by Louis Hoglund, Managing Editor

One thing has become obvious in the early stages of the planning process for downtown improvements: 

Bike lanes in the main commercial block of the downtown business district are going over like a flat tire.

A view of Battle Lake’s downtown business district–which underwent a renovation of its main street. The state right-of-way is wider in Battle Lake, which provided more footage for bike lanes and other features–compared with the Highway 59 width in Pelican Rapids.

Thankfully, the streetscape  planning process started now–and not three years from now.

The  planning and visioning exercised for downtown improvements are being held in anticipation of a total reconstruction of Highways 59 and 108 in 2024. 

Imagine if we were still debating this in 2023–as the road construction crews were mobilizing on 59 and 24; poised to tear apart Pelican’s main thoroughfares.

The community has the opportunity for a downtown facelift, with portions of the cost being covered by the   Minnesota Department of Transportation. New sidewalks and bike paths are also possible along the highways leading in and out of town.

Many were disappointed by the initial meeting in April, when early drawings depicted a narrow passage for vehicle traffic–especially trucks.

Fair enough.  

Visions for the downtown commercial block need to be reconsidered.  

Reasonable people can agree that the downtown right-of-way may not accommodate dedicated bike lanes, based on the high volume of truck traffic. 

What is unreasonable, however, is the negative attitude toward the entire process.  About 70 people attended the public input meeting April 25, and I believe only one positive comment was voiced. 

This graphic displays the option for downtown Pelican Rapids, with two bike lanes–which drew criticism because of the narrow driving lanes.

Lets not torpedo everything. 

This process isn’t simply a frivolous, starry-eyed exercise in “visioning.” Looking ahead is absolutely crucial. Once the highway reconstruction is completed in 2024, it will set the stage for a century.  

There’s no reason the downtown area can’t undergo streetscape, landscape and design renovations–while still providing sufficient considerations for pedestrians, shoppers, and vehicle traffic.  

There has been lots of negativity expressed over the past few weeks, which continued at the Pelican Rapids City Council meeting last week.

It shouldn’t be that way. 

There are some great plans, beyond downtown, that would extend and create  new pedestrian and bike paths in all directions along 108 and 59. 

Its important to note that this planning endeavour is grant -funded, at no direct cost to Pelican taxpayers.  Maybe we should try to make the best of it–rather than probe for the worst.

This planning process is also an opportune time to consider how Pelican Rapids will tie into the proposed resecretional trail to Maplewood State Park. Pelican stands to gain more than any community, as a trailhead and point of demarkation 

Another public meeting is set for May 23. In the meantime, the larger advisory committed will be meeting to review and revise some of the options.

Let your voice be heard.  

Offer written comments.  There are forms available at city hall.  

But try to view all of this as an opportunity–rather than a detriment.     

Hopefully, we can take another stab at this and arrive at a mutually acceptable vision.