Hallelujah! The Two-Block Bike Lane Celebration!

I have a problem with celebrating menial things. I didn’t want to graduate from pre-school and I don’t want praise for doing things that should just be done.

North Mankato though, a bit of a different story.

NORTH MANKATO — The city’s first dedicated bicycle lane has opened, and will be the site of a ribbon cutting Thursday.

The Sherman Street lane, which runs for the two blocks between Belgrade Avenue and the North Star Bridge, is hoped to serve as a model to expand safe biking options in North Mankato and Mankato.

The ribbon cutting will be 1 p.m. at the southeast corner of Sherman Street and Belgrade Avenue.

-Mankato Free Press

Before I go any further I want to make it evidently clear that I am very, very happy we have a bike lane and I am glad the city decided to put it in. 

So, here we are, we’ve got our first big boy bike lane, dedicated and all (not protected though). In the image below, you can see the extent of the bike lane. The yellow is what the city put in, the blue is where the dedicated path, that was built with the bridge, starts. It eventually connects to the Red Jacket Trail which runs through the middle of West Mankato and is a great access point for downtown.

Sherman-bike-lane

As I said earlier though, I have a problem with celebrating mediocrity. The city is planning on holding (by the time this is read, it’s probably already over) a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a two-block bike lane.

Now, I have no problem with celebrating accomplishments, new additions to the city, or good investments, but this isn’t any of those things. In my opinion, this is marginalizing an important piece of infrastructure moving forward.

In the Mankato area we actually have a pretty decent sized biking community, but officials response to integrate it as an effective means of transportation have been lacking. My first article on streets.mn was about the irony of having a bike for a logo, but having no dedicated bike lanes in the city. Quick aside on that, turns out there are some up by MSU, but are just lines on the side of the road with no markings except for a tiny sign on the boulevard that says “bike lane.” Mankato and North Mankato are both bike friendly cities according to the LAB mainly because of all the recreational paths and trails.

We have the support for biking, so shouldn’t we be celebrating a bike lane?
Yes. We should, but not “celebrating” it so much as just using it.

Here’s the problem: When we build a new road out to a subdivision, there’s no ribbon-cutting ceremony, there’s no pomp, there’s no nothing. We just view a new road as “business as usual” and be about our day. Why is that? Because we’re so ingrained in the idea that roads = normal that we’re most of the population doesn’t need or care to know about them.

So, why isn’t it the same when it comes to bike lanes? We know the importance of dedicated bike lanes, we know they are effective and good as a means of transportation, so why are we celebrating it? We need to be looking at adding bike lanes as business as usual. It doesn’t need to be special treatment, it needs to be normal.

This is all on the heels of a recent city council decision to not pave an access road that ran up a shallow ravine (below). Paving this access road would have allowed cyclists their first dedicated path up the biggest hill in town. I work at the top of said hill and when I bike I have to bike on the sidewalk next to a road that carries 13,000 cars a day. It’s extremely unpleasant and undoubtedly dangerous. The decision not to pave it for bikers was made by some towns people who were concerned for the safety of the children (classic) and those who “didn’t want all those bikes going past their house.” Because we’re so noisy and disruptive… So, now it’s just going to be gravel which you can bike up if you have a mountain bike, but for road bikes, you’re out of luck.

belgrade-bike

To me this says, we’ll give you a two-block bike lane on an oversized, one-way road, but if you want real effort toward biking as transportation, sorry, not here. This bike path would have been a major win for bikers in North Mankato, but now it feels like we’re settling for a very weak consolation prize.

Something I found humorous in the article was the line “…is hoped to serve as a model to expand safe biking options in North Mankato and Mankato.” As if there aren’t models all across the country? Are we going to have scientists in white lab coats studying this two-block bike lane? Why do we need to approach this “radical” idea with such caution?

I’ll wrap this up. My problem is that we’re not supporting a real, diverse transportation policy in Mankato and North Mankato. When we “celebrate” two-block bike lanes, it just kind of conveys the idea of pittance for biking as transportation, but cars are still king.

I’m glad we have the lane and I’ve already used it several times, but we can do better.

 

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One Response to Hallelujah! The Two-Block Bike Lane Celebration!

  1. MrBobDobolina September 4, 2014 at 10:39 am #

    Honestly, I think it’s a great idea to make this into a much bigger deal than it actually is. This type of pomp and circumstance provides two very important functions.

    First, it gets the word out. Having a bike lake is worthless if no one knows about it. The population of Mankato is oddly resistant to change, even good change. By making this into a spectacle, people have a reason to see it, we are giving it special notice, make sure drivers know how to view it, and cyclists know how to use it.

    Mankato has a lot of bike trails that are completely unrelated to the road, and that’s how a lot of people probably see bikes. Vehicles for use on trails and not “real” transportation. Exercise, not utility. Until you start to chip away at that mentality, nothing is going to change.

    The second thing this does is offer a metric for the city. If no one uses it, then the city didn’t “waste” a bunch of time, energy, and money on a larger project. If it starts to become successful, then it certainly isn’t adequate and the city can get feedback from actual users on where to go from here.

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