanes on Poplar, which is being reconstructed this year, will lead to Sibley Parkway just north of Cub Foods. At that point, easy connections are available to the Red Jacket and Minnesota River trails.

The current construction season also will bring the bike lanes to Mulberry Street, which will lead from Broad to the Vets Bridge. The bridge, the connection between downtown Mankato and North Mankato's Belgrade Avenue, is scheduled for about $800,000 in pedestrian, accessibility and bike upgrades this summer.

The final section of bike lanes in the 2015 schedule will be added to Monks Avenue between Balcerzak Drive and Stadium Road near the Minnesota State University campus.

A county reconstruction of Stadium Road in 2016 will finish with striping of bike lanes from the western edge of campus to the roundabout at Victory Drive — except for the section of Stadium between Heron Drive and Pohl Road where the county previously placed the only existing fully striped and signed bike lanes in Mankato. Otherwise, the only on-street biking accommodations in the city consist of "sharrows" along some streets asking drivers and bikers to share the lane.

The 2016 construction season will bring bike lanes to Pohl Road along Lyon's Park and south of Stadium to the southern city limits. Lanes along small pieces of Lincoln, Van Brunt, Willard and Pleasant streets will extend the cross-city Broad Street bike route farther southwest to Stoltzman Road and to the edge of the West High School campus.

Finally, lanes will be added along Mabel Street and Good Counsel Drive to connect Broad Street to the trail along North Riverfront Drive that leads to the northeast end of the Minnesota River Trail and the start of the Sakatah Trail.

More prepared to share

Justin Rinehart, who makes both business and pleasure of biking, is impressed with the plan.

"I'm very excited as a lifelong resident of town ...," said Rinehart, owner of the Nicollet Bike Shop on Riverfront Drive in Old Town.

Whether it's casual riders just looking to get from home to the nearest bike trail or people who use their bikes frequently as a mode of transportation to jobs or shopping, a lot of Mankatoans do on-street biking, Rinehart said.

"In one facet or another, all riders use the streets," he said.

Even as the numbers of riders grows, the willingness of drivers to share the streets seems to have grown in the past 15 years, Rinehart said.

"I've seen a dramatic improvement in the relations between biker riders and drivers," he said.

The message that Mankato roads are for both will be even more clear in 2017, 2018 and beyond, during which nearly every section of town will have bike lanes added to a major street.

Adding other neighborhoods

College connections would be the first focus in the final three years of currently scheduled work. Bike lanes would come to Warren Street, Val Imm Drive, Ellis and Maywood avenues and Balcerzak Drive in the MSU area. In the case of Warren and Val Imm, a climbing bike lane would be adjacent to the uphill lane of traffic, and bikes and vehicles would share a lane on the downhill side.

Bike lanes on Belle Avenue, Marsh Street and Division Street would bring Bethany Lutheran College and the hospital and clinics into the system. Also brought in would be the neighborhoods and business districts north of Highway 14 with bike lanes added along most of the length of Augusta Drive and on St. Andrew's Drive.

West Mankato would have access via bike lanes on eastern Blue Earth Street from the Red Jacket Trail to Stoltzman, and the city's east side would see lanes added to East Main Street and portions of Hosanna Drive and Diamond Creek Road.

Other future connections via bike lanes or off-street trails are planned for Stoltzman Road between Pleasant and Stadium, south Victory Drive, Monks headed to the southern city limits, and Elm Street (to connect Broad Street to Riverfront Park). Associate City Engineer Landon Bode said the scheduled addition of lanes will be flexible, potentially move up or back a year or two depending on the scheduling of street construction.

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