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Pushing for more pedals: Local cycling group meets to discuss amping up bike-friendly status for Bemidji

A cyclist comes around a corner on a bike path in Bemidji. Last summer, Bemidji received a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community ranking by the League of American Bicyclists, and a local group met Tuesday to discuss ways to improve on that ranking. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER

BEMIDJI — A local group wants Bemidji to put the pedal to the metal.

A bike pedal.

Last summer, Bemidji received a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community ranking by the League of American Bicyclists.

Tuesday, the local Bike Bemidji advocacy group met to discuss ways to take the ranking to the next level. Also attending the session were representatives from the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, or BikeMN, which is based in St. Paul, along with several other local organizations.

The group discussed the league’s review of the city, along with its recommendations.

Bemidji already has a strong biking community, and the city and organizations value cycling as a way to enhance people’s lives, several people commented. Newer bike trails, favorable bike parking options, well-lit paths and other amenities allow Bemidji to have favorable biking climate.

Still, there’s always room for improvement.

"These are all things we can work with," said Natalie Gille, northern Minnesota Bicycle Friendly Community program manager for BikeMN.

The league’s review and recommendations all follow the letter E — engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation — and the group discussed each in detail.

One of Tuesday’s most-talked about ideas under the engineering heading, which includes bike-friendly infrastructure, was implementing a bike-share program. Many U.S. cities, large and small, have started bike-share programs over the past decade. While there are many ways to set up the system, most bike shares work this way: There’s an inventory of bikes either at a central location or spread around town. People can then "check out" the bikes much like they would a book at a library, dropping off the bike when done using it at the central location or at a designated spot around town.

Another hot topic was education and encouragement. Working closely with the city, businesses, schools and Bemidji State University, among others, many in the discussion group said there are ways to encourage more bicycle-friendly programs and policies. To that end, because there are so many entities involved, the group also discussed the league’s recommendation the city appoint a current staff member as Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, or create that position. This person would then be the point person for all things related to cycling and pedestrian traffic in the city.

Community event

The group also spent time talking about creating a community-wide, family friendly biking event for Bemidji. A destination ride that would bring in cyclists from far and wide. Dorian Grilley, executive director for BikeMN, said whatever type of event is created, it needs to appeal not just to those outside of Bemidji, but something that local residents will want to support.

"I think you have such great resource" in Lake Bemidji and its bike trails, Grilley said, that the event could play off that theme. While organizing a large cycling event is doable for 2014, Grilley told the group they should aim for a moderate-sized event, but plan for more riders if it grows.

To learn more:

If you would like more information on Bike Bemidji, call Natalie Gille at (218) 239-0076 or email at

Matt Cory

Matt Cory is the Editor of the Pioneer. Cory grew up in East Grand Forks and is a graduate of the University of North Dakota. He worked as a reporter, copy editor and editor at the Grand Forks Herald from 1993 to 2013, when he joined the Pioneer as Editor.

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