Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It's All About Walking & Biking in Blue Earth!

In 2011, a small group of community members came together to start discussing the concept of active living. That small group has evolved over the years into the Blue Earth Area Active Living Coalition. Throughout the years, the group has concentrated efforts to ensure Blue Earth is more walkable and bikeable. Partnerships with the City of Blue Earth, Blue Earth Area Schools, Chamber of Commerce and County Engineers, has resulted in some exciting developments. One of the groups most recent accomplishments includes working with MnDOT, the City of Blue Earth and Faribault County in planning that resulted in the complete reconstruction of Blue Earth Main Street. The Active Living Coalition worked with the planners to incorporate active living principles which cater to walking and biking. Upon opening this fall, the new main street area included curb bump outs with cross walks brightly painted and constructed with colored concrete and new, brighter lighting to increase safety when crossing. Additionally, the city made a commitment to repainting crosswalks throughout the town which has helped create safer walking conditions. The city has also utilized planning to improve walking and riding conditions in high pedestrian traffic areas, by installing new signage, striping cross walks and in-creasing enforcement for speeding. By focusing on improving the infrastructure the Blue Earth Area Active Living Coalition has helped make walking and biking the easier choice for the residents of Blue Earth which in turn has improved the overall health of the community.

Beautiful new infrastructure in downtown Blue Earth! Curb bump-outs and highly visible cross walks! 

The coalition has also been very focused on improving biking and walking to school. In SHIP 3, the coalition received a Safe Routes to School Planning Grant. With the help of Region 9 Development Commission, the planning grant allowed the development of a Safe Routes to School Plan which has helped provide direction to the group as they moved forward. The coalition has used the planning document as an action plan and worked to implement strategies. This past Fall, an active coalition member, a recent retired teacher, and avid cyclist completed the Minnesota League of Bicyclist In-structor training. Having someone with this training will not only benefit Blue Earth, but all of Southern Minnesota. A Safe Route to School sub-committee also formed within the coalition and their first goal was to develop an active Safe Routes to School walking plan. Working with a local engineering firm, the group developed a Walking School Bus map with four routes. The team organized a volunteer pool and began promoting the new walking/biking school bus prior to the first day of school. The volunteers will meet at set locations and walk along a designated route and pick up stu-dents along the way to make walking and biking to school safer. The school was also involved with preparations, which included painting huge ladder crossings in all crosswalks around the elementary school, providing training to 5th grade students to function as crossing guards, training the physical education teachers in the Walk!Bike!Fun! Curriculum and promoting National Walk to School Day in October.


SRTS Day Volunteers!

Not only have there been physical improvements in the community as result of planning and policy/practice changes, the community seems to have embraced the changes for the better. According to Dave Kittelson, League of MN Bicyclist Instructor and Blue Earth Community Member, "I now see more people paying attention, car stop-ping for kids in the crosswalks and an overall greater awareness for walkers and bikers in our community."


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