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Concerned cyclists look at options in Willmar area

Some 20 people were in attendance Monday during a public meeting to discuss with state officials what could be done to improve cycling in Minnesota. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — As the wind chill persisted in the below-zero range, area residents with variety of perspectives came together Monday to consider a warm-weather activity — bicycling.

There were parents concerned for their children’s safety, riders who like the area’s trails and wanted them fixed and extended and those who have seen how cyclists are accommodated elsewhere who wanted to share their experiences.

“We need to look at what trails we do have and where there are gaps,” said Jarrett Hubbard, an organizer of the meeting.

“There’s no good way to get to the west side of town,” Hubbard said, adding an example of challenges cyclists face in Willmar.

Twenty people attended a meeting hosted by Bicycle Willmar, a group formed by cyclists who want to bring a variety of efforts to improve area cycling together, said Steve Brisendine, who helped lead the discussion at the Willmar Education and Arts Center.

More could be accomplished if the various projects could be brought together, he said.

Brisendine, director of Willmar Community Education and Recreation, said there are a lot of good things happening, such as construction beginning last fall on a trail from Robbins Island to downtown Willmar.

Plans have also been developed to help cyclists ride more easily around the city, Brisendine said. Some improvements require steps as simple and inexpensive as applying some paint and putting some signs in the ground.

The group’s email invitation to Monday’s meeting included a link to an online survey about biking in Willmar that more than 350 people have completed so far.

The first question asked why people ride bicycles and allowed them to select more than one option. Most respondents: 81.7 percent, listed recreation as their reason for cycling and 73.8 percent selected exercise.

Another one of the survey’s questions was about priorities, Brad Bonk, adult recreation coordinator at community education and recreation, told the group.

Bonk said 90 percent selected paved trails as their top priority.

Several people at the meeting echoed that sentiment. They said vehicle traffic — especially on South First Street — was too heavy and an off-street alternative would make cycling in Willmar more inviting.

But others pointed to efforts elsewhere in the state, in other states and overseas that accommodate cyclists and motorists. At Cross Lake near Brainerd, some crossings are designated for bikers, who have the right of way at those points.

The setup at Cross Lake is simple, several people said. It uses traffic cones and is similar to the pedestrian crossing at Ridgewater College.

One woman in the group lived in the Netherlands for two years and said she didn’t have to own a car because everyone bikes.

Others pointed out that educating both drivers and riders has to be part of any effort to get more people on two wheels. Cyclists riding city streets after dark without any lights or even reflective clothing was an example mentioned to illustrate how bike riders need to take responsibility.

But communities do adjust to more people riding bicycles, Brisendine said. He used the example of the area around the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities where cyclists have become more common on streets in recent years.

“The more you see of it, the safer it becomes,” Brisendine said. “You know you’re looking for cyclists.”

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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