microphone with an out of focus background containing the Streets.mn logo

Statewide Conversations From the Bike/Walk Summit

We took the opportunity at BikeMN’s summit on capitol hill to chat with activists from across the state about cycling in their communities.

Episode Chapters

00:00 | Intro
00:46 | Alice Tibbetts, Duluth
15:46 | Ben Scheidel, Mankato
33:04 | The Parklet
34:23 | Glen Kajewski and Andy Miller, Thief River Falls
52:21 | Outro

Attributions

Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band, The Urban Hillbilly Quartet, on their website.

This episode was hosted and edited by Ian R Buck, and transcribed by Parker Seaman aka Strongthany. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [email protected].

Transcript

Ben: [00:00:00] You go a couple miles on that out of town, you end up at the Rapidan Dam, which has a park and a little restaurant.

Ian: [00:00:06] Can you say that five times fast?

Ben: [00:00:08] RapidanDamRapidanDamRapidan- [devolves into unintelligible babbling] [laughter]

Ian: [00:00:14] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am your host, Ian R Buck. We’ve been itching to get more stories from outside of the Twin Cities on the show, so when the Bike Walk Summit took place on Capitol Hill, I took the opportunity to bring some microphones with me and chat with some bike activists from across the state. Let’s jump right in. First up, we have Alice Tibbetts from Duluth.

Alice: [00:00:50] Yeah. So I am a co-founder of We Walk in Duluth and we started about four and a half years ago, and we really got going because Duluth did not enforce its sidewalk clearing ordinance, and the city was pretty much impassable for people who walk. So we got a group together and got going on that. And now we’ve evolved into kind of the primary advocacy group for biking and walking in Duluth.

Ian: [00:01:18] Sweet. So are you like, are you an official chapter of BikeMN?

Alice: [00:01:22] We are working towards that goal. Um, and we probably will be within a few months. But we’ve just been kind of a coalition of concerned community members.

Ian: [00:01:33] Yeah. And I mean, snow clearing in Duluth sounds challenging and important, right? Uh, because, I mean, my my little brother went to UMD for a little while, and I remember we visited him in the middle of winter and like, trying to walk down the hill towards the pizza place that we were going to like, and we were all just like, sliding on our, you know, on our feet.

Alice: [00:01:58] So, you know, it’s been kind of a lack of commitment by city government, but that is starting to shift and they are trying to do a better job. It’s a very daunting problem because we do typically get so much snow. But in our group we see it as an as a result of really bad road design. So Duluth tends to build these huge, gigantic roads with asphalt curb to curb with no boulevards or trees or snow storage. So, you know, I was kind of puzzled by why this was such a problem because I’d spent 30 years in Saint Paul. But we have big boulevards in Saint Paul. Where in Duluth they eliminate the boulevards and then the snow just goes on the sidewalks and turns to concrete because it’s been plowed up by the city. So it, it really is an indicator of too wide of roads. Yeah. Yeah. Which Duluth has too many of.

Ian: [00:02:55] How walkable do you feel Duluth is in the summer versus in the winter? Like, are we missing out on like, this Walking Paradise because we have this one particular issue?

Alice: [00:03:05] I think Duluth has neighborhoods where it’s very nice for walking. Um, it has a lot of streets, like I live near London Road. I think London Road is absolutely hideous. It’s one of those very wide streets.

Ian: [00:03:20] Is that the one that 61 turns into on its way north out of…?

Alice: [00:03:23] Okay, yeah. So when you go further east towards the North Shore, it’s a little more friendly for bike, for walking. But where I am around 21st, you know, there’s no boulevard, there’s no trees, it’s just asphalt to asphalt. The sidewalk is right up next to the road and it’s just unattractive. And, you know, Duluth, I have been told that Duluth has about a 30% deficit in its tree Census compared to cities of other size. So it really needs to reforest the city. And much of that should be in the right of way. Sure. Yeah. And there just hasn’t been much political will to do that. Um, or much of a constituency to say we need to do it.

Ian: [00:04:07] Right. Well, yeah. I mean, we’re if not in the right of way, where else would you put trees? You know, because like, the right of way goes from the property line to the property line, so. Right.

Alice: [00:04:16] And you know it, you know, for example, the city rebuilt Superior Street through downtown. A few, I think, 5 or 6 years ago, they were adamantly opposed to any bike lanes. So there’s no safe bike route through downtown, which is really inexcusable. Um, instead, they built these huge, gigantic sidewalks, very few trees, very few sidewalk patios. So you’ve just got all this concrete with nothing in it. And then where do you think the people on bikes go? If they’re not very confident riders, they go on the sidewalk because the city has deliberately said, we’re not providing space for you. Mhm. So, you know, they’ve made some really bad decisions. Yeah. Um, we do see that changing. There’s a project in Lincoln Park on West Superior Street that is going to be really transformative through that business district. And they’re talking more trees, more plantings, um, public art, sidewalk space, connecting space and bike lanes.

Ian: [00:05:16] Yeah. Is that- I know that there’s like a temporary two way bike lane in that part of town…? Lincoln Park, that is Lincoln- okay. Yeah. And is that Superior Street that I’m thinking of or is that okay?

Alice: [00:05:28] That is West Superior. And then downtown, the main downtown is East Superior okay.

Ian: [00:05:33] Yeah. Yeah. Because like my main interaction with Duluth as a cyclist is coming up from Saint Paul, you know, and the last part of that ride is the Willard Munger Trail. Right.

Alice: [00:05:50] Which is beautiful until you get to a dead end and then you have absolutely nowhere to go, right?

Ian: [00:05:55] Yeah. The temporary two way bike lane that exists there right now is there, because another section of the trail is like out of commission, because of another construction project…

Alice: [00:06:05] Because of freeway construction. So so this connects into the conversation about the Cross City Trail, which has been partially built for a number of decades, really. So now we’re trying to close a gap on that, and then it will connect West Duluth all the way into Canal Park area. So that probably will happen in the next couple of years. We’re advocating for some routes that we like better than others, but that will make a huge difference. And then of course, once the whole Can of Worms Freeway project is done, then that trail will be open. Yeah. The problem we have in Duluth is that we really love our trails to death, and we don’t have the space to do what they’ve done around, uh, River Road, for example, in Minneapolis, where you separate bikes and peds. Yes. And so, you know, we’re all kind of squeezed into a very limited amount of space and for strollers and dog walking and rollerblading and bicycling. And the system is at capacity and we need to have more on-street bikeways. Yeah. Because, you know, faster riders need somewhere else to go and to have an option for more through riding. And we also have a pretty popular electric scooter business down in Canal Park. And, you know, they’re on the sidewalks because there is no bike infrastructure. We have basically about a half a mile of on-street bike lanes that were built in the last eight years. Everything else, minimal, though it is, was built by either the state or the county. Yeah. So we have a long way to go to catch up.

Ian: [00:07:48] Yeah. And the the trail system, as far as I am familiar with it is seems very like kind of tourist oriented currently, like the trail that comes into town and then it gets you to Canal Park and then it, you know, gets you to like the North Shore, you know, like to go out of town. And I can’t think of a whole lot of housing along that until you get like north of, of downtown. Like that’s kind of the only part that I can really think of where you start passing houses. Yeah.

Alice: [00:08:21] So the Lakewalk is, is definitely used by everybody in Duluth. Um, probably less so during the high tourist season because it is so packed with tourists. Yeah. And then as you, they are going to improve and widen the lakewalk as you leave Canal Park and heading up the shore. It’s very narrow. It’s very congested. The pavement is starting to buckle. So they did just get a grant to work on that. But still it’s kind of loved to death, you know, which is a nice problem to have. You want people to be out there but it does. It doesn’t make it very appealing as a transportation network. Right. And that’s why we need more on street protected lanes that are really for those faster riders and scooters as a micromobility asset. And we are lacking that.

Ian: [00:09:09] And going to like more parts of town. Right?

Alice: [00:09:12] Right. Yes. And we do have-

Ian: [00:09:14] What are the major like kind of like where do people come from to go to work in downtown or like at the university or whatever? Like what? Yeah, like where are the where are the residential areas that a lot of people are coming from?

Alice: [00:09:25] You know, going back to my point about so many of the connector roads are these huge, unfriendly autocentric designs. Um, uh, Sixth Avenue East, Central Entrance, Mesabi. No one could ever ride a bike on those, and in fact, you can barely even cross them as a pedestrian. So, um, several at least two of those are now undergoing a lot of review and planning to rebuild them and try to make them more friendly for biking and walking and for transit users. But to date, you know, the city just isn’t very friendly for those modes. Yeah, I tend to take a lot of back roads up, uh, up the hill towards the campus, there is a trail called Tischer Creek Trail that’s quite pleasant if especially if you have an electric bike, because even on my e-bike, it’s still quite. I’m still working pretty hard. but once I get up to campus, for example, the main street in front of campus is Woodland, which is absolutely unsafe for bicycling. It’s a four lane-

Ian: [00:10:27] Oh, that’s the name of the street. It’s not. You’re not describing it as woodlands, okay?

Alice: [00:10:30] It’s it’s the Woodland neighborhood. Woodland Avenue is goes right in front of the campus. It’s the street that is the barrier between campus and a lot of housing and retail on the other side. And it should be a 4 to 3 lane conversion with bike lanes. And it’s not so to me, having a major university campus that’s not safe or friendly for biking and walking is criminal. It’s unacceptable.

Ian: [00:10:59] Absolutely I agree. How many studs does one need on their bike tires in order to make it up one of those hills in the winter?

Alice: [00:11:06] You know, I, uh, I actually sold my winter bike when I moved to Duluth, and I just got it back from my friend that I sold it to, and I have titanium studs on it, and I do okay, okay. Um, the problem is, well, I can’t ride on the trail that I would like to ride on because they don’t clear it in the winter. Yes. So I do have to ride on the street, but I kind of I zigzag and wind around so I can get up those hills and find safe routes. And I’m willing to do that because I’m happy to ride my bike for more miles. Yeah. But, um, you know, it’s possible if I had to do that every single day, we get a little old. Yeah. Um, yeah. Now, I know people who ride all the way from Far East, um, neighborhoods in Duluth, all the way to work in West Duluth. And it’s about a it’s about a 45 minute ride on a fat bike.

Ian: [00:12:04] Wow.

Alice: [00:12:04] Yeah. And, um, they’ve been on the lakewalk and have had pretty good success. You know, this year was a huge anomaly because we had almost no snow.

Ian: [00:12:12] Sure, sure, sure. Yeah. Um, is so the trail that you were referencing that doesn’t get cleared in the winter, is that, like, are they prioritizing other winter sports? Like, do they groom it for cross country skiing, or is it just like it like it just doesn’t exist in their minds during the winter?

Alice: [00:12:29] You know, we have had members that have had pretty good response from the city in clearing some other trails, and the city does a really good job on the Lakewalk. I think this particular trail, Tischer Creek Trail, is very shaded, and I think that if they cleared it, they’d probably have to salt it because it would just ice over and I think it just feels like kind of a never ending challenge. Mhm. Uh, plus the kids like to go sledding on it. So yeah. Yeah. So I don’t push it because it becomes kind of a winter recreation trail. Yeah.

Ian: [00:13:04] Um I feel like I’ve heard about like in there’s like this one town in Finland, I think that everybody cites all the time, you know, it’s like the winter cycling capital of the world. And like, they don’t they don’t they don’t try to clear their trails, like down to the pavement kind of thing. It’s more like, like hard packed snow. And then it, it remains rideable because the snow becomes the surface.

Alice: [00:13:27] I have not found that to work very well in Duluth. I think because we still get a fair amount of freezing and thawing, and then it becomes kind of like riding on railroad ties.

Ian: [00:13:37] Oh yeah.

Alice: [00:13:38] You know, you get that real set of ridges that happens. And especially since the lakewalk is so close to the lake, you you get mist and fog and. Right, you know, yeah, it’s challenging. Yeah. It’s challenging to keep it clear for biking. But you know, we’re hopeful that we’re at a tipping point in Duluth where some of these things are going to change. And, you know, we did. The city just got, uh, the Reconnecting Communities grant about re-envisioning highway 61 between Canal Park and downtown. We’re super excited about that. Um, we got this big grant that’s rebuilding Lincoln Park, which is a beautiful plan. We’re excited about that. And the Northern Lights Express is going to be coming into downtown. And, you know, the city and the county we hope are extremely committed to making that a really welcoming, green bike ped friendly entrance to Duluth. Yeah, we need bike share down there. Um, which we do not have for a city our size. We really should. Um, um, and we need just to work really hard to make the city a lot safer and more accepting for biking and walking.

Ian: [00:14:48] And as as with all things. I mean, uh, it’s just a matter of priorities, right? Of who’s in charge. Yeah.

Alice: [00:14:55] And we are very excited about our new mayor. Okay. And, um, he has been very collaborative and interested in working with us, so we’re excited about that.

Ian: [00:15:05] Sweet! I mean, it sounds like everything’s, you know, coming up, Duluth when it, you know, when you name all of the Northern Lights Express. And, you know.

Alice: [00:15:12] I think we’re, we’re we’re at a place where we have a lot of really exciting opportunities. And it’s our job as advocates and the city’s job and the county’s job to kind of maximize those opportunities. Totally. And, um, you know, this mayor ran on being more collaborative and open to input from citizens and advocates, and we’re looking forward to having a greater voice.

Ian: [00:15:34] Sweet. Thanks for coming on the show.

Alice: [00:15:36] Yeah. Thank you. Yeah.

Ian: [00:15:37] Have a good day on the on the Capitol Hill. [music] Next we have Ben Scheidel from Mankato. Yeah, Mankato is a town that I’ve. I’ve been through on a bike like once as part of a little like tour that I did coming from the Twin Cities down along like, the Minnesota, you know, the scenic byway. And then I hopped on-.

Ben: [00:16:06] Gravel tour?

Ian: [00:16:07] No, no, this was so it’s like a it’s a I think it’s a Minnesota State Highway. Um, and it’s just, you know, marked as a scenic byway. Uh, and I didn’t know about it at the time, but I, you know, I followed that route into Mankato, just kind of the corner so that I could then hop on the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail to go over to Faribault and, you know, parts further east. But, like, I haven’t, I haven’t ever really ridden into Mankato, through Mankato. So tell me about the town. Like, paint me a picture of of this, this Minnesota River valley town.

Ben: [00:16:43] Um, well, half the town is in the river valley, and then it’s sprawled out onto the prairie areas, too. Um, we’re surrounded by agriculture, and the the river is one of our big assets, I think as far as attractability and stuff. And it’s got the Mayo system and the Mankato clinic. So we draw a lot of health care from the surrounding area. Okay. Uh, in Mankato, Minnesota State University, Mankato is a 12,000 or so, uh, enrolled students. So they bring a lot of people in. So it’s a it’s for a small town. It’s there’s a lot going on. Great arts and music scene.

Ian: [00:17:23] Kind of. Yeah, it is kind of the regional hub for its area, isn’t it? I can’t think of any other big towns.

Ben: [00:17:30] Rochester would be the other hub, you know, to the east. But yeah, we draw a lot from the southwest, I think.

Ian: [00:17:36] Nice in terms of bike infrastructure, I know that there’s, there’s, there’s the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail that comes in from the east, a little bit northeast. But like other than that, there’s a, there’s a few trails that are like along the riverfront. Right. Yeah.

Ben: [00:17:53] There’s a trail through kind of I don’t even know if it’s north south or east west, but it feels north south to me along the river. I mean.

Ian: [00:18:00] The river kind of changes direction right there in town, right?

Ben: [00:18:03] Yeah. So, um, but then, so that river will actually that trail along the river, if you take it north, I’m going to call it using, using, uh, air quotes.

Ben: [00:18:16] Uh, it, it’ll just go into the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail. Yeah. If you go the other direction on that same trail and meander around a little bit, you’ll end up on the Red Jacket Trail, which is a trail that goes on an old railroad bed and, um, takes you out of town, um, past Mount Kato, and you end up in the small town of Rapidan and at Rapidan, you can jump on a highway with a bike with a, you know, painted bike lane. Or it’s just it’s.

Ian: [00:18:52] It’s shoulder.

Ben: [00:18:53] Shoulder thing. It’s a little it’s it’s I think it’s a little wider maybe, than it would have been before. But when you go a couple miles on that out of town, um, you end up at the Rapidan Dam, which has a park and a little restaurant.

Ian: [00:19:04] Can you say that five times fast?

Ben: [00:19:06] Ben: RapidanDamRapidanDamRapidan- [devolves into unintelligible babbling] [laughter] And, um, they are known for their pies.

Ian: [00:19:13] Okay. And so it would be very appropriate to go there today.

Ben: [00:19:16] It would be very appropriate on, uh, on March 14th. Yes. So. And, um, we have a, we have a, uh, um, we’ve hosted an annual bike ride, uh, in the fall for, uh, maybe 13 years now called the Mankato River Ramble. Oh, yes. The most popular route is what is known as the Pie Run. Okay, you bike out to the Rapidan Dam store and then come back. And the registered riders get a free piece of pie. Nice.

Ian: [00:19:46] And that’s, uh, that’s one of the become, like, official events, right? I think, yes, I’ve lost track. They keep adding more. Yeah. Uh, and, uh, I’m pretty excited to, like, like, last year was the first time that I went to any of them. Besides, like, the Saint Paul classic I’ve been to a couple of times because that’s right here in town. Uh, but last year I did like the Tour of Saints, and, uh, you know, this year we’re going to have the Med City Meander is going to be in Rochester, so I’m excited to use the BikeMN, you know, events as kind of a way, an excuse to go and check out more communities. Yeah, uh, throughout Minnesota.

Ben: [00:20:26] That’s a great idea. I’m starting to think more along those lines, too. Yeah, yeah.

Ian: [00:20:31] Um, so, like, speaking of the the Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway, like, um, I got last summer, I got part way through a bike tour of, you know, starting at. The start of the Minnesota River. And then, like the goal was to go down to Mankato and come up to the Twin Cities and, um, didn’t make it quite through the whole, the whole thing. So I didn’t get to visit Mankato that last year. But, um, you know, kind of looking at the routes, you know, to and from town, uh, like, obviously I’m, you know, following a, a scenic byway that is a Minnesota State Highway, like, it’s kind of a large, you know, uh, a fast road, right? You know, are there any other like, good routes into and out of town besides the trail that we just mentioned?

Ben: [00:21:24] Uh, for biking, you mean? Yeah.

Ian: [00:21:26] Yeah, yeah.

Ben: [00:21:28] I in my opinion, there really aren’t. Okay, um, there are a couple that are popular. I think there are. If you if you’re into gravel riding, um, uh, that’s that changes the game. Okay. I think there’s, there’s a lot of great gravel riding around Mankato. Yeah. And our local, Nicollet Bike Shop, uh, the locally owned little bike store in, in Mankato, uh, their website has some great, rides, gravel rides on it. Um, so if you’re from out of town, you can go on there and get on the website.

Ian: [00:22:06] See some suggested routes.

Glen: [00:22:07] Yep, yep.

Ben: [00:22:08] And that’s so if you got a gravel bike and you’re into that kind of thing. Um, I’m a native of the area. Um, uh, was gone for a while and stuff with college, but came back and raised my family and stuff and, um. Yeah, go ahead. Uh, when I went on their River Valley 100 ride, I was on quite a number of roads that I’d never, I never knew existed. And they were incredibly scenic and beautiful.

Ian: [00:22:29] Nice, nice.

Ben: [00:22:30] And that was all. That was a gravel ride. I don’t know if I clarified that.

Ian: [00:22:34] Yeah, yeah, gravel is definitely the kind of thing that, um, I’m trying to learn to be less afraid of it. I’m trying to learn to love it a little bit more. Yeah. Um, mostly because my partner really likes gravel riding, and so, like, I want to be able to share that with her. Sure.

Ben: [00:22:49] Sure. Yeah. And but I want to go back to that. Um, you said you took the Minnesota Scenic Trail from from the source of the Minnesota River. Yeah, towards Mankato. And there is I, I don’t quote me on this, but there’s I think it’s like, like a passed legislation or something that there is it’s going to take years, but there’s supposed to be eventually a bike trail that follows that path.

Ian: [00:23:16] Okay.

Ben: [00:23:16] From the source to the to the confluence with the Mississippi. Yeah. Uh, we’re working right now. One of the things I asked the legislators today, well, their assistants, I didn’t get to speak to your legislator, but, um, they’re working on a trail that’s going to go from Mankato to Saint Peter, a bike trail.

Ian: [00:23:33] Oh, nice. Yes. Good.

Ben: [00:23:34] And that’ll go along highway 22, which is not the most scenic route. Um, but it’s the route that we can get the land for most expediently.

Ian: [00:23:43] That’s how things go.

Ben: [00:23:44] Yeah, but that’s going to be a segment of this longer trail. Um, they have to do things on both sides, you know, after that, but. Well, yeah, it’s a start. You know, it’s going to be 100 years before this trails. Uh, yeah. Complete.

Ian: [00:23:58] Well, and I mean, the nice thing about that is, um, sometimes you see some of these, like, regional trails. And if you don’t know the wider context of like, oh yeah, this is going to be a part of a broader network later, then you’re like, wow, what was the point of this? Like, if this doesn’t go anywhere, it ends.

Ben: [00:24:15] In the middle of nowhere.

Ian: [00:24:15] Right? But like but a trail between Saint Peter and Mankato, it’s like, well, that makes perfect sense. Yeah. Right. You know, they are two decently sized communities that are in close proximity to each other, you know, and like large student populations in both of the towns who I’m sure would make great use of, you know, my my best friend from high school went to Gustavus and, you know, he was always talking about like, we’re going to go to Kato tonight and, you know, you know, because like, yeah, there’s more interesting restaurants or whatever than…

Ben: [00:24:45] It would be so cool. Uh, it would be so excited. I will be I am so excited already to be able to bike to Saint Peter on a safe. There’s there are. You can do it. Of course. Now.

Ian: [00:24:56] Yeah, yeah.

Ben: [00:24:57] But, uh, you know, the, you know, there’s just risks of biking- I’m not I’m not big on biking along highways with fast traffic.

Ian: [00:25:05] Yeah. And there’s. Yeah, I remember the, the back roads that I took, I feel like it was a mixture of gravel and a little bit of pavement, but a lot of it was gravel. And so. Yeah. Yeah. Um, and that’s like you said, that’s some, some people’s jam and not other people’s. What are the challenges? What are the things that priorities that the biking community in Mankato have?

Ben: [00:25:28] We’ve got some designated bike lanes that are paint, paint on the pavement there in the downtown area, uh, in the valley area, I’ll say north to south, you can get you can get from one end of town to the other on that on that bike lane. Uh, pretty decently. If you do it during, you know, morning commute or whatever it in the evening, it’s a little busy and it’s not I mean, you know, if I had a couple kids in tow, I wouldn’t be on that. If it’s just me, myself. It’s okay. But yeah, you wouldn’t want to be trying to manage some young kids. So one of our challenges and what we’re working towards is we’d like to get some physical. We, you know, we’d like to widen those a little bit first and maybe get some physical barriers. I see them all over up in the metro area. I just I love it. It’s just yeah.

Ian: [00:26:12] It’s a little curb protection.

Ben: [00:26:13] I know that it’s, you know, sad to say, but a person in a car is they don’t want to damage their car. Yeah. And they’re going to avoid those plastic. There’s a name for them I can’t think of…

Ian: [00:26:25] Flexi posts. Yeah. Um, some people call them bollards. Bollards. But I try to I try to avoid that word because internationally when people say bollards, they usually mean like the proper, like metal or concrete ones that are like that will actually damage your car if you run into them. Yeah.

Ben: [00:26:41] Well, you know, I wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t oppose that strongly. Yeah. Maybe maybe I should I don’t know.

Ian: [00:26:47] I mean, we use that kind of thing to like protect the corners of buildings all the time. You know, if you’re in an area where there’s a lot of high speed traffic. And my question is like, why, if a building facade is worth that, why isn’t my life as a cyclist worth that?

Ben: [00:27:04] You know, that is such a great question. Well, yeah. Why wouldn’t we do that and make it safe so parents can take 3 or 4 kids on a bike ride and go through the city and maybe stop for an ice cream somewhere? You know, whatever make make it a family outing on a bicycle and not. And. Yeah, but we’ll protect a building with that. We’re not going to protect the family. That’s a great point. Yeah.

Ian: [00:27:29] I have those every once in a while. Um, so where where’s your favorite place to to bike, uh, when you’re in town in Mankato.

Ben: [00:27:40] Um, gosh, I do like the. I guess I like those two trails that we mentioned, the Sakatah Singing Hills and the Red Jacket Trail. Um, and I do. Most of my biking is actually commuting. I commute to and from work, thanks to these designated bike lanes and a little creativity where they where they don’t exist and stuff and, and then utilizing some trails. So it’s it’s a combination of things. But you figure that out if you, if you want to make it happen. But again I like to bike. I find it healthy mentally and physically to bike to and from work. And uh, and I’m more driven to do it. Our group down in Mankato, the Greater Mankato Bike Walk Advocates we’re certain that if we make it safer and more accessible, like that old movie, if you build it.

Ian: [00:28:28] They will come.

Ben: [00:28:29] Uh, we think if we make it safe and accessible, people are just going to start filling up those bike lanes. Yeah, but they got to feel safe. They got to feel safe with young children.

Ian: [00:28:38] Field of dreams meets bike lane of dreams, right? Yeah, yeah. Um, one thing that I remember while planning, you know, uh, the bike tour that I was talking about, you know, and looking at at locations where we could stay overnight and realizing that, like, oh, wow, Mankato has a state park, like, right there, right on the edge of town. Mhm. Uh, makes me very jealous, uh, being from the Twin Cities, you know, because like the closest state park with overnight camping that, that I have access to is Afton State Park. Okay. And it’s a, that’s a bit of a trip. Okay. Um, and there were, there were a couple of towns along the Minnesota River Valley that were kind of in that situation, like, I think New Ulm also has a state park, like right there, Flandreau. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ben: [00:29:28] It’s it’s not on the Minnesota. It’s on the Cottonwood River, but it’s on the Cottonwood pretty near where it flows into the Minnesota.

Ian: [00:29:36] Yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. So that’s, that’s a model that I feel like we should be paying more attention to, you know, in general is like having these nice outdoor recreation amenities, uh, near the population centers of. Oh, yeah, you know, and small towns are, like the easiest place to implement that. Right.

Ben: [00:29:59] Redwood falls has a park and I don’t think it’s got overnight camping. It’s a city park and it’s on I don’t think it’s on the, I don’t think the Minnesota goes through Redwood Falls. But that’s a there’s a neat little park in the river valley in Redwood Falls too. You made me think of the Minneopa. Minneopa is the park outside of Mankato with the with the camping. We do not have, uh, bike lanes that take you all the way out there. That would be that would be a logical, logical. Next, there is a there is a state highway that the entrance of the park is on. So you’d have to do it along the state highway, which I, I don’t know if that’ll happen or not.

Ian: [00:30:38] It seems worth pursuing. To me.

Ben: [00:30:40] It does, I agree, I just it have to be done. On. Right. And you would you would definitely need, I think to be have the bike lane. Protected from the traffic for sure.

Ian: [00:30:51] And I mean yeah, the DNR has very specific, uh, criteria, you know, for, for what level of service they offer on their trails. Yep. Um, and yeah. So I think I would imagine that they would be a good partner to, to pursue that kind of project with, um, because if there’s one thing that they know, it’s, it’s recreational trails.

Ben: [00:31:18] So, uh. That would be a, that would be a nice thing. Um, there is a trail that goes out. There’s there’s too many ‘opas. It’s a little confusing. Okay. One is a waterfalls site, uh, with some trails, hiking trails and stuff and picnic area. And the other one is, um, these days, we would call it the bison, but. That’s right. That’s where the overnight camping is.

Ian: [00:31:39] Yes, it’s one state park, but it’s split on either sides of, like, the highway kind of thing.

Ben: [00:31:44] Two separate entries. Yeah.

Ian: [00:31:45] Yeah yeah.

Ben: [00:31:45] And they’re. Yeah, I don’t know if they’re connected all the way with land. But anyway, you can you can on a bicycle. Uh, get to the Waterfall Park entry, which is on a county road, not on a state highway. Um, uh, in protected lanes all the way. Nice. And you get within about a mile, maybe even less to the one of the bison. So, you know, you’re not you’re not going too far on the busy highway if you wanted to do it. But again.

Ian: [00:32:12] But a family with some kids, right? Yeah. Like, that’s, uh, a major piece of the clientele who are interested in going to state parks. Yeah.

Ian: [00:32:24] You guys have a chapter of, like, a BikeMN chapter down in Mankato.

Ben: [00:32:29] Yeah. We we refer to it by the ugly word of “gumbwa”, which is Greater Mankato Bike Walk Advocates.

Ian: [00:32:37] Great. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Rolls right off the tongue. Yeah.

Ben: [00:32:42] Uh, so we do have a, uh, we have a local chapter, and, uh, they’re great people. And, um, yeah, it’s a great group. I’m. I’m happy, proud and honored to be a part of them super people. Yeah.

Ian: [00:32:54] Ben, thanks for coming on the show. You bet. Thank you. [music] Before we hear from our friends in Thief River falls, let’s take a little break in the Parklet. We have a quick urbanist question this week. This one comes from my dad. So there’s a federal law that gives Amtrak trains timetable priority over freight trains. Now the question is, does that priority apply to passenger trains like North Star, which are operated by local agencies like Metro Transit? According to Brian Nelson from All Aboard Minnesota, the law in question was written in the 1970s as part of the creation of Amtrak, and it only applies to Amtrak. So for the North Star, Metro Transit would have negotiated their own agreement with BNSF, so whatever terms they agreed upon would apply there. If you have a quick question you’d like us to look into, right into [[email protected]], and we will take a look at it for you. Streets.mn is a community blog and podcast and relies on contributions from audience members like you. If you can make a one time or recurring donation, you can find more information about doing so at [https://streets.mn/donate]. And with that, let’s hear from Glen and Andy from Thief River falls.

Ian: [00:34:23] [music] So here today I have a couple of fine young chaps from Thief River falls, and you have the prestige of being Senate District 01A. Being in the far northwest corner.

Andy: [00:34:40] We can say we’re number one. Exactly.

Ian: [00:34:45] Could you guys introduce yourselves?

Glen: [00:34:47] Sure. I’m Glen Kajewski.

Andy: [00:34:48] I’m Andy Miller.

Ian: [00:34:50] Awesome. And we’re here at the Bike/Walk Summit on Capitol Hill, hosted by BikeMN. What brought you guys down here? Like, what’s what’s your cycling story?

Andy: [00:35:02] Well, we’re the BikeMN chapter in TRF, so we’re Bike TRF and we are a chapter of BikeMN.

Ian: [00:35:11] And when you say we, are you talking the two of you together?

Andy: [00:35:14] Well there’s, there’s probably, there’s probably 25 or so. Okay. That will go on our rides and show up at different things. There’s probably 7 or 8 that are constant show ups. If they’re not there, something’s wrong. Um, yeah.

Glen: [00:35:30] Or our last meeting we had, I think six or eight around the table. I think we had six that were participating via Zoom. So, um, and we have out of that group the ones that are pretty regular, I call them champions in our group. But, uh, folks that work pretty regularly, probably half of those folks don’t even ride bike, but they see see the value of having a community that’s more walkable and bikeable and easier to get around for young people up to folks Andy and my age, there we go.

Andy: [00:36:00] Well, actually, we, um, we have a city councilman who walks ten miles a day, six days a week, something like that. Yeah. And he’s he’s on the committee and he’s got.

Ian: [00:36:13] Does he do that for recreation, for just getting around for?

Glen: [00:36:16] Uh, all the above health. Yeah. Get around.

Andy: [00:36:19] And he he there’s a couple other 70 year olds that walk with him from time to time. And I think, I think it’s mostly for health, um, and.

Glen: [00:36:30] Company. Visiting and having a good time as he’s doing it, needless to say. And that’s what it’s about about getting out and being able to get around town safely and well.

Andy: [00:36:41] And he walks everywhere. I mean, he has a car, but when he’s walking everywhere like that, he knows exactly what to complain about, what’s working, what isn’t working. So he’s he’s really helpful. Yeah. On stuff like that.

Ian: [00:36:53] And uh, earlier today you were saying that it takes about 15 minutes to bike from one end of town to the other.

Glen: [00:37:00] I live on the northeast side of town, and to get to the south, I’ll use Challenger Elementary School, which is on the very southern edge of the community. So for me to get across the river and then across the river again back, uh, yeah, about 15 minutes or so I can get there and it’s probably about three miles. So corner to corner, no matter what direction you go in the community.

Ian: [00:37:23] I haven’t been up there yet. Um, so paint me a picture of Thief River Falls. Are we talking. Is it is it like a prairie community, or are we in the woodlands?

Glen: [00:37:30] It’s prairie, it’s prairie. We’re pretty flat topography for the most part. In the community, the city. Hills, if there are hills, if you get.

Andy: [00:37:39] There’s two.

Glen: [00:37:40] Yes, yes. And they aren’t big, but they’re steep, right? Yeah.

Andy: [00:37:45] Yeah. Maybe 150ft. Yeah. Okay.

Ian: [00:37:48] Yeah, yeah. I went to college out in Morris and I was on the cross country team. And so when we wanted to do our hill workouts, you know, it was like, okay, we have to run out of town to a very specific location and that’s…

Glen: [00:37:57] Yeah, yeah.

Glen: [00:37:59] Yeah, we’d drive through that area. So my wife’s from, uh, Appleton, Minnesota.

Ian: [00:38:02] Okay. Yeah.

Glen: [00:38:03] More hills there at Morris. But we do have which is kind of neat out in the country when you get on some of the gravel, it’s, uh, which I like to ride a fair amount. It’s pretty easy to get out is get out and head northwest and west of the city. It’s we get into what we call the beach ridges, kind of remnants of the old glacial lake Agassiz. Okay. So you’ve got as the lake would recede, those waves would wash up and create these ridges, you know, and as it kept receding or create these. So you got these little hills up and down as, as the lake would recede. So that was so it’s fun to ride in that some of that country because it not steep hills, but makes a little more roll – and not necessarily rolling, but a little more hills. Breaks up the scenery, and there’s a fair amount of wild lands and woodlands with it, so it makes it pretty scenic. Yeah. Depending upon your view of scenic, you say, well, it’s not like southeast Minnesota or, well, northeast.

Andy: [00:38:58] Most of what you’re going to see. The only other people you see are farmers on their tractors. And when they notice you on a bicycle, they’re really surprised, like, “where did he come from?” It’s like, yeah, you know, you can see pretty much nine miles in any direction. Yeah, yeah. And so you shouldn’t be surprised. But they don’t they don’t think of bicycles. Right.

Ian: [00:39:21] Occasionally out in. Yeah, very like farm rural areas. I’ll like pass somebody who’s out on a jog and I’m like, okay, the only kind of person who’s going to be out on a jog is like former Marines, you know? And he, like, pathologically has to get out every day for his run.

Andy: [00:39:39] There you go. There you go.

Ian: [00:39:42] What are the priorities for the biking community in Thief River Falls? Like is it do you have any particular roads that are barriers to getting around, or does it feel pretty calm?

Andy: [00:39:53] We’re working on making all the streets more bike friendly, and we do have designated bike lanes on some of the streets, but there are also designated parking lanes too. Okay, so that are.

Ian: [00:40:07] They like painted bike lanes? Yes. Okay.

Glen: [00:40:09] Yes, yes.

Andy: [00:40:10] We’re working on that. Yeah. We got a bike friendly bronze status a couple years ago, and that brought a lot of awareness to people, particularly the city council and the county commissioners. And so it’s like, oh, you know, people know us now and they know us for more than Arctic Cat or DigiKey. That’s been a, that’s been a big plus.

Glen: [00:40:35] That’s. Yeah. I think we’re recognized as a strong advocate advocacy group that gets things done and can and will work with other partners to make things happen. We’ve had some nice our bike to school events are nice for the, especially the elementary and middle school students. We have fun with those each spring and fall and do some community rides. Usually do some pub crawls actually in the summer that.

Andy: [00:41:03] Well, very well attended.

Glen: [00:41:04] At times. Depending upon the weather, needless to say. But yeah, uh, and then just part of it just working to get things more connected and add more trails in the city. Yeah, we provide and support them as they lobby or look at projects or funding to try to support them in those efforts things and then provide input on some of their ideas or suggestions. One of the things that’s exciting for us coming up, and I mean, you think long term it’s a big deal. They just starting to do some planning on what they call the highway 59 business corridor. As you come in, highway 59 from the south is, uh, it’s probably what about a two mile, two mile, a mile.

Andy: [00:41:48] Mile and a half is what they’re looking.

Glen: [00:41:50] But it’s, uh, in that stretch, you’re looking at planning that. And this initial part was pulling together and stakeholders group and we, our group was invited to participate or sit on that. So it’s a mix of businesses, other groups or folks that are planning that type of thing. But to me that’s pretty exciting. Get the opportunity. And actually tonight they have an open house to the public to give a come and give input on things they’d like to see. And as an example, in that stretch that Andy talked about, that short distance, 31 different access points on and off highway 59. So it’s a real zoo. And plus it’s 40 miles an hour speed limit. So picture the chaos at times.

Andy: [00:42:37] 60, 40, 30 miles in that mile and a half.

Ian: [00:42:41] Because this is the type of highway that like as it comes into town, it becomes like the Main street kind of thing. Right. Okay. Yeah yeah yeah yeah. So we’re not there’s no cloverleaf interchanges or nonsense. No. Okay.

Glen: [00:42:51] Yeah. Nothing.

Andy: [00:42:52] No. There’s a sign that says 40 miles an hour ahead. Mhm. Yeah. Yeah yeah. And that’s it.

Glen: [00:43:01] Can be pretty chaotic. Even some of the business owners talked about is they get done with work or whatever, trying to get out on the highway to go home. It’s like taking their life in their hands because visibility is poor. Yeah. And then you got all these different access points. So you don’t know where the vehicles are coming from, what they’re doing. So it’s a great opportunity to give for everybody to get some good input, to make it safe for all the users. Yeah. Folks in vehicle or motor vehicles because they’re high incidence of accidents out there. Right. And for access for people on foot or on bikes, it is really sketchy to get around sketchy. You really have to yeah. Be confident in your biking levels. And I know part of the residential area behind all this in one corner. I mean their access to get around and connect to the rest of the city. Yeah. Unless they’re in a vehicle, it’s about impossible. Yeah, it’s terrible for them, especially if you have young kids. You want to get them somewhere by bike or on foot.

Andy: [00:44:01] And it’s the middle school is right there too. So you’ve got all these playgrounds.

Ian: [00:44:05] I was going to ask, where are the schools? Are they like in town or are they like-

Andy: [00:44:08] Well, the elementary school is the at the south edge of town. Okay. The middle school is pretty much right in the middle of town. Okay. And the high school.

Glen: [00:44:17] Is we’re talking the highway 51. It’s right in the corner there. And then. As Andy said. On that street where that goes just to the north of Franklin Middle School, that street goes you go further west, about another mile and a half.

Andy: [00:44:31] Maybe two.

Glen: [00:44:32] And it’s the high school. So they’re both kind of on the same street. And pretty much one of the things that’s exciting the city is pursuing, uh, a trail. They actually connect from the edge downtown out to Franklin Middle School, which would connect pretty close to that highway 51 corridor. So some nice things happening there that make it easier for kids and families to get around. And for students, middle school students to get to school.

Andy: [00:44:59] And the city council is more on um, “these these trails all need to connect.” It’s like, yes, I’m I’m glad you said that.

Ian: [00:45:09] Yeah, but don’t let that stop us from starting construction on one of them.

Glen: [00:45:13] Yeah, right.

Andy: [00:45:14] Well, and that’s their, uh.

Ian: [00:45:16] Put together a master plan. They have a goal and then pursue it. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Andy: [00:45:21] We’re working on it.

Ian: [00:45:21] And I like what you were talking about with the the highway being a big barrier for people to be able to cross it and get around and everything on, on foot and on bike, um, like balancing, you know, knowing that, but also knowing that like when, when a highway gets turned into a limited access roadway, you know, and, and you have like a bypass and it no longer comes into the center of town, like that is the kind of thing that kills, you know, the small businesses in a downtown and, you know, you end up with like just some strip malls on the edge of town.

Glen: [00:46:01] Yeah, on the other side of the Thief River falls, we do have a bypass.

Ian: [00:46:05] Yeah, yeah.

Glen: [00:46:05] It comes around. And partly it was developed just so semis and trucks could get through. And part of the once bigger street as they loop back around then connects. Just trying to think is that just just outside of trying to think of my geography 59. Yeah. But it connects back. Yeah. And loops around. So it but the Greenwood Street which connects with highway 59 is pretty busy. And that’s just on the kind of on the edge of part of the business area. But it gets some nice opportunities there. We have painted bike lanes there, kind of like Andy said, they aren’t really hard core designated, but they’re there and makes it. It’s helped with a little traffic calming and before it was just I don’t know how wide that bugger is, but it’s huge and it’s just like. And then they painted this. The lanes/shoulders and it seemed to help traffic in and help people feel comfortable walking on those lanes even though there’s no barriers. But yeah, there’s still a plus that way.

Andy: [00:47:07] And it’s not that busy. That helps too.

Ian: [00:47:09] Okay.

Andy: [00:47:09] You know, it’s the yeah, the cars and trucks are going 60 miles an hour plus, but.

Glen: [00:47:16] Well it’s a 30 mile an hour speed limit so no.

Andy: [00:47:19] Oh no.

Glen: [00:47:20] On Greenwood. Oh I’m talking Greenwood.

Andy: [00:47:22] Yeah I was, I was talking about the bypass. Yeah. The bypass. Yeah. And so it’s not that busy. And so that’s, it’s not that big of a deal for folks.

Glen: [00:47:32] That are comfortable on bikes. Those that aren’t. Yeah. Still still an issue.

Ian: [00:47:38] Yeah yeah yeah yeah. The, uh. Yeah. No matter how like wide you make the shoulders on a highway, you know.

Andy: [00:47:45] It’s still a highway.

Ian: [00:47:45] There’s still a highway. Yeah. And like that, the psychological like if you’re not prepared for thinking about the fact that like, oh, a car could come up behind me at any time and they’re going 60 miles an hour, like, yeah, yeah, that can.

Glen: [00:47:59] Take get used to that zoom and that roar. And then kind of yeah, I always have try to have a mirror somewhere on my bike.

Andy: [00:48:07] That helps a lot, yes.

Glen: [00:48:08] See him coming and most, most are good up there for giving a decent distance. But every once in a while, it’s kind of nice to know what’s what they’re doing behind you. Yeah, yeah.

Ian: [00:48:18] So Thief River Falls. Not a terribly large town, but I can’t think of any other larger towns in the near vicinity. Would you categorize it as kind of a, like a regional hub? Yeah.

Andy: [00:48:29] Yes.

Glen: [00:48:30] Consider it that. Yeah, yeah.

Andy: [00:48:32] East Grand Forks is about the same size they’re 50 miles west. Yeah.

Glen: [00:48:37] East. You know, and East Grand Forks is, you know, right next to Grand Forks and there a bike friendly community mainly because all the stuff, probably more Grand Forks has done but their greenway and all that. But yeah, you know, they fit into the big metro.

Ian: [00:48:49] That’s, that’s right on the.

Glen: [00:48:50] Border between. Yeah.

Andy: [00:48:52] It’s right on the Red River of the North. Yeah.

Glen: [00:48:56] And we’re the farthest north, about 8800 people. Crookston’s another large community, four year college there. But yeah, we’re the kind of the regional hub. And I compare it to kind of where I grew up in southern Minnesota. Waseca grew up near there, and town of 10,000 people. I look at the amenities at Thief River Falls has compared to Waseca. And, um, I figure we put them to shame.

Ian: [00:49:22] Which is really nice for bikeability and walkability, because then you have access to just about everything that you need, not just on like a daily basis, but like, yeah, are you going to have a hospital? Are you going to have like regional arts, you know, stuff coming to town, etc.. Yeah, yeah.

Glen: [00:49:39] And one of the things I think would be kind of nice with the highway 59 corridor kind of looping back to that, but right on the south edge of the the corridor that planning on is the is the theater. The um, so to me, build a trail, a bike trail to the theaters there and then that would connect, you know, right near the Franklin Middle School, which, um, could bring people all the way from downtown pretty much all the way out there, which what a nice plus that would be. And then one of the other things we’ve talked about with the public Works director is so we have a trail they’re working on that would connect on the west side with the trail and then going south to two major employers. But then the next part of that street that we talked about that would connect up and trail by Franklin Middle School and past the high schools to develop a trail on the west side that would come up to at least the west side of downtown again. And then you can go all the way through town, connect, and.

Ian: [00:50:40] Then world’s your oyster.

Glen: [00:50:42] It would connect, you know, probably about half of the population within a quarter mile or less of a trail. Yeah.

Andy: [00:50:50] Well, we were hoping the getting kids access to the movie theater would be fun too. And hopefully help the movie theater out. Um.

Glen: [00:51:01] Yeah. Like one of our members said that her. We met earlier this week at our monthly meeting, and one of the members said, “wouldn’t that be a great thing? Just think about that. What a terrible thing. If kids could just ride their bike out and watch a movie on a Saturday afternoon,” and I go, “heck yeah, yeah.” And then they can go by a bunch of other easy places. If they wanted to stop and pick up some goodies. Yeah.

Ian: [00:51:24] So awesome.

Glen: [00:51:26] So neat area. And there you look. There’s some other communities that are doing some nice stuff too, bike wise. You know, we’re recognized Thief River as a bike friendly community, but Roseau, Warroad, Warren are doing some nice things up there too. And in that corner of the state and, you know, we all recognize it. But up there, I think folks look at that. And because we are so far, so far northwest that, you know, we try to our communities recognize that we need to be as competitive and provide, make it as friendly, walk, bike, whatever you make it as friendly, family friendly as possible to attract and keep people. And, you know, for employees, that type of thing, because there’s there’s some major employers up there that are always looking to hire people. If we can make it easier for them to move and stay. Hey. Life’s good. Yeah, yeah. All right.

Ian: [00:52:17] Guys, thanks for coming on the show. Yeah.

Andy: [00:52:19] Thank you.

Ian: [00:52:21] Thanks for joining us for this episode of The Streets.mn Podcast. The show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial Non-derivative license, so feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it and you’re not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Eric Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was hosted and edited by me, Ian R Buck and transcribed by Parker Seaman, aka Strongthany. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn Podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [[email protected]]. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using #StreetsMNPodcast. Until next time, take care.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"