Complete streets consider all users

Published 10:21 am Thursday, May 3, 2012

Column: Ellen Kehr, Guest Column

May is National Bike Month and never has biking in our community been more vibrant.

Ellen Kehr

In a 30-day span Albert Lea will host the Family Bike Rodeo, Bike to Work Day, the Land Between the Lakes Triathlon, the Kids Triathlon and “Albert Lea Open Streets: A Day of Play.” All these events including biking!

With the Front Street bike lanes as a permanent reminder of our commitment to complete streets and an active community lifestyle, Albert Leans continue to lead the way in nurturing community connectedness and building a healthy community environment for ourselves and our children.

What is the state of complete streets and bicycling in Minnesota and Albert Lea?

In September 2009, the Albert Lea City Council adopted a complete streets policy. On May 15, 2010, Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed that session’s omnibus transportation bill into law. It included language that creates a statewide complete streets policy.

The Albert Lea policy was passed unanimously, and the Minnesota bill had strong bipartisan support in both the Minnesota House and Senate and was supported by the wide variety of Minnesota organizations that make up the Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition. Both of these policies are truly a step in the right direction toward making Albert Lea and all Minnesota roads safer and more accessible to users of all ages and abilities, whether traveling by car, on foot or bike.

Why complete streets?

There are numerous benefits to complete streets and the value that they bring to both our individual lives and communities as a whole. They provide accessibility to seniors, children and people with disabilities. They have a proven record of promoting community connectedness and bringing vibrancy, efficiency and economic stimulus to the areas they serve. Building on economic value and quality of life, complete streets can lower transportation cost for families and enhance our environment.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is now engaged in providing local governments greater flexibility from current design requirements that can unnecessarily lead to roads that cost more, are less safe and do not serve the local needs. It has been a great community partner and resource in our continued efforts to bring the numerous benefits of complete streets to our residents. We can be proud to say that Albert Lea has been a leader in the area of both passing public policy and implementing the complete streets design.

One of the goals of complete streets for both Minnesota and Albert Lea is to make our roads more bicycle-friendly. In the state rankings for “Bicycle Friendly,” Minnesota currently ranks No. 4, a step up from No. 5, bested only by Washington, Wisconsin and Maine. We excel in evaluation and planning and have the most room for improvement with enforcement. In all other categories (legislation, policies, infrastructure, education and encouragement) we get a solid “B.”

In Albert Lea, we are leading the way in bicycle-friendly on a local level. Our Front Street bike lanes were designed to MnDOT standards and are one of the first constructed in a Greater Minnesota city of our size.

Next summer we will extend the Blazing Star Trail across Albert Lea Lake providing additional biking and walking opportunities for our residents and visitors. Hundreds of communities across Minnesota and Iowa are encouraged by our efforts, asking questions and pursuing projects of their own.

This May let’s all get out and enjoy Albert Lea. Biking, walking or driving, we have a beautiful community where generations connect, businesses thrive and nature is a gift for all to enjoy.


Ellen Kehr is a member of the Albert Lea City Council, representing Ward 3, and she is on the National Vitality Leadership Team.