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Controversial bike rack prompts complaints

This is the bicycle rack outside of the Cabin Coffeehouse and Café during the summer. Pictured are, from left, 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. File Photo

Is it an icon of health or a traffic hazard?

The artistic bike rack located during the summer outside of the Cabin Coffeehouse and Café in downtown Bemidji has prompted complaints from area businesses.

Those complaints have spurred a DDA discussion to be held April 12. Designed by local artist Al Belleveau, the bike rack consists of two high-wheel bicycles, one blue and one yellow.

But, unlike traditional bike racks, this one sits outside of the Cabin in the street, taking up one parking spot.

"I've had only compliments from tourists and compliments from customers," said Noemi Aylesworth, owner of the Cabin "They just think it's being proactive for health."

But for others, its presence is a hindrance for parking. The Paul Bunyan Senior Activity Center, LSS Nutrition and RSVP have signed a letter opposing the position of the bike rack.

"It's very nice, very cute," said Dawn Rivera, the kitchen manager for senior nutrition, "but it's been a real problem for our seniors."

Rivera said other area businesses also take issue with the bike rack's location.

The DDA approved the bike rack's installation in summer 2010. It is up May 15 to Oct. 15.

"This bike rack has become a very unique symbol of the biking community and Active Living in Bemidji," said Josh Pearson, who as a development specialist with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission works with Active Living.

Pearson replaced Matthew Dyrdahl, who now works in St. Paul.

"We're taking the same stance that Matthew Dyrdahl took before - we support this unique bike rack," Pearson said.

Ken Cobb, the president of the DDA, said the DDA itself has supported the bike rack in the past and he does not foresee that changing. But the DDA wants to hold a meeting to discuss the complaints with its size and location.

Meanwhile, Aylesworth has solicited letters of support to be emailed to both Cobb and herself.

"I would have a hard time being convinced to ask her to remove it, personally, based on all of the emails I've gotten," Cobb said.

Cobb stressed that DDA supports cycling and, specifically, bike racks. Earlier this year, the organization adopted a goal of adding one bike rack per year downtown. The first is set to be installed near the Headwaters Science Center in honor of Jim and Laddie Elwell.

Rivera and Diane Engel, executive director of the senior center, said the bike rack issue comes down to parking availability, particularly for seniors.

"Having it out in the parking area creates a parking issue, a safety issue for our seniors," Engel said.

About 35-40 seniors come to the senior center daily during the lunch hour for meals and socializing, Engel said.

There is one handicapped parking spot on the block, they noted.

With some seniors needing walkers, canes and wheelchairs to get around, parking is crucial, they said.

"It's a strain for them," Rivera said.

The senior community also is frustrated because its repeated requests for a loading zone parking spot have been denied. This spot would allow for the safe dropping off and picking up of seniors immediately outside of the senior center.

"Now they're out in the middle of the street, which is dangerous," Rivera said.

They suggest that the bike rack be installed either on the sidewalk or in the rear of the Cabin.

"(The Cabin) has a really nice patio in the back, they have lunch tables out there," Rivera said. "I would think anyone riding a bike would probably like to sit outside and eat."

Aylesworth said Bemidji has a vibrant cycling community. And cycling, she noted, is permitted on the street.

"It's just one spot but it represents so much more," she said.

She noted, too, that motorcycles have been parking on either side of the high-wheel bike. Combined with the 5-6 bicycles, she figures up to eight people can park in that one spot now.

"I think there's a bigger picture that they're missing," she said of those who have complained. "It's been very beneficial for Third Street."