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Categorized | IN OUR COMMUNITY

100 bicyclists tour the Midway, explore bikeways and green living

Posted on 07 October 2015 by Calvin

Article and photos by JILL BOOGREN

DSC_0476Onlookers watched, and a whole family applauded from the sidewalk as a parade of 100 bicyclists rolled along Charles Ave. on a Saturday in mid-September. The riders were part of the Sierra Club’s annual bike tour, which travels to different locations in the Metro area each year to highlight developments that support biking, walking and neighborhood livability.

There was much to herald at this year’s tour, the club’s 20th annual, which explored the Midway area and other parts of St. Paul. With its new bike plan adopted earlier this year, the City of St. Paul plans to more than double the number of bikeways in the city over the next 20-30 years and create a downtown loop (now called the Capitol City Bikeway). The plan also includes completion of the Grand Round, which will connect neighborhoods north of I-94 to downtown and the river and allow riders to circle the city entirely off road.

DSC_0462It’s about creating a “network of safe and connected bicycle facilities,” said Luke Hanson, a St. Paul Public Works technician, at the start of the tour in Highland Park that morning. “Passing the bike plan allows us to be much more efficient in how we implement the facilities,” he said.

Photo left: Cyclists ride on Charles Ave., a clearly marked bike boulevard. They were part of Sierra Club’s 20th anual bike ride that toured 20 miles of St. Paul in September.

Sierra Club Executive Committee Member Luther Dale, who has ridden on several of their bike tours, said he’s noticed over the years the progression of biking as being largely for pleasure to being a primary mode of transportation. “Biking is certainly about recreation and fitness,” he said. “It’s also about transportation options as people increasingly use it for getting to work.”

DSC_0484Photo right: “Sharrows” on the pavement mark Griggs St. as a designated bikeway. Up the street is a roundabout that helps riders move slowly through the intersection.

In addition to using the bike lanes along Minnehaha Ave. and Prior Ave., riders got to try out the bike boulevards on Charles Ave., Griggs St., and, farther south, Jefferson Ave. The first of their kind in St. Paul, these roadways are indicated by “sharrows” and other signage and are designed to give bicycle travel priority. They have features like roundabouts, curb bump-outs, and medians that serve as bike-walk “refuges” to aid in crossing busy intersections. These proved to be absolute necessities on Charles Ave. at Lexington Pkwy., Dale and Marion streets, where during the tour there was a considerable wait at each of these island oases to cross the street.

Some people remarked that Charles Ave. contains stop signs at almost every block, and that they should be reoriented to favor cyclists traveling on Charles Ave. Hanson said this has come up, and while the city views Charles Ave. as largely complete they’re always reevaluating to see where improvements can be made. Any new work would be considered a separate project, however.

“I’m heartened to see how St. Paul is doing so many things on a policy level and at the neighborhood level,” said first-time tour rider Marijo Wunderlich, herself a ‘pretty regular’ biker. “I love how [biking is] becoming integrated, with the light rail and of course buses.” Bike racks are provided on the front of buses and inside the trains.

DSC_0495Photo left: Riders on the bike tour use the bike lane along Prior Ave.

At the tour’s lunch stop at Union Depot downtown, Dave Van Hattum, advocacy director for Transit for Livable Communities, pointed out that the METRO Green Line light rail transit is seeing 30,000 riders a day and spoke to the importance of dedicating state funding to meet all of the region’s transportation needs. “It’s important for cities to lead, to make bike investments, but we also think the state should do its share,” he said.

Green Living
The primary focus of the tour may have been about supporting bicyclists and transportation, but for the Sierra Club it’s all part of a much bigger picture. “It’s everything that’s said about livability, health, cutting down pollution, better use of resources—[biking] is a healthier way to get around. It’s healthier for the environment,” said Deb Alper, a longtime volunteer for the club and one of its original tour leaders. “In a time of climate change, that’s certainly part of the wider issue. It’s all part of the same story.”

To show a couple of examples, the 20-mile route went by the 135-acre former Ford plant site in Highland Park, where residents have called for building a bikeable, walkable, transit-accessible, energy-efficient, mixed-use “21st Century Community.”

Riders also stopped at the old Schmidt’s Brewery on 7th St., which will house a second Urban Organics commercial aquaponics facility–at 80,000 square feet it’s 10 times larger than their Hamm’s Brewery location on Minnehaha Ave. According to owner Dave Haider, they’ll produce 250,000 pounds of fresh salmon and 500,000 pounds of organic produce a year. This means they’re joining with artists’ lofts and a keg and case market in making use of this historic space and will be bringing locally-produced food to the market as well.

For Alper, these developments are important for city living and for preserving green space. “Making urban areas attractive for people to live in, means we destroy less land on the outskirts,” she said.

Perhaps as a reminder that building strong neighborhoods means thinking big AND small, the last stop on the tour was at Merriam Park’s Ice Cream, Peanut Butter, and Jam Festival. Here riders enjoyed Izzy’s ice cream and saw young creative minds at work at a pop-up adventure playground. “We create community backyards where kids create, take risks, and develop skills for life-long learning,” said Seniz Yargici Lennes, of Twin Cities Adventure Play. “Our goal is to build [permanent] play spaces so kids can ride their bikes to the playground, and the community knows where they’re going.”

And why not hail the littlest among us? Arguably one of the best signs of a healthy neighborhood is kids jumping onto their bikes to go and play.

Next Up
Work to implement the bike plan is already starting. This fall, Front Ave. from Lexington Pkwy. to Dale St. will be resurfaced with bike lanes striped in each direction. Then in 2016 look for work to begin on installing a two-way cycle track on Pelham Blvd. (from I-94 to Mississippi River Blvd.) and an off-road bike trail on Wheelock Pkwy. (from Rice to Edgerton streets).

More information and resources can be found at: Cycles for Change (712 University Ave.) www.cyclesforchange.org; www.smart-trips.org; www.saintpaulgrandround.org; and www.stpaul.gov/bikeplan.

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