Over the next few summers, Mankato will be adding dozens of miles of bike lanes, all without the expensive — and sometimes controversy — involved in building new trails.
The 40 miles of dedicated bike lanes will be added by striping 4- or 5-foot lanes to existing streets and adding some signs to help keep motorists and bikers separated on the roads.
The work starts this summer with the goal of linking the Tourtellotte Park area to downtown and to Sibley Parkway. Future work will send spurs out from those trails providing a relatively safe and unbroken biking system through much of downtown and out to the city's edges.
The work builds on an already sound trail system that has been built in and around Mankato and North Mankato, including the Red Jacket Trail and Sakatah Trail, the jewels of the trail system.
Of course, a bike lane within a roadway isn't as safe as a separate trail, but they are markedly safer than bicycles making their way among motorized traffic. The separate marked lanes and signs alert motorists to the bike lanes and provide marked routes showing bikers the safest and easiest ways around town.
The lanes are part of a larger downtown initiative by the city called the Complete Street Plan. The plan, which had broad public input, is a blueprint of what’s needed to get people around easier, prioritizing areas and issues that need to be addressed first and setting up a timetable to do it.
Beyond the bike lanes, the plan focuses on developing a uniformed set of signs that visitors — who are walking, biking or driving — can look for at key locations, telling them which way to go to get to sites around town. It also calls for easily recognizable signs at the entrance to all parking ramps and public parking lots so visitors can quickly see where to go for parking.
Things such as bike trails and improved signs for people not familiar with the area can easily be overlooked as cities and counties focus on bigger transportation issues that are inherently focused on motorized traffic. Local officials should be congratulated for paying attention to amenities that not only help prevent injuries or even death but also improve the quality of life.