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Active Living Bemidji: Downtown bike rack draws support

A bicycle rack set up outside The Cabin Coffeehouse and Café has drawn a positive response from the community. Pictured, from left, are Mur Gillman, who donated the funds for the rack in honor of her brother Bill; Noemi Aylesworth, the owner of The Cabin; and Al Belleveau, the artist who created the rack. Submitted Photo

In a matter of hours, Noemi Aylesworth had 35 letters in hand.

Aylesworth, the owner of The Cabin Coffeehouse and Café in downtown Bemidji, had installed a bicycle rack outside of the coffee shop about three weeks ago.

While she did so with support from the city of Bemidji and the Downtown Development Authority, she was told earlier this week that three complaints had been received by the DDA from downtown businesspeople.

This is not an ordinary bike rack. The rack consists of two high-wheel bicycles, one blue and one yellow. It takes up one on-street parking space.

"It's beautiful, kind of funky, creative," Aylesworth said. "It's not just a bike rack. It's a creative piece of art from an artist who is part of our community."

She was told Tuesday that the DDA on Wednesday would discuss the issue. Aylesworth sent e-mails and Facebook messages asking for support - within hours, she had 35 messages.

"That's something I don't know if it would have happened two years ago," said Matthew Dyrdahl, the project manager with Active Living Bemidji. "The work we're doing as a whole community has changed the way people see biking and walking."

Aylesworth said she still is receiving messages of support, and she is saving each one.

The DDA was completely in support of the bike rack, which will be removed by Oct. 15 and installed again after May 15, Aylesworth said.

Since it was not up for entire season this year, Aylesworth said the DDA plans to have next summer serve as a trial period.

"I'm happy," she said. "I'm thrilled to have it back next year."

The bike rack, which was created by local artist Al Belleveau, was put up at the end of August.

It was funded by a donation from Mur Gillman, who wanted to dedicate a bike rack as a memorial for her brother, Bill, a bicyclist who always rode to and parked at a coffee shop.

The idea was quickly - and enthusiastically - supported by Active Living, which aims to incorporate physical activity into residents' lives.

"We were very excited it," Dyrdahl said. "One of our key initiatives is to get bike racks set up at key locations throughout the community."

The artistic, colorful bike rack, combined with its location in the parking spot, prompted lots of comments and questions.

"It's new to Bemidji," Dyrdahl said. "It's not a new concept, but it's new to Bemidji."

Rochester, Minn., removed several lanes of parking in one parking lot to make room for bike racks, he noted.

"If it's in the street, it has importance," Aylesworth said, noting that vehicle traffic, too, has slowed down.

Dyrdahl added that bicyclists are encouraged to ride in the street - thus keeping them off sidewalks - so why would the city want to have cyclists go from the street to a sidewalk to park their bikes?

Just like drivers who drive downtown and shop, Dyrdahl explained, cyclists, too, want a place to park as a starting point.

"People bike in this community," he said.

Active Living now is planning to solicit community input toward naming the top 30 destinations in Bemidji for bicyclists. Each location would feature another artistic bike rack.

Dyrdahl, who also works as a development specialist with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, said cycling and walking opportunities are keys in economic development.

"We know young people want to live in a place where they have an opportunity to have fun, have entertainment," he said.

Having more choices for people adds to an area's quality of place, he said.

It also facilitates wellness.

"That's what we're all about," Dyrdahl said. "Creating a community where biking and walking are the safest, easiest choices."