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Diverse crowd on hand in Willmar, Minn., as officials discuss statewide biking opportunities

Sherrie Grindy of Willmar, from left, Hanne Williams of Spicer and Jeff Vetsch of New London participate Monday in a public meeting in Willmar to discuss a statewide bicycle planning study. State officials are looking to increase accommodations for bicyclists. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Mayors, public works directors and people who just like riding their bikes met Monday with state officials to discuss what could be done to improve cycling in Minnesota.

About 30 people attended the Statewide Bicycle Planning Study public meeting at the Willmar Municipal Utilities building.

There state transportation department officials and consultants led the group through a series of activities to determine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats faced by efforts to improve cycling opportunities throughout the state.

"What changes can we begin to make today?" asked moderator Antonio Rossell of Community Design Group in Minneapolis.

"What can we do to make bicycling as maximally wonderful as possible?"

Comments and questions collected during the public sessions and those with MnDOT staff at the department's eight districts will be used to better implement planning for bicycling, Rosell said.

One issue already uncovered is the absence of a single registry of bikeways throughout the state.

"The last one was done in 2001 and a lot has changed since then,"Rosell said.

A single electronic map of trails and streets and road that accommodate cyclists throughout the state would allow people to plan rides using a computer or smartphone. It would allow them to find out where they can go for a ride with their children and where they can set up a ride for their cycling club, Rosell said.

Monday's event was the fifth public session, said Greta Alquist, a senior MnDOT transportation planner and manager of the bike study project.

"What we've seen consistently is a diverse crowd of people,"Alquist said. There are people at each session who bike for transportation and others who do it for exercise.

"There are people who like trails and there are people who like to be on streets," she said.

But, no matter their preferences, many people attending the sessions were worried about the state's financial situation and its impact on bicycle projects, Alquist said.

"It's best to improve the process for project development to have an idea how to prioritize," she said, adding that the meetings were intended to help do that.

"There's a big demand for more and better bike facilities spending," Alquist said.

But Minnesota has already proven its support for cycling, Alquist said, explaining that it is rated fourth among states for its accommodations for bicyclists.

That status was earned because of efforts by the state, counties, cities and concerned citizens, some of those attending pointed out.

But much of what has been done for cyclists is because of a factor Jeff Vetsch explained: "There's broad support for biking," Vetsch said. "It's not from the top down but from the bottom up."

Other public planning study meetings will be held today in Detroit Lakes, Wednesday in St. Cloud and Thursday in Duluth. There will be a webinar discussion from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 22 at More information on the study can be found at the same website.

Gary Miller

Born and attended public schools in Willmar, Minn. Served 20 years in U.S. Navy as a photojournalist. Worked at West Central Tribune since retiring from the Navy in 1994.

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