On many Saturday mornings, Matt LaBerta loads his bike trailer with tools, tubes, a pump and his two sons to provide support for Trailnet’s Community rides. Matt has been helping our riders for five years and looks forward to each new ride season.
“The community rides are just fun,” Matt said. “Some of the stops that we make are places that I would have never thought to explore on my own. I bring the kids partly out of necessity, but mostly to expose them to these neat things about St. Louis. It shows them a whole other world and culture. Plus, it’s cool for them to see what I do.”
Matt has used his bicycle for transportation all of his life, often in places where pedaling to get where you need to go is a real challenge. Before his sons were born, Matt spent eight months living in a tent located 14,000 feet above sea level in the mountains of Colorado. He worked as a mechanic at a bike shop 9,000 feet below his campsite. “It took me seven minutes to get to work and forty-five minutes to get home.”
Although Matt prefers using a bike to get around, he does own a car and has been driving for a few years now.
“I took driver’s ed when I was thirty,” he said. “I got engaged and got my driver’s license in the same week. None of my friends were surprised that I had popped the question, but they were really shocked that I had gotten a driver’s license.”
As a bike commuter, Matt feels one of the most important roles Trailnet plays in the community is “getting people together and providing opportunities for cyclists, walkers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.” He added, “The encouragement that Trailnet provides is really important for making St. Louis a safer environment for cyclists. Drivers in St. Louis are finally getting used to having bikes on the road – lots of people ride year-round now, and it makes it better for everyone.”
In spite of these improvements, he also believes Trailnet has a lot of work to do in educating drivers, bicyclists and law enforcement.
“All of the new bike lanes and signage in town are great, but if cyclists and drivers don’t know how to use them safely, it pushes us all farther apart instead of bringing us together,” Matt said. “Cyclists know the laws because a lot of them have learned them the hard way. How to deal with pedestrians and bicycles should be a part of driver’s education and the driving test.”
One specific risk that Matt feels needs urgent attention is the use of cell phones by drivers. “I’ve been in situations where a whole line of cars aren’t paying attention to a traffic signal because they are all texting on their phones,” he said. “It’s really scary. Like a lot of different problems that we face, education and looking out for each other are the keys.”
Matt’s passion for bicycling and bike mechanics began when he was his son’s age. He had a series of bicycles growing up and routinely took the bikes apart, “spreading all of the parts across the driveway.” He got into welding 15 years ago and began creating sculptures, gates, fences, and interior metalwork for residential and commercial clients. His interest in welding meshed with his love of bicycles when he took a frame-building course in Oregon 10 years ago. At his bike shop in Soulard, Matt provides a range of services, including production of hand-built bike frames.
“I start by taking biometric measurements of my client, make a two-dimensional full-scale drawing of the frame, and then cut and file all of the tubing by hand.”
Visiting Laberta and Sons Cycles on a Saturday afternoon is a little like seeing all of those bike parts spread out on his family driveway – frames at various stages of completion, components, accessories, and tools. If visitors are lucky, they’ll also get a chance to talk with Mason and Mylo, the “Sons” of LaBerta and Sons. When asked about how they like working the community rides with their Dad, the boys had ready answers:
Mason “likes going down hills and having donut breaks.” Mylo likes “the Art Museum and helping Dad fix flat tires.” Matt reports that the boys often recognize people from past rides who they have helped and ask them if their bikes are ok.
Community riders will no longer be treated to the sight of the two young LaBertas sharing their Dad’s bike trailer. Now six years old, Mason will be riding his own bike, and Mylo, five, will be traveling solo in the trailer. Mason is looking forward to being on his own bike and “racing all of the people.” Mylo said he “won’t miss Mason because Dad puts toys in the trailer for me.”
If the Gateway Arch forms the contemporary pillars of the front porch of our region, then the Katy Trail is a meandering path through our backyard. In the city, cultural institutions and historical sites are a short walk from home. On the Katy Trail, you can set out for an afternoon and bike through woodlands and meadows, past the bluffs of the Missouri River.
The Katy Land Trust and Trailnet have formed a partnership to highlight attractions in the area accessible by active transportation. The organizations will collaborate to connect the region and to highlight the area’s natural and cultural treasures. Join us on Saturday, July 16 to celebrate this new partnership as we Ride the Katy from Defiance to the newly-renovated Peers Store, where riders can enjoy live music and refreshments.
“The CityArchRiver project reminds us that St. Louis is the door that opened to the west,” says Dan Burkhardt, author and founder of the Katy Land Trust. “Many who focus on the rejuvenated Arch already have an interest in river-related activities. This ride will be a prime time to showcase our other ‘just around the river’s bend’ attractions: trails, rivers, parks, farms and forests that are closer than most visitors realize. The variety of natural and scenic wonders surrounding St. Louis is truly remarkable and they distinguish our region from many other cities.”
Experience Missouri’s spectacular countryside and meet the directors of Trailnet and the Katy Land Trust who will be on hand to discuss this exciting partnership.
For details about the ride and to register online, click here.
For ten years, Harold Karabell has led bicycle tours that highlight St. Louis’ unique neighborhoods and interesting inhabitants, both living and deceased. Riders on his tours have pedaled their way through Calvary and Bellefontaine cemeteries, LaSalle Park and Soulard, Old North and “North of Old North” (Hyde Park, College Hill, and O’Fallon Park), exploring the history and architecture of these fascinating parts of St. Louis. He recently led Trailnet’s Literary Tour, winding through the Central West End, Academy, and Fountain Park neighborhoods, regaling riders with the life stories of local writers such as Tennessee Williams, T.S. Eliot, and Kate Chopin while reading selections from their works. Of all of the tours that he leads, Harold lists the cemetery and literary tours as the most popular, though he himself plays no favorites.
“People seem truly fascinated by well-known authors and tombstones,” Harold says.
Harold is also a dedicated bike commuter, using his bicycle as his principal mode of transportation, a lifestyle that he concedes is a relatively new phenomenon.
“Forty-five years ago, I didn’t know a single adult bicycle commuter,” Harold says. “You would see children on bikes using them for fun and recreation, but seeing an adult bike commuter was even more unusual than dining with a vegan. My wife and I used our bikes much of the time when we became parents and were able to serve as a model of alternative transportation for the next generation. Now bikes are accepted as a legitimate and even preferred form of transportation for increasing numbers of people. We’re not marginal any longer, we’re almost mainstream.”
Harold believes that this shift came about in part because of people’s concerns about our energy dependence and related environmental issues, such as global warming.
“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by some of the big environmental problems that we face. Riding a bicycle is the single most important thing that an individual can do to make a real contribution and feel good about yourself.”
A long-time resident of the Central West End, Harold feels fortunate to live in a “self-sufficient and sustainable neighborhood.” He describes St. Louis City as “a bike commuter’s paradise – it’s very easy for an educated cyclist to get anywhere they need to go in the city.”
Harold also sees Trailnet as an important agent for change in transportation habits.
“As the pre-eminent bicycle enthusiasm organization in the region, Trailnet builds a constituency of bicyclists and pedestrians and helps move alternative forms of transportation from the margins to the mainstream,” he says.
Going forward, Harold believes Trailnet’s most important focus should be education.
“One can learn, as I have, to ride safely and successfully anywhere in the absence of separate infrastructure, simply by taking one’s place on the road as part of the normal flow of traffic,” Harold said. “Nonetheless, we’re seeing more and better infrastructure each year. The best local example is the City’s protected bike lane on Chestnut Street, a considerable step forward compared to St. Louis’ older door-zone bike lanes. But even the best-designed infrastructure contains not-so-obvious dangers and won’t automatically prevent conflicts between bicyclists and other users of the road. Cyclists need to educate ourselves not to run red lights, not to ride in the door zone, not to be victims of the ‘right hook’ at an intersection, not to be nighttime ninjas, and not to ignore the risks inherent in riding even in state-of-the-art separate facilities.”
Whether commuters or recreational riders, people have many reasons for riding a bike – they might do so to lose weight, to save money at the gas pump, or to do their part for the environment. Harold agrees with his long-time friend Paul McFarlane from the former St. Louis Regional Bicycle Federation (which became part of Trailnet in 2011), who sums it up this way: “The bicycle is the answer to every question.”
For Harold, the most important motivation for riding a bicycle is that it’s simply the most pleasurable way to travel.
“If it weren’t just joyful to get on a bike, most of us wouldn’t do it in the first place,” he says. “Being on a bike opens up the sights and sounds of the city in a way that no other vehicle can. Not being confined inside a car allows you to see your neighborhood in a new and exciting way, to hear the birds, to discover that very large part of the world that remains unknown and unknowable when speeding along in a car.”
In that spirit, Harold says, “Nothing makes me happier than to be on my bike heading toward a dinner date with a good veggie burger. Forty-five years ago, who would have imagined that such a thing would be possible for so many of us on an everyday basis?”
Here at Trailnet, we’ll be celebrating bikes all month long with a Shift Your Commute May Challenge, with National Bike to Work Day, and by giving away this great Electra Cruiser to the lucky winner of our bike raffle. This 7-speed classic aluminum cruiser features a step-through frame, twist shifter, fenders, a comfy seat, and balloon tires.
Since her first Trailnet ride ten years ago, Susan Rollins has participated in many Trailnet rides, has been a volunteer, and now serves as a member of Trailnet’s Board.
So what is so great about being on a bike? Susan’s reply: “Cycling keeps me sane; being outside with the fresh air on my face combined with the challenge of the ride calms my soul and gives me a peace that I can’t find anywhere else.” She plans to spend lots of time on her bike this year, including her first multi-day trip, starting in Savannah, Georgia and pedaling around the coastal islands, New York’s Five Boro Bike Tour, and Bike the Drive in Chicago. She also hopes to ride the length of the Katy Trail, and to begin commuting to work by bike at least a couple of days a week.
In her role as Executive Director of the St. Louis County Housing Authority, Susan sees the possibilities that bicycles have for easing the transportation challenges faced by many low-income residents. “Our clients do not have the dollars needed to purchase or maintain a car. So even if you have a job but lack transportation, how do you survive?” Rollins is convinced that creating communities where walking and biking are safe alternatives would provide access not only to jobs and school, but also to better food options and other vital facilities. “Ideally I would like all of our public housing children to own a bike and learn how to ride. I see them visiting libraries, recreational centers, and neighborhood pools. I see them visiting each other and feeling like a part of a community. I see myself riding with our children and showing them how access to transportation can take you to places you never thought existed.”
As a Trailnet Board member, Susan Rollins is dedicated to seeing that vision come true. She feels that realizing Trailnet’s goal of connecting our region through a network of protected bikeways and neighborhood greenways can make St. Louis one of the best places to live in the country. “It is only Trailnet that can put St. Louis on the map as a community that embraces walking and cycling. If we want to look like Indianapolis, Trailnet has the expertise to make that happen. If we want to look like Portland, Trailnet can make it happen. We just have to work hard to raise the funds to make this bold vision a reality.”
Keep those wheels rolling through the cold! Bike, walk, or take transit to work and log your miles on shiftyourcommute.com. The program will keep track of your car-free trips, calories burned, and carbon emissions saved. Commuters who log the most car-free miles during the month of February will be entered to win some rad Trailnet gear.
This year also brings the Winter Limbo competition. Those who log biking commutes on the coldest day(s) of the winter will be entered to win a long sleeve jersey from Retro Image Apparel.
Tell your friends and colleagues and help us build a community around active lifestyles!
Last week Trailnet, along with other organized bike, pedestrian, and trail advocates, urged members of the Missouri House Conservation Committee to vote “NO” on HB 2047, which would allow motorized traffic (ATVs and golf carts) on the Katy Trail. The committee will most likely vote on the bill this week.
We sent our comments to the committee Wednesday, February 10, outlining the reasons behind our opposition. To see our full comments, click here.
At this time we only want to make you aware of the bill’s existence. No action on your part is requested since the bill may die in committee. The bill will likely lose traction because of its recently estimated fiscal impact to implement: it would cost the state over $40 million to accommodate ATVs and golf carts. This news may change the minds of the bill’s supporters.
Still, if the bill moves forward in the legislative process, we’ll send an advocacy alert to mobilize public opposition to the bill.
Shortly after our opposition email was sent to the house committee, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a story about the bill, and much more opposition to the bill was generated. We hope this dialogue continues. The Katy Trail is meant to cater to those who wish to enjoy active lifestyles in a natural setting without the dangers of motor vehicle traffic. We’re ready to work to keep it that way for the many benefits it provides to people and our economy. Stay tuned to our social media sites for updates.
Father and son Richard and James Fox spent a blustery Sunday afternoon in January giving away bike lights to riders on the Forest Park bike path. The pair, along with James’ girlfriend Skye Clogson, flagged down cyclists pedaling up the popular trail along Skinker Boulevard.
Richard’s interest in cycling safety has a long history. While attending college in Tuscon, Arizona, he founded Share the Road, a company that manufactured high visibility cycling clothing. After hearing of a cyclist who was left paralyzed after being struck by a car, Richard came up with the light project to impress on his son the importance of riding safely and to help keep other cyclists safe.
The Fox’s chose Forest Park because they knew that it was a popular route for urban riders. Standing to the side of the bike path, they waved down any riders who lacked this important safety asset.
“People were super skeptical at first,” says James. “They had never seen anyone do this. Many wouldn’t stop and my dad had to run alongside them.”
“Everyone was suspicious about ulterior motives,” says Richard. To get riders’ attention, he often called out “Your mother would be happy that we gave this to you.”
“Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride,” James quotes cycling champion Eddie Merckx. Cycling is independence for James. “Even the most social person… needs time to themselves and cycling does that for me.”
The father and son share their passion for cycling and spent two weeks together during the summer of 2014, riding from St. Louis to Breckenridge, Colorado.
James is now studying Public Health at New York University. He is a member of the NYU Cycling Team and races in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference. This takes him to competitions all along the eastern seaboard. He is also navigating the streets of New York City on a bicycle, far different from the rural roads near the family home in Wildwood. While he plans to work as a doctor or a health care analyst, he dreams of owning his own bike shop one day.
Of their recent light project, Richard remarked, “There was such a great reaction. I think we’ll do it every year.” As the sun started to fade that Sunday in Forest Park and the Fox family packed their gear into their truck, they saw a cyclist approaching in the twilight. Richard was impressed with the intensity of the lights on the oncoming bike. They waited, idling as the rider neared. The cyclist looked familiar. As he passed, James, Richard and Skye saw that the lights on the bike were theirs. They flashed their headlights at the grateful cyclist, and I waved back.
Like many local professionals, Adrian Stillman makes frequent trips to other cities in the Midwest. Unlike most business travelers, Adrian makes these visits without getting into a car or walking through an airport. His modes of transportation include his bicycle, Metro bus, MetroLink and Amtrak.
In order to get in better shape and to save money, Adrian sold his car five years ago, bought a used bicycle, and began commuting to his office by bike—a twelve-mile round trip. Never a bicyclist before this, he soon decided to extend his car-free travels beyond St. Louis.
Adrian’s most recent trip took him to Milwaukee in early November. Loaded with a change of clothes and his laptop, he left his house at 4:30 a.m., biked a few blocks to catch an express bus to the Brentwood MetroLink station, rolled his bike onto the Metro and arrived at the Amtrak station in plenty of time for his train’s 6:40 a.m. departure. Adrian estimated door-to-door travel time for his trip to Milwaukee at ten hours. A nonstop flight to Milwaukee from St. Louis takes just over an hour. This begs the obvious question: why does he do it?
“I love being able to explore and appreciate the world as I travel,” Adrian said. “Using my bike and transit, I can relax and enjoy the scenery, look at the interesting architecture and hear the music – I can explore the new city in a way that you just can’t in a car.”
Most importantly, Adrian values the way that his travels allow him to “connect with other people by sharing physical and social space with them.”
Trailnet staff member Ginny McDonald accompanied Stillman on the St. Louis leg of his journey and observed Adrian connecting and conversing with everyone from the bus driver, to other early-morning commuters, to the person who sold him his first cup of coffee at the Amtrak station. Other transit commuters shared the value of time spent together rather than being isolated in a car. Two co-workers who knitted during their bus ride described their commute as “much more relaxing than driving and a lot cheaper than therapy.”
Would Stillman recommend this mode of travel to others?
“It’s very empowering to travel like this, especially to new places,” he said. “We are all good at throwing obstacles in front of ourselves that prevent us from doing new things. It is up to us to overcome those obstacles.”
One of the barriers that Adrian encountered on this trip was having to dismantle and box his bike for the train from Chicago to Milwaukee. Amtrak baggage staff helped him with the transfer.
“Those guys were great,” Adrian said. “Any connection is so valuable, even when you have to ask for help and show that you are a little vulnerable. That’s life.”
Adrian also appreciates the importance of Trailnet’s efforts in helping to break down barriers to biking and using transit in our region.
“They are doing some awesome things for our community,” He said. “Don’t keep it a secret – tell a friend!”
Trailnet moves Calm Streets project forward with study tour
One of the best ways to advocate for better infrastructure is to allow decision-makers to experience best-practice designs first hand. We do live in the Show-Me state after all. Knowing this to be the case, Trailnet took City of St. Louis staff, elected officials, and partners to Portland, Oregon August 17 to 20. The study tour was part of Trailnet’s Calm Streets project—a project with the purpose of promoting the creation of a Calm Street network in the City of St. Louis. Calm streets are residential streetstransformed to reduce speeding and provide safety for everyone traveling there. On calm streets, traffic calming measures are used to reduce the volume and speed of motorized vehicles; increase space for landscaping and managing stormwater; and increase comfort for those walking and biking.
From left to right: Alderman Shane Cohn, Community Liaison Wendy Campbell, City of St. Louis Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker, community partner Matthew Green of Park Central Development, and Alderman Scott Ogilvie get ready for the trip’s first bike tour of Calm Streets.
For two days, Trailnet’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Jennifer Allen, led tour participants to meet with City of Portland staff and local organizations to learn about how Portland created successful Calm Streets and other low-stress infrastructure. They biked Calm Streets and protected bike lanes. They learned about the profound impacts rain gardens can have in managing stormwater as part of Calm Street design. They learned new best-practices and discovered new strategies for making a Calm Street network a reality in the City of St. Louis.
From left to right: Community Liaison Ramona Scott, Community Liaison Wendy Campbell, City of Portland Capital Program Manager Dan Layden, community partner Matthew Green of Park Central Development, and community partner Josh Goldman of Urban Strategies.
The tour was profoundly successful. It significantly strengthened the partnerships of those involved and everyone walked away with important realizations and strategies critical to the project’s success. Perhaps most importantly, the group came to understand that creating Calm Streets is really a low-hanging- fruit project that will meet many of the City’s goals, such as building more complete streets and reducing pedestrian injuries and fatalities.
Project partners do a mini-charette with City of Portland staff and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. City of St. Louis Director of Operations Todd Waelterman, Alderman Shane Cohn, and Board of Public Service Planning and Program Manger John Kohler pictured left to right in back.
One of the tour’s greatest impacts was strengthening relationships with City of Portland staff and providing tools to the City of St. Louis. After the tour, City of St. Louis Traffic Commissioner Deanna Venker, requested Portland’s design specs for traffic-calming design elements used on Portland’s Calm Streets. She, other Streets Department staff, and Aldermen are now working to create a traffic-calming policy for the City of St. Louis to describe permissible traffic-calming designs in the city. This policy is an important step along the way to seeing Calm Streets built with high-quality design.
Aldermen Cara Spencer and Scott Ogilvie check out a world-class protected bike lane
The current phase of The Calm Streets Project includes selecting pilot Calm Streets routes and devising strategies for creating a full network in the future. The Calm Streets Project is funded, in part, by the Environmental Protection Agency.