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State’s first bicycle playground provides ‘concrete example’

June 6, 2018 GMT

The Minnesota Department of Health wants Rochester children to play in traffic.

Work began Monday on a simulated streetscape at Silver Lake Park. It will be the state’s first bicycle playground. Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm on Monday helped kick off work on the playground.

The project is designed to let kids navigate a small-scale city streetscape and practice safe riding before sharing a real road with real drivers, said Julie Hatch, community health specialist at Olmsted Public Health.

As the city continues to invest in road designs that accommodate bikes, more education on how to share the road will be needed, Hatch and Rochester city officials at the event Monday said.

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“Anything we can do to get people more comfortable using bikes will help in the future,” said Nick Campion, Ward 3 city council member.

The playground is not just for the kids who might pedal their way around it, Hatch added. Parents who bring their children to the playground will also gain more awareness on how to share the road.

“We really want them to be here and be engaged and learning with the kids,” Hatch said.

As much as good street designs, engaging parents and teaching kids will help create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists, Malcolm said.

“You can encourage a walking and biking lifestyle but if you don’t have the environment that accommodates that, you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for,” Malcolm said.

The statewide health improvement partnership funded the project. Studies show biking reduces obesity and increases cardiovascular health. Creating awareness for drivers and cyclists also enhances safety and is an important part of the health and wellness benefits of the project, Malcolm said.

“It’s a concrete example — excuse the pun,” she said. “We adults can learn some quite valuable lessons here.”

The streetscape, designed by artist Greg Wimmer, will be painted by city and county staff and volunteers over the next few days as weather permits.

Following official remarks Monday, volunteers, children and city and county staff began painting in the chalked outlines of the simulated streetscape with road paint. The paint should last for a few years before needing touch ups, Hatch said.

Events and programs will be held at the playground through the summer including safety classes held by the Rochester Police Department’s Cops and Kids program. Rochester’s Parks and Recreation Department will maintain the playground.