Hennepin County has become the first county in Minnesota to gain a silver rating from the League of American Bicyclists in its bike-friendly community rating system.

The county earned a silver rating, the third highest of four ratings, according to rankings released on Monday by the league. It's the only rated county in the state, and no other county nationally has a higher rating.

"What got us a silver rating is a general well-roundedness," said Kelley Yemen, the county's bicycle-pedestrian coordinator.

The league's rating system provides a criteria-based rating system for communities, businesses and colleges to compare their efforts to encourage biking. The community ratings are based on success in creating safe places to ride, encouraging people of a variety of abilities to ride, creating a strong cycling culture, adopting an equitable set of transportation laws, and having a strong planning effort.

Under a previous rating system, Hennepin County got an honorable mention as a bike-friendly community years ago. But then counties were made ineligible for the rating, according to Bob Byers, a county transportation planner. It's the first time the county has applied since then.

The rating reflects some of the municipal work done in Minneapolis, which retained its gold rating, and Richfield and Edina, which are rated bronze, said Dave Gepner, chair of Hennepin County's Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Unlike Minneapolis, Hennepin County has adopted a complete streets policy. Such policies are aimed at apportioning transportation rights of way among all potential users, from walkers to motorists. Yemen said the county has fostered workshops with cities to discuss bike projects, worked with them on filling bike system gaps, adopting local routes in the county bike system, and has participated in suburban active-living initiatives.

In Minnesota, all local government units recognized as bike friendly communities -- other than Minneapolis and Hennepin County -- are rated bronze. Bronze is the threshold level at which communities are recognized for their efforts. Fergus Falls became the latest of 15 communities to gain that rating on Monday.

Minneapolis fell short in its effort to upgrade its rating to platinum, the highest possible. Madison, Wis., was upgrade by the league to platinum. Minnesota retained its rating as the nation's second most bike-briendly state.

The University of Minnesota recently gained platinum status. It's one of only five colleges or universities in the nation with that rating. The only other rated Minnesota college is Gustavus Adolphus College at bronze.

The state also has 72 businesses that have earned a bike-friendly business rating from the league. But the standouts on that list at the platinum level are Quality Bicycle Products and Target Corp.  Five others are rated gold and 22 are rated silver.

(Photo: The Midtown Greenway was built on land owned by the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority.)

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