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Bikeable Community Workshops – Cultivating Quality Partnerships in Mahnomen

This month’s Bike Walk Leadership Network webinar featured advocates and professionals in Mahnomen, Minnesota. Our trivia question for this month was to correctly translate what Mahnomen means in the Ojibwe language (read on to find the answer!). Panelists discussed the beginnings of Bikeable Community Workshops, BikeMN’s partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health and Transportation, and how to cultivate a dedicated and effective biking and walking team for your community. We learned so much from our panelists, we encourage you to check out the highlights below and watch the full replay available on YouTube.

Tim, pictured with the BikeMN van

Tim Brackett – Minnesota GreenCorps Member with BikeMN

Tim joined BikeMN as a Minnesota GreenCorps member last year and has been coordinating and promoting this year’s Bikeable Community Workshop program.

Each workshop is 8 hours in length and is highly community specific. BikeMN’s GreenCorps members work with Minnesota State Agency staff, local community members, and City and County staff while putting together Bikeable Community Workshops, making it a highly collaborative venture! Together, the team works alongside a community coordinator and three to five community representatives to ensure the workshop has everything it needs to succeed. The community team supports coordinating the logistics, route design, and invitation list. The team usually consists of public health officials, engineers, planners, school administrators, elected officials, community leaders, and local advocates.

The workshop includes a mix of classroom presentations that cover bike basics, and the ‘6 E’s’, the name given to a useful framework that can be used to organize such a comprehensive set of initiatives. Each of the six Es corresponds with one of the areas where work and energy must be directed for the plan’s overall success: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Equity, Evaluation, and Engagement. Participants conduct an on-bike audit, as part of the workshop. Finally, the group gathers to create an action plan that has both six to twelve-month targets.

Why would a community seek a Bikeable Community Workshop? Tim shared that the workshop provides simple steps for a community to implement that make it safer to move by walking, biking, and rolling, support economic vitality in communities large and small, and play a key role in promoting a higher quality of life.

“I’ve been telling people it’s the most fun year I’ve had in my adult life, being able to go around Minnesota and host these workshops!”

A group of over five people stand with their bikes, facing and listening to the instructor. The Mahnomen water-tower is in the background, and there is a blue sky
A photo from Mahnomen’s BCW

Jacob Reuter Minnesota Department of Health – Active Transportation Coordinator

Jacob shared how Bikeable Community Workshops are a collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Health, and has been working with BikeMN since the program’s inception over ten years ago. Jacob shared that the program is a successful, long-running venture that educates and encourages local advocates to push an idea forward. State agencies participate because of the opportunity Bikeable Community Workshops provide to bring community stakeholders together, and establish strong relationships. These relationships, Jacob said, set the groundwork for future opportunities to advance bicycling.

After a Bikeable Community Workshop concludes, there are a number of ways a community can continue their bike and walk-friendly work.

  • MnDOT provides a number of active transportation grants that offer infrastructure and non-infrastructure opportunities to help advance different approaches to making a community more bike-friendly.
  • Minnesota also has a robust Safe Routes to School program, which works to make it easier for parents, students, and staff to walk and bike to school safely.
  • Finally, Jacob mentioned the regionally-led planning work that communities can work together on, like the Southwest Regional Development Commission bike plan in collaboration with the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP).

“MnDOT has seen grant applications reference things they’ve learned from their Bikeable Community Workshop, and it’s a very helpful way to reinforce a community-wide effort and support for bike-friendly initiatives.”

Jon LargeMahnomen County Engineer

Next, the Webinar participants heard from Jon Large, who participated and helped coordinate Mahnomen’s Bikeable Community Workshop held earlier this summer. Jon provided some brief background about Mahnomen, which is also the County Seat for Mahnomen County. Mahnomen’s name originates from the Ojibwe language where manoomin means wild rice, which is related by analogy to a minomin meaning ‘good berry.’” Wild rice is a highly nutritious grain that is gathered from lakes and waterways by canoe in late August and early September, during the wild rice moon, or manoominike giizis. Jon shared that Mahnomen is one of the few counties in the nation that lies completely within a Native American reservation, the White Earth community. With this in mind, Jon emphasized the importance of working together on a variety of different things, knowing that each decision impacts the White Earth community and the greater Mahnomen community. Both communities, Jon mentioned, share the reality of community members being primarily low-income, and facing disparate health outcomes. A Bikeable Community Workshop seemed like the perfect opportunity to promote active living and healthier outcomes for Mahnomen.

Mahnomen’s Bikeable Community Workshop was supported by a number of key people, including people from the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, the City of Mahnomen, the Department of Transportation, Mahnomen County, Public Health officials, the White Earth Nation Liaison, and members from both educational facilities in the County. These individuals were brought together with a single email, asking if there was interest in applying for a Bikeable Community Workshop. Together, the team assembled a quality application.

After being selected to host a Bikeable Community Workshop, Jon said the Bikeable Community Workshop Planning Guide was instrumental in getting everything prepared. Each person on the team took a piece of the preparation needed, from finding a route to arranging for food, the group jumped in to accomplish what needed to be done. With the core team in place, the group collaborated on the invitation list, eventually adding local advocates and community members for the Workshop. When selecting the route, Jon said a challenge was keeping it under 5 miles and including key areas for the group to analyze after the group ride. Eventually, Jon crafted a 4-mile route that highlighted areas for improvement in Mahnomen.

Next, Jon described the Bikeable Community Workshop sessions. Session one was held virtually, on one of the nicer spring days in Mahnomen, but was interesting, informational, and helped the group prepare quite a bit. The next session was in-person, including the bike audit and a discussion reviewing what it takes to make a community more bikeable. From both sessions, the group collaborated on an action plan with specific items to work toward.

“We had a great core group of people that participated in this process, which really made things go well! When creating the route, we wanted to show that with lower-income residents, a lot of our people who bike and walk aren’t doing it for recreational purposes or exercise, that is their main means of transportation to get to work and get to places around Mahnomen. We have a lot of that in the community, and trying to make our community more friendly for that is important to all of us.”

After the three speakers shared their insights, attendees had time for a Q&A with panelists, Tim, Jake, and Jon. In closing remarks, Leadership Network host and BikeMN staff Natalie Gille shared information about upcoming rides like the Tour of Saints, Saint Paul Classic, and Mankato River Ramble, as well as information about BikeMN’s calendar featuring rides throughout Minnesota.

We hope you enjoyed this brief recap of the May Bike Walk Leadership Network Webinar. If you missed it, don’t worry! You can watch the full webinar on BikeMN’s YouTube channel here. The Bike Walk Leadership Network meets every third Wednesday around the lunch hour (11:30 am) via Zoom with the purpose of connecting local leaders to share stories and ideas on how they are lifting the walking and biking culture in their communities. 

If you haven’t already signed up for the group, we want you to come along for the ride! Learn more about the Bike Walk Leadership Network and sign up for the group here.

Join us for August’s webinar on August 17th.