By Jonah Freed, Sierra Club Green Transportation Intern
The sun shone brightly and the temperature was just right on Saturday, September 19, 2015 — a spectacular day for the 20th Anniversary of the Sierra Club Bike Tour. The weather was just one thing going for riders age three on up, during a leisurely and scenic 20-mile ride. At rest stops we heard from great guest speakers and learned about exciting transportation and development projects in St. Paul.
Follow the 20th Annual Sierra Club Bike Tour route here.
The event got underway at Urban Academy Charter School, where everyone met for Peace Coffee, organic fruit and cookies, compliments of the Bicycle Alliance of MN and the St. Paul Classic. Mechanics Jacob and Joe, respectively of Cycles for Change and Black Ship Cycles, helped out by doing quick tune ups on bikes that needed tweaks before the big ride. At 10:00am, after nearly 100 riders checked-in, Sierra Club North Star Chapter Executive Committee member Luther Dale kicked off the event, followed by Land Use and Transportation (LUT) Chair Andy Coldwell.
Then we heard from leading transportation planners and advocates, including St. Paul Public Works Transportation Planner Luke Hanson and Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition Co-chair Mike Sonn. They discussed the city’s newly adopted Bicycle Plan, much of which the Tour route highlighted. Former LUT Chair and Highland Park Planning Commissioner Frank Jossi then discussed the future of the Ford Plant redevelopment site. Saint Paul Planning Commissioner and U of MN Geographer Bill Lindeke was also on hand to discuss land use and transportation issues in the capital city and the metro area.
After riding the entire length of the Jefferson Ave Bikeway, we took our first break at the historic Schmidt Brewery to quench our thirst with 35,000 year old water from the brewery’s 1,000 foot well.
We heard from Phil Gagne, who was brewmaster from 1979 until the brewery’s closure in 2002. He talked about how in the 1980s and early 1990s, about 500 employees brewed 2.1 million barrels of beer each year. Today, the beautifully redeveloped Schmidt Artist Lofts are home to 200 live-work artists. Dave Haider spoke about Urban Organics, a local St. Paul aquaponic farm he co-founded, dedicated to improving the community by inspiring a local and healthful approach to nutrition. And Adam Yust, lifelong resident and board member of West 7th/Fort Road Federation told the story of how the neighborhood mobilized to transform an aging, closed-down industrial site into the thriving artist community that it is today.
The tour group continued on towards Irvine Park, an historic district just west of downtown St. Paul. The neighborhood features many homes on the U.S National Register of Historic Places. We passed by beautiful old buildings, most notably, the Alexander Ramsey House, which was once home to the first governor of Minnesota.
The Mississippi River took us to another historic landmark, the grand Union Depot, where we ate tasty Golden’s Deli sandwiches in front of the new METRO Green Line train. It was the perfect setting to hear from Sierra Club Conservation Chair Mathews Hollinshead, and Dave Van Hattum of long-time ally organization Transit for Livable Communities, about the Transportation Forward campaign and the need for more transit, bicycle and pedestrian funding. Organizers thanked Deb Alper, who helped launch the very first Sierra Club “Tour de Sprawl” back in 1996.
Well fed and rehydrated, we headed up Minnesota Street, biked past the majestic Minnesota State Capitol and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, and then sampled other bikeways (Charles, Griggs and Minnehaha) eastbound through Hamline-Midway.
Our last rest stop was at Union Park’s Ice Cream, Peanut Butter and Jam event. There, Seniz Yargici Lennes showed us a Twin Cities Adventure Play pop-up playground. Their mission is to bring “nature-based, self-led play into the lives of every child.” An excellent way to combat nature deficit disorder! Before we headed off for the last few miles of the ride, Councilmember (and bike champion!) Russ Stark thanked bicyclists for their advocacy and discussed implementation of the St. Paul Bike Plan.
All in all, it was an amazing, successful and positive day – full of beautiful sites, education, healthy, active transportation, and wonderful people. Like the back of our t-shirts said: Go Green: Bike Walk Bus Train. Watch our video from the 2014 Tour, and be sure to join us next year – who knows where we’ll be?!