Sierra Club bike tour explores metro area’s urban sprawl issues

Maggie Hessel-Mial

Despite the cold temperatures and the dreary skies Sunday, about 100 people committed themselves to a 28-mile bike ride to see and understand how urban sprawl has affected the Twin Cities

The Tour de Sprawl – a project of the North Star branch of the Sierra Club – was developed to show the effects of sprawl, both good and bad, in the Twin Cities area. In its sixth year, the tour has been a model for other branches of the Sierra Club, 30 of which have since held similar events of their own, said Sharon Stephens, sprawl campaign chairwoman for the club.

“It’s one thing to talk about what sprawl is,” Stephens said. “It’s another to actually go see it.”

The tour started in St. Louis Park at a soon-to-be construction site of the Park East Commons development, with a kickoff speech by Metropolitan Council Chairman Ted Mondale. Bikers meandered through the northwest suburbs and finished at Wild Meadows in Plymouth along Highway 47.

“The tour really runs the gamut from an inner ring suburb to a very rural area,” said Deb Alpers, former sprawl campaign chairwoman.

Participants, who ranged in age and athleticism, geared up for what race officials expected to be a successful but slightly windy tour.

Erica Zechman, a University senior in the College of Natural Resources, came to the tour after the professor for her Problem Solving in Natural Resources class
suggested students might benefit from the experience, she said.

“In my class we’re working in Anoka on plans to develop or preserve the area,” Zechman said. “I’m interested in urban development.”

The route made its way through the suburbs, stopping at six sites that each had a different theme and speaker talking on topics ranging from transportation to endangerment issues.

Along with the Sierra Club, the tour was also sponsored by Tree Trust, Jewish Community Action, Transit for Livable Communities and Alliance for Metropolitan Stability.

The North Star branch of the Sierra Club, located in Dinkytown and founded in 1968, is just a part of the nonprofit Sierra Club organization dedicated to efforts to help the environment.

“The concept of the Sierra Club is to engage and empower people to protect the earth,” said Scott Elkins, North Star branch director.

The Sierra Club has more than 700,000 members nationally and is the oldest and largest grassroots environment organization in the country, Elkins said.

The Tour de Sprawl is an annual event, and the club plans to continue it for many years, Stephens said.

“I think people will see after the tour that there’s hope for the future,” Alpers said. “There are alternatives to the growth we’ve been seeing in the Twin Cities.”

 

Maggie Hessel-Mial covers the environment and transportation and welcomes
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