New signs and map kiosks make North Mankato more bikeable, city says

·5 min read

Aug. 13—Newly posted bicycling routes are a sign of the times.

As the newest effort to update bicycle-friendly infrastructure in North Mankato, last month the city installed new signs and kiosks with maps of the city's trail and biking routes system to improve the experience of local and visiting bicyclists.

The city's overall investment in car-alternative transport routes has been ongoing for years, but these most recent developments offer ease to those looking to ride specific trails or stop at local businesses or monuments.

North Mankato City Planner Matthew Lassonde said the city's kiosks lining bike-friendly trails, sidewalks and streets were in clear need of redesign and refreshment.

"The information we had, on an old cork board, was dated, and we wanted to update those kiosks," Lassonde said. "That's sort of where it all started."

But when the city partnered with bodies such as the city of Mankato, Greater Mankato Growth, Blue Earth and Nicollet counties, Greater Mankato Bike Walk Advocates and Mankato Area Mountain Bikers, the effort grew into rebranding the trail and route system as a whole.

Lassonde said while the large map pictured on the newly designed kiosks show the city's system, a small map of the Greater Mankato area's trails, bike-friendly streets and sidewalks is intentionally pictured as well. He thinks emphasizing the connection between North Mankato and Mankato presents a strategic opportunity to draw visitors to both sides of the river.

"We should be promoting one another," Lassonde said. "Just because our trails stop on our side doesn't mean when you get into Mankato you should see something totally different. The idea is that we're all part of a bigger system, and you can move across the system between the two different cities."

The new development and mapping of interconnecting loops on bike routes demonstrate a variety of ways to explore the city. The signs now include a QR code that visitors can scan on their phones to keep the map with them as they ride.

Color-coded and named based on elements along the loop or its general area, each of the six loops varies in difficulty and cuts through a different area.

On the four-mile Brickyard Trail Loop, for example, bikers pass original brickyard locations encircling Wheeler Park on bike-friendly streets, while the more advanced Gran Fondo spans 12 miles from the top of the bluff in upper North to the valley in lower North with both on- and off-road trails and routes.

Lassonde said he hopes the success of the sign update project will encourage investment in other ventures that make North Mankato more accessible for those who use alternative modes of transport, such as redoing the Highway 14 bridge to include pedestrian or bicycle access.

Lassonde and North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen, who has been involved in the development of the trail infrastructure, said the depiction of the loops will show residents the simplest ways to bike from one stop to the next and encourage them to spend more time in different parts of the city.

"It's just about trying to get people into the community," Dehen said. "Get them more familiar and giving them different opportunities to take advantage of all the different things that we have that make North Mankato such a great place to live and grow and raise a family."

Dehen said bike tourism has gained traction in the area in recent years. The Greater Mankato area was named a "bicycle friendly community" by the League of American Bicyclists in 2014, and Dehen intends for the city to live up to the distinction.

The new map marks places of interest such a veterans' memorials, the business district and public art, encouraging visitors to take advantage of the city's other offerings on their trip.

"Now, our bicycle-riding guests can get to our parks and all of our things that have trails," Dehen said. "Denoting how to get there for those outside visitors that might not be as familiar with our local streets is an important piece of the puzzle."

After working with North Mankato on the redesign and signage changes, Mankato seeks their own updates for their information kiosks along the Minnesota River Trail.

Paul Vogel, the city's director of community development, said the city will learn if they receive grant funding later this year to begin instituting the updates, which will look similar to those in North Mankato.

Lassonde and Dehen said bicycle culture thrived during the COVID-19 lockdowns, so improving bike infrastructure is more demanded than ever.

"I think everyone during the pandemic found out that we have trails and sidewalks and all those things that a lot of our local residents maybe ignored before," Dehen said. "When people were looking for things to do, they explored and found that we have all these wonderful parks, and we have all these trails and sidewalks connecting our parks."

And chair of the North Mankato Bicycle Commission Jon Andersen doesn't think the popularity will die down anytime soon. As a manager at Nicollet Bike and Ski, he sees young people as the future in this sense, some of the most eager to choose biking over driving to avoid high fuel prices or air pollution.

"A buy-in in the younger age groups has been incredible and much higher than it was 20 years ago," Andersen said. "We're seeing them embrace the bicycle not just as exercise, but to commute, to get groceries."