Nearly a decade ago, the Heart of New Ulm invited representatives from the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute to tour New Ulm and develop key recommendations for helping make our community safer and friendlier for walking and bicycling.
Since that time, New Ulm’s Coalition for Active Safe and Healthy Streets (CASHS) and the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Action Team (both affiliated with the Heart of New Ulm) have helped move many of those recommendations forward and complete them. Throughout New Ulm, there have been several street, crosswalk and trail improvements. Since 2017, the League of American Bicyclists has designated New Ulm as a Bicycle Friendly Community due to its commitment to providing safe accommodations for bicycling and encouraging people to bicycle for transportation and recreation. Earlier this fall, a new Traffic Safety Playground was installed to provide children and families a fun space to practice safe walking, bicycling and scooting skills away from traffic.
However, there are still many more needs and opportunities to help improve safety and increase the number of people walking and bicycling in New Ulm. That’s why the Heart of New Ulm is excited to have received a planning assistance award earlier this fall from MnDOT’s Active Transportation Program. The goal is to reestablish a long-term vision and plan for active transportation in New Ulm by finding new solutions, policies, and funding sources to address various barriers.
The Active Transportation Program Planning Assistance award has connected New Ulm with a consultant team that is working to analyze existing conditions, engage the community, identify ways to improve infrastructure and encourage the use of active transportation. The consultants are working with a group of local residents and leaders, including Joe Stadheim, City of New Ulm engineer; Bob Beck, New Ulm Bicycle Group member; Eric Warmka, 2nd ward city councilor; Melissa Hoffman, Brown County Public Health nurse; Dennis Frederickson; Wayne Stevens, Brown County Highway Department engineer; Jeff Bertrang, New Ulm Schools superintendent; and Todd Toulouse, New Ulm Middle School assistant principal.
The group is working to develop a community-wide active transportation plan focused on making walking, biking, and rolling safer and easier for people of all ages and abilities. All while keeping in mind health equity, which means increasing opportunities for everyone to live the healthiest life possible, no matter who we are, where we live, or how much money we make.
For example, New Ulm’s immigrant community is increasing and those who arrive without a car or who cannot get a license due to their immigration status may have limited transportation options. Although some public transportation exists in our community, it is not available to people who work overnight shifts. Elderly residents living on a fixed income could experience more freedom if short trips between various places can be prioritized to be safe and accessible by walking. The plan will also address under-resourced neighborhoods in New Ulm, as they tend to be further away from priority destinations and often lack safe walking and bicycling connections to these destinations.
Barriers to be addressed include 1) highways or other busy roads that are not easily crossed and divide the city into sections; 2) high-density vehicle traffic at peak hours near many priority destinations that discourage the use of active transportation; 3) destinations not being connected by an adequate walking or bicycling route; and 4) the sprawling development pattern that has occurred in New Ulm over the last several decades.
As part of the Active Transportation Planning process, an informational meeting will be held Nov. 1, 2022 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the New Ulm Country Club where people can participate in a mapping exercise and provide feedback on improvements they’d like to see in the area.