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Tyler sets sights on walkability initiatives

TYLER – A new K-12 public school and plans for new hospital construction call for careful transportation planning, and a task force in Tyler aims to meet that need.

The Tyler Safely Walkable Community Task Force was formed this fall to make walkable neighborhoods part of upcoming land use changes and city sewer construction. The group helped to organize a county-wide workshop, and has had two additional task force meetings.

Task force member Ron Skjong said the walkable concept was presented at a 2019 multi-agency workshop that both he and fellow member Janet Bush attended. They both thought the idea was well-suited to plans taking shape in Tyler.

The local task force they helped to start has grown to 14 members. Input into city planning possibilities has come from a variety of community organizations and age groups.

“It’s already been an inter-generational effort,” Skjong said. “Teen-agers have helped by pointing out obstacles for pedestrians, things like outdated sidewalks and traffic factors. Most of it involves things we can change with cost effective ideas.”

Currently one of the main possibilities for grant funding is Minnesota’s Safe Route to School program. Other grant alternatives are being identified as part of a planning process that will include technical assistance from the Southwest Regional Development Commission.

Specific improvements will be suggested and put in place as construction projects and city sewer system upgrades take shape.

“We’re moving along with walkability to keep up with the overall construction,” said Tyler City Administrator Stephanie LaBrune. “It’s important that they’re part of each project stage, and that we make use of grant funding as often as possible.”

She said the new school zone, located along Lincoln County Road 8 at the west side of Tyler, offers a logical starting point for the establishment of modern walkable street layouts.

Once that area, which includes Tyler’s largest city park and its community pool, is fully improved for walkable conditions it should serve as a model for other neighborhoods.

Over the years, some neighborhoods have been established without sidewalks. Other long-established sidewalks have been allowed to exist with little or no long-term maintenance.

“There’s a need to make it a goal for the entire community,” LaBrune said. “There’s a lot that can be accomplished with signs, accessible crossings, and education about giving pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles the right-of-way. It should be seen as an investment.”

She said Minnesota Highway 14, Tyler’s largest highway, is scheduled for full reconstruction as part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s 10-year road plan.

The Highway 14 area includes the Danebod Village apartments and folk school, along with some of the city’s newest housing. Safe highway crossings are expected to tie in effectively with other projects in the school zone and near the downtown business district.

Marlys Christensen, another member of the task force, said she’s seen interest in walkability from a full range of age groups, from young families to senior citizens.

She added that discussions have already focused on a variety of ways to make streets pedestrian-friendly and safe. Besides crossing improvements, they include lighting, trash cans, benches and possibly volunteer help and community events.

“Part of our goal is to show how walking is enjoyable and healthy,” Christensen said. “It should be part of the plans for new facilities. Making them accessible will encourage everyone to use them.”

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