Archive for August, 2010

Biking to the State Fair

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 31st , 2010.

It’s a little unnerving to stand on the Sustainability Stage in the Eco Experience building, dripping wet with sweat, to explain that I ran into a bike detour and the power is out so I can’t show the Power Point.  Some of it is my fault. I left too late and rode too hard through 68 percent humidity. No way to show up fresh for a talk under those conditions. I also should have anticipated that the bike lane on Como Ave would be closed during the Fair. Como is the busiest street anywhere near the Fairgrounds during the fair.

I didn’t anticipate the power outage. Apparently a truck ran into a power pole and took out the electricity to the fairgrounds.

We made it through, though. One gentle woman handed me a tissue to wipe my brow, a staffer brought over a water bottle and the folks in the audience adjusted to the lack of visual stimulation by asking lots of questions, providing personal insights and generally tolerating the unexpected circumstances.

The presentation was about the rail trails and back roads of Minnesota and Western Wisconsin and was based on Bicycle Vacation Guide. I enjoy giving this talk. When the power is on, I use the Power Point to introduce general information about the trails of Minnesota and Wisconsin, then open up the talk by asking the audience to suggest a trail or area of the state to talk about. I can then jump directly to that trail and talk about it. Even without the power, we were able to carry on the discussion.

I’ll be back at the Eco Experience Building on Labor Day for a 4:30 discussion. This time I’ll leave early so I can arrive and cool down before the presentation. I assume that we won’t have another power outage, so I’ll bring the Power Point again. Stop by to say Hi.

Oh yes,  despite the detour and the overheated intro, I still think riding to the fair is a blast, and the calories burned reduce the guilt about eating calorie packed Fair Food. If you want to bike to the State Fair, check out this map, created by Bikeverywhere.

The Eco Experience Building is on the north side of the Fairgrounds so the nearest bike parking is in Lot 2.  If you are coming from the west, however, I suggest going to Lot 3 and walking across the Fairgrounds. Lot 1, the busiest of the three, requires negotiating traffic or walking to access.

See you at the fair on Labor Day.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News, Misc

Rosemount- Some interesting riding in a far flung suburb

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 30th , 2010.

Rosemount is at the outskirts of the developed metro area. It’s a developing city with some amenities for bicyclists and a nearby oasis at Umore Park, the agricultural and research grounds of the University of Minnesota. Plans for Umore include a sustainable community of 20,000 to 30,000 people, but for now it’s a quiet throwback with unusual structures from its short life as the Gopher Ordnance Works and buildings dating from post World War II.

Paved roads at Umore are the smaller part of the network of routes through the grounds. Those are the routes highlighted for bicycling in the Twin Cities Bike Map, but a rider with wide road tires or a mountain bike has many more options for exploring this flat expanse of agricultural land.

Rosemount has put some effort into building a network of bike trails and roads with wide shoulders. The primary route loops through some smallish parks and around housing developments. There are no major destination spots along the trail, and signage is non-existent, but the trails are pleasant and young enough to still be in good condition.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News

Apple Valley- Not a Bicycle Destination

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 24th , 2010.

Apple Valley is an old suburb designed during the the era when cul de sacs and large feeder roads to distant malls was considered the ultimate in suburban living. Bicycling was an afterthought and, for the most part, still is. There are plenty of bike paths in this sprawling city, but most run in the right-of-way of heavily traveled, noisy thoroughfares like Pilot Knob Road and Lexington Ave. The trails, built 15 to 20 years ago, are showing their age.  A spiderweb of weed-filled cracks run the entire length of some of the trails.

During one brief flurry of building activity Apple Valley developed a suburban style “downtown” with plantings, colored pavers and other amenities designed to create a central gathering spot for city residents. The effect is more pleasant than a typical mall, but the auto is still king and getting to “Downtown” by bike is a chancy endeavor for all except the most experienced and traffic savvy riders.

That said, the city is negotiable by bike. By combining indirect residential streets and the trails mentioned above, you can get close to almost any part of the city. I saw a surprising number of riders during a mid-August weekend. Most were riding the weedy trails mentioned above. Apple Valley has a few short trails running through parks, but they are mostly access trails and not worth seeking out for a recreational ride.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News

Pine Bend Cemetery- Unexpected Find

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 16th , 2010. One response

For me, part of bike route research is following instincts and researching dead end roads. I’ve frequently found connecting bike trails and useful additions to the map in unexpected places. The Pine Bend Cemetery is one of those surprises. It won’t add anything to the Twin Cities Bike Map, but it is a fascinating find.

I found it by following a suggestion from Dave Olson, my most trusted bike route adviser in the Twin Cities. He was the first to tell me about the new bike trail along Concord Blvd in S. St. Paul and the potential for a connector via the frontage road heading south along Hwy 55. The connector works well, providing a quick exit from Downtown St. Paul towards the Three Rivers Refinery and points to the SE.  My hope, however, was to get all the way to Spring Lake Regional Park and eventually to Hastings, so I slipped past a “Road Closed” sign just to see what was further south.

The road ended at Pine Bend Cemetery, an oasis of tall trees, ankle high grass and the thin white  tombstones that date cemeteries to the 1850s and 1860s.  The white limestone or marble was used extensively in the 1850s because it was easy to carve, but rain slowly dissolves the rock. Later tombstones were made from more durable granite.

Pine Bend Cemetery is about half the size of a football field and only half of the grounds have tombstones and a semi-maintained look. It is fairly typical for old, rural towns, but Pine Bend has been absorbed by the city. Hwy 55 makes a very noisy, and close, neighbor and the refinery looms large across the highway.

That juxtaposition, of a rural cemetery and the noisy trappings of modern society, pulled me back to the cemetery a couple of days later to take photos and wander the grounds.

Had I been able to just look toward the back of the cemetery and block out the traffic noise, I would have lingered longer, but the noise from the highway and the smell of the refinery drove me away. I moved on, but in my mind I still carry that rural cemetery image of a quiet, shaded oasis.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News

Comparing Suburban Bike Trails

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 6th , 2010.

The suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul have been building bike trails for a number of years. Early on, most of the trails were nothing more than asphalt sidewalks next to busy roads. The cities have gotten more creative since then.

Woodbury and Maple Grove have developed an extensive trail system through the back yards of the residents. The yards in question are very large and they back up to the neighbor’s yard, creating a long green corridor. In traditional grid cities, the border between the yards is reserved for an alley and often a corridor for power lines. Woodbury and Maple Grove use the border for bike trails. The concept is sound, but I see very little use of the trails, except near the city parks. Apparently most residents prefer to load their bikes onto a car rack and drive to a park for riding, even if the trail through their backyard goes to the same location.  I find the trails to be quite generic, primarily because the yards are generic. It would be more interesting if a portion of those large backyards were converted into interesting plantings such as prairie grasses, woodlots or flower gardens. It would also help if the trails were signed with maps and directional signs.

Shakopee uses the same basic concept, with the dual purpose of catching and directing water run off . The water flows over grasses that slow it and allow it to soak into the ground. Unlike Woodbury and Maple Grove, the public portion of the corridor is wider than the bike path providing a close-to-home open space for children and families to use. As a result, the trail and corridor are used more heavily. It would be nice, however, if the corridor had more texture and color. Shakopee has institutionalized the grass monoculture. The entire corridor is uniformly green, short and weed free, a sign that the look is maintained using a mix of herbicides and fertilizer.

Cottage Grove went for color. A large portion of the main bike trail is being restored as a hybrid prairie with lots of prairie flowers and a few native prairie grasses. The effect is a riot of color and texture during the summer, when residents use the trail most heavily. Yards are smaller in Cottage Grove, and often more interesting, because the owners have created flower and vegetable gardens. They’re most noticeable when entering or leaving the trail system via one of the access trails.

Shakopee and Prior Lake took advantage of natural green spaces by building paths and boardwalks through wetlands, around the edges of lakes and through valleys. The effect is very soothing although the boardwalks can create anxiety. They are narrow and the surface is often uneven. Some riders should walk their bikes on the boardwalks. The boardwalks also require ongoing maintenance. The trail through Dean Lake Nature Preserve, for example, was severely narrowed by a recent mowing that wasn’t followed up with a sweep of the path and wetland plants grew up through the boards of the boardwalk.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News, Misc

US Bike Route Comes to Wisconsin

Posted by Doug Shidell, August 4th , 2010.

Adventure Cycling has been working with the US Department of Transportation to develop a system of marked bike routes across the state. One of the proposed routes would run from Winona Minnesota to the Lake Ferry in Milwaukee, using mostly bike trails to cross Wisconsin (including the Great River Trail, the LaCrosse River Trail, the Sparta-Elroy Trail, the 400 Trail, and the Glacial Drumlin Trail. (Some time ago, I posted a description of much of this route on my web site.)

For discussions of the overall project click here for the US Department of Transportation and here for Adventure Cycling. It appears from a map of the proposed system that the proposed Wisconsin segment is part of proposed route 30, which will run west through Minneapolis to beyond Billings and east, after cross the lake, to Detroit.

A number of states, particularly in the Northeast now have marked and numbered long-distance bicycle routes. In the 1970s, Wisconsin pioneered with two routes, one from LaCrosse to Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha, and the second running north from LaCrosse to Lake Superior. At some point these routes were abandoned as attention turned more to developing bike trails, particularly on abandoned railroad lines.

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News