Plans are in motion to possibly bring to fruition aspirations that go back to 2013 and earlier thanks to a meeting of more than a dozen community members dedicated to making the Pine River community more bike friendly.
The Wednesday, Aug. 25, meeting at Bites Grill and Bar attracted the attention of Pine River Mayor Tamara Hansen, Pine River-Backus Superintendent Jon Clark, as well as business owners, Pine River Chamber of Commerce members and community members. In general, all had the goal of finding ways to attract bicyclists to Pine River for their businesses.
Of course, the group also hopes to make the community more bike friendly for friends and neighbors, especially kids. The event was organized by Simon Whitehead, State Health Improvement Partnership educator in Cass County. Whitehead said bicycling contributes to community quality of life and benefits the environment, health and the economy.
"You wouldn't believe the number of people who were in the Twin Cities or elsewhere and Fargo in places that look to see where to go to bike because some of them are pretty serious bikers and they won't stop at a city that isn't on that (bike friendly) list," Whitehead said.
Whitehead said Pine River could benefit from bicyclists due to its proximity to the Paul Bunyan Trail, the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway, the school and for many other reasons.
Discussion included the possibility of adding a bike lane to Barclay Avenue to help attract bicyclists to the businesses downtown. Another suggestion included possible signage on the trail to direct bicyclists to nearby businesses. These are both ideas that have been broached by other groups, including Pine River Revitalization in 2013 and the GreenStep community group before then.
Pine River Revitalization paid engineers to mock up a design for a potential bike lane.
Both of those groups ran into difficulties with the Minnesota Department of Transportation due to that department's jurisdiction over Barclay Avenue. Furthermore, the Pine River Chamber of Commerce has received resistance to suggestions of adding signs along the trail, which is under Minnesota Department of Natural Resources control.
Whitehead thinks there are avenues to get approval from these groups.
Also at the meeting was Natalie Gille, Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota regional director, who gave examples of other communities that worked with the DNR and MnDOT in other communities to improve bike friendliness and to qualify for grants toward that end. Gille said other communities have used MnDOT's "complete streets policy" to justify addition of items like bike lanes.
Complete streets is a policy that MnDOT uses to take into consideration a community's street needs in context of the community, topography, road function, traffic, freight volumes and pedestrian and bicyclist demand. It has been successfully used to garner MnDOT cooperation in other communities and, with proper connections, might make Pine River's dusty bike lane plans more realistic than ever before.
Becoming recognized as bike friendly requires some commitment from the community, including a supportive city and school government, as well as dedicated group members who cannot only meet occasionally, but form sub groups with concrete goals. Those goals include organizing bike rodeos, creating a plan to make biking to school a safer option and a group focusing on plans to better connect the trail to downtown.
Some of the work ahead requires funding. Community improvement plans from Bike MN could go a long way toward identifying areas where improvements could be made, as could organizing a "Bikeable Community Workshop" where a group on bikes would ride around the community to get a real feel for the city's needs.
Funding for these programs can be provided by grants from SHIP and possibly other groups.
Not all bike friendly plans are huge either. In Hackensack, 23 businesses requested help from SHIP to buy bike racks. SHIP ultimately paid for those racks. Some efforts could include recruiting police assistance to issue Dairy Queen certificates to children seen wearing their helmets while riding bikes.
This meeting was only the initial step to making Pine River a bike friendly community. Whitehead said the program could likely take two years and will require dedication from members. The next meeting will be Wednesday, Sept. 22, at Pine River City Hall.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.