Does city have pedal power?

Group to assess how friendly Stillwater is to bicyclists

Bicyclists ride on Manning Avenue outside the Washington County Fairgrounds during the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride in May. The Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota is planning a mid-October workshop to gather information from area residents on how bike-friendly the Stillwater area is. (Gazette file photo)

Bicycles and bicycle riding are big in Stillwater. Now, a bicycle advocacy group wants to assess how bicycle-friendly the city really is.

BikeMN, the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, is working with the Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, PowerUp 4 Kids and the Independent School District 834 Community Education Department to set up a mid-October workshop to talk about the assessment and collect data, said BikeMN Executive Director Dorian Grilley.

The workshop would come a few weeks after Grilley talked about BikeMN and the League of American Bicyclists’ “bike-friendly city” designation to the Stillwater Sunrise Rotary Club.

Grilley said the assessment should not be considered a survey about bicycle use in Stillwater.

“It’s an evaluation of the community based on a ranking of the city by the League of American Bicyclists as a bike-friendly community,” he said. “What I’d like to do is take a look at the whole community.”

Stillwater would appear to be a bike-friendly city candidate. Besides the existing Gateway State Trail, ground was broken recently on the Brown’s Creek State Trail, a 5.9-mile paved trail connecting the Gateway trail to downtown Stillwater.

And in 2017, the Lift Bridge will be converted to a pedestrian and bicycle crossing as part of a loop trail on both shores of the St. Croix River with completion of the new St. Croix River bridge.

The assessment looks at more than how many people ride bikes or how many trails a city has, according to Grilley.

“The bike-friendly ranking isn’t that you have a lot of bike trails,” he said.
Instead, Grilley said the assessment looks at what he called the five “Es” — engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.

Engineering looks at not just the number of trails, but how those trails are interconnected and if bicyclists can use them to travel to work, shops and restaurants, Grilley said.

The education component could involve the school district using state funds to teach bicycle safety in schools, Grilley said.

“MnDOT will release a bike education program in which the school district will teach the benefits of biking and safety,” he said.

Encouragement involves the community promoting bicycle riding and safety, Grilley said.

“You have to have some promotion activities. The community needs to set some measurable goals,” he said.

Grilley said Stillwater Area High School’s participation in the Minnesota High School Biking League is a plus in the encouragement category.

“Stillwater could get a big check in the encouragement box for that program,” he said.
Enforcement involves local law enforcement agencies enforcing traffic safely laws “evenly” with motorists and bicyclists, Grilley said. Finally, evaluation and planning sets measurable goals to boost bicycling in the city.

Currently, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bemidji, Rochester, Mankato and Grand Rapids are bike-friendly cities, Grilley said. Four other Minnesota communities will be announced as bike-friendly cities Oct. 15, he added.

Grilley said data BikeMN collects from the community workshop will be studied before the process continues.

“It’s just a couple of months,” he said. “Then following through, setting goals, implementing strategy, that may take years,” he said. “We’ll gather up documents and input from the community. Then we’ll take that, chew on all the data and give back a report.”

However, Grilley believes the effort to become a bike-friendly city is worth the work.
“I’m very fond of saying that a bike-able, walkable community is an asset that keeps your community strong,” he said.

And Grilley, who has biked in Stillwater, believes the city is a bike-friendly candidate.

“I live in Mahtomedi so I’m cheering for Stillwater. It is something that’s catching on. That ranking says they have a quality that’s something special. I believe Stillwater is right there with a little effort,” he said.

Contact Erik Sandin at [email protected]