This published editorial can be found in the Stillwater Gazette Guest Columnists Section
Curbside pickup, checkout splatter screens, and … bikes. The cultural fallout of the pandemic is underway and one of the most surprising trends is the elevation of the lowly bicycle as a preferred form of transportation.
Almost nobody saw it coming. Is this a curse or a blessing for Stillwater?
Bikes have been fun for recreation and racing, but now, people are using them more for transportation because of their social distancing advantages — “one person, one bike.” Bike use is surging in cities where fewer buses and trains are running and claustrophobic taxis sit idle. Here in the Twin Cities, meanwhile, bike dealerships say they are doing a booming business and can’t keep bikes in stock. Those of us trying to get out and stretch our legs feel like it’s always rush hour on Brown’s Creek Trail with hundreds of people flying by on wheels, especially on sunny weekends.
Experts are saying this bike mania is not likely to be a statistical blip. With 0.8% of commuters on bikes now, those stats have nowhere to go but up when businesses reopen. Here in Stillwater, the Lift Bridge portion of the new St. Croix Loop Trail is expected to open in next month in June, completing the circle. Even a “soft opening” without fanfare is expected to cause bicyclists to descend on the city by the thousands.
How will Stillwater manage all these bikes? Where will visitors park their cars if they are driving in, where will they park their bikes if they want to stop to see the city? How do we lure the bicyclists into Downtown to spend money? How will they manage on our roads, where is our signage for bicyclists? Where are the bike lanes and bike barriers? Most of the city’s roads sure aren’t built or adapted for bikes. Beyond the Loop Trail, existing bike and multi-use trails in the area aren’t connected. What’s worse, biking is not on the city’s agenda.
Yet, we built it (the Loop Trail). The bikes will come.
Sustainable Stillwater MN wants ideas on how to handle the crush of bicyclists expected in town. Will you help us? We’ll compile your suggestions and present them to the city. The time is NOW. Let’s make sure the bicycles are a blessing, not a curse.