Within walking distance of Ipava Avenue in Lakeville, there are schools, parks and even a gym.

This summer, to encourage more people to hoof it around town, the city will install signs to guide walkers and bikers along loops of varying distances that pass popular destinations.

"People tend to travel the same routes all the time because they're familiar with them," said Steve Michaud, the city's parks and recreation director. "It's just more awareness of available facilities for folks who live here and visitors who might come and use our system."

The signs, which will be installed with the help of an $11,400 grant from Dakota County, are among the projects planned through the ongoing "Active Living" partnership between the county and cities.

With healthy habits in mind, the county has divvied up some of its State Health Improvement Plan money to help cities come up with plans to encourage suburb-dwellers to get out of their cars.

Rosemount and Apple Valley are each in line to receive $25,000 from Dakota County to develop citywide bicycle and pedestrian plans. In addition to the money for the signs, Lakeville will also receive $4,000 to develop a master plan for a stretch of regional trail around Lake Marion.

"It all goes back to the obesity epidemic," said Mary Montagne, health promotions supervisor with Dakota County Public Health. "We're trying to find ways that people can be more physically active as part of their everyday efforts."

Planners and public health officials alike tout the benefits of trails and designated biking and walking routes. A trip to the store on foot or by bicycle provides exercise, removes a car from the road and reduces pollution.

Yet taking a walk is easier said than done in places designed for drivers.

"In the suburbs we have some challenges with large, busy streets that were built to move cars," Montagne said. "We're trying to find ways to improve them so it's safe and convenient for people to bike or walk."

The plans, which have to be completed by June, are just that. But having a formal document will position cities well to apply for grants to construct amenities for walkers and bikers, Montagne said.

In Rosemount, the plan will probably include emphasis on biking and walking downtown and in nearby neighborhoods, said planner Jason Lindahl.

"We see this as another tool to promote downtown redevelopment," he said, noting the opportunities for people to go to the library, restaurants and City Hall.

In Apple Valley, planners are paying attention to how biking and walking will fit in with the developing transitway on Cedar Avenue.

"When you have transit you have these other choices, both walking and biking," said Bruce Nordquist, the city's economic development director. "It's part of that evolution from a drivable suburb to a walkable city."

Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056