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Enthusiastic cyclists bundled up Tuesday afternoon to tour Park Rapids by bike. Park Rapids could receive national designation as a “bicycle friendly community.” (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

Pedaling forward on bike designation

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BY JEAN RUZICKA

Park Rapids could be pedaling toward becoming a “bicycle friendly community,” a national designation from the League of American Bicyclists.

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Area bicycle enthusiasts, after a ride through the community with Natalie Gille of Bike Minnesota and Kurt Wayne of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, met for a brainstorming session this week.

A survey addressing the city’s “engineering, encouragement (strong), education (strong), enforcement (strong) and an overall evaluation,” Gille said the city earned a “strong score.”

“You are in a good position to move forward,” she said of applying for the national bike friendly designation, a July 16 deadline approaching. The designation would highlight Park Rapids as a bicyclists’ “place to go.”

“The community will take the reins to move forward,” she said. “The next step is gathering the information for the application.”

Bike Minnesota, a nonprofit, will provide support in completing the application, she said.

Earning the Bike Friendly Community status positions the city for grant funding, Gille said.

The engineering questions found the city does not have a comprehensive biking network but parking for bikes is available.

The city lacks a Complete Streets ordinance to accommodate cyclists but city planner Dan Walker said officials are looking at multi-use trails as opposed to sidewalks.

“Encouragement” was in strong territory, with the Headwaters 100 and Itascatur at the advocacy and events forefront, along with the possible resurrection of Bike to Work Day.

The city’s Bike Rodeo and bike safety courses regarding traffic skills earned kudos in “education.”

And police chief Terry Eilers assured the group “enforcement” is a firm component. Officers receive training on the rights and responsibilities of road users. And local ordinances treat bicyclists equitably.

“Evaluation,” ostensibly geared to larger metros, found the city has no specific plan to reduce cyclist/motor vehicle crashes. No comprehensive plan for bicycling exists, nor does the city have a bike program manager.

Audience members agreed Highways 34 and 71 are not bike friendly. Plans for bike paths were quashed when Minnesota Department of Transportation designed the city’s main arteries.

“We need to work to make this as safe as possible,” said longtime biking advocate Irene Weiss.

Former elementary teacher Jo Judson concurred. “We need to have a safe place for kids to ride to school,” she said.

“It’s partnerships that will make this happen,” Gille said of local and state agencies and groups working together to define priorities.

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