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A vision for Blue Earth’s downtown

By Staff | Jun 7, 2010

Dan Burden

Dan Burden has a vision for Blue Earth and last Tuesday he shared it with a variety of local citizens.

That vision includes a complete makeover for the downtown and a big increase in walking and biking for local residents.

Burden is the nation’s most recognized authority on walkability, bikeability and pedestrian and traffic flow plans.

On Tuesday he was in Blue Earth as part of the kick-off of the new Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) for Faribault, Martin and Watonwan counties.

Tuesday morning he observed student arrivals at Blue Earth Area Schools, looking for safety issues, as well as seeing how many students walk or bike to school.

Later in the morning he conducted a walking audit of Blue Earth streets and sidewalks with a group of officials and citizens.

At noon he spoke to the Blue Earth Kiwanis Club. Tuesday evening he was one of the main speakers at the SHIP kick-off dinner and program.

“Blue Earth has a great city layout,” Burden says. “But, there is a lot that needs to be upgraded.”

Burden laid out a plan for the city which includes making the downtown area more attractive.

“Since 1930, cities have been designed for traffic flow of automobiles,” Burden says. “We need to once again build our cities for people, and not for cars.”

That means better walking areas, bicycle lanes, trails and more trees and plants.

“Since Blue Earth’s Main Street is slated for repaving in 2013, that is a perfect time to make it people friendly,” he says.

His vision includes bump out curbs at intersections, recessed diagonal parking, colored pavement and concrete and lots and lots of plants and trees.

On Tuesday evening he showed a series of photographs from towns in the U.S. and Canada which have followed his advice.

He spoke about safe walking and biking routes to schools, completing the trail around the BEA High School, and adding more sidewalks.

There was one item Burden expressed shock over.

“I have never been in a city the size of Blue Earth where there are no crosswalks,” he says. Several officials who were on the walking audit with Burden explained how winter weather in Minnesota tends to “erase” crosswalks and other painted lines.

“You need to replace them right away,” he says, “especially at the schools. Paint is your friend, use it.”

Burden was impressed with the plan for re-doing Highway 169, including using three roundabouts.

“They are great, and will reduce accidents by 90 percent,” he says.

In fact, Burden suggested putting in mini-circles in four of the intersections in downtown Blue Earth.

On the walking audit, he took the group out into the street and had them form a circle to show what it would be like.

Later, during his Tuesday evening program, he showed pictures of cities which have done the circles.

Also on the program Tuesday night was Chris Chalmers, the Community Education director for Albert Lea.

Chalmers described how Albert Lea has developed a ‘Blue Zones’ program which promotes healthy living, much in the same way as the new SHIP program in Faribault County.

First promoted by adventurer Dan Buetner, Blue Zones are four areas in the world where people live to 90 or 100 or more, and stay healthy.

Buetner discovered seven similarities in Blue Zones, and Albert Lea is following many of those.

Chera Sevcik, director for SHIP in the three counties, also spoke.

She says their goal is to reduce tobacco use, obesity, and promote healthy lifestyles.

The ultimate goal is to reduce health care costs, she adds.

Other SHIP programs in Faribault County include a Wells Community Garden, Voices of Wellness in Wells, School Nutrition Project at Blue Earth Area and two other schools, and a Health Care Referral Project.