Adding to the telltale signs of a resurgent St. Louis is the proliferation of bicyclists. Granted the city hasn't got the reputation of bike-friendliness; our drivers, perhaps unaccustomed to seeing an older form of transportation, are likely to shout or even honk at bikers -- but times have changed.
There are dozens of trails in and around St. Louis perfect for people who haven't been on a bike in years or who don't shine to the idea of riding next to cars. And there are plenty of miles marked for those who see driving as increasingly unnecessary.
Forest Park Biking in a park is the easiest way to avoid traffic and relax. Any park will do, but none can beat Forest Park. The path is just shy of six miles long, and the amenities are incomparable. The trail is a gentle one, meandering through the woods and around the zoo and museums. The Boat House is the obvious choice for a lunch break, but on weekends the wait can be two hours.
Tower Grove Park is right next door to the South Grand District, so lunch isn't a problem. The trail runs six laid-back miles. If you're comfortable on your bike, you can take off from Tower Grove and head out into the rest of the city on clearly marked trails.
Bike St. Louis is a project originally conceived by six aldermen (of the six wards through which Bike St Louis travels) and designed with both recreational and transportation-focused bikers in mind. The twenty miles of city trail vary from share-the-road situations to marked trails to dedicated bike lanes like the ones on South Grand from Highway 44 to Tower Grove Park. The lanes make it easy to navigate traffic; cars have their section, and you have yours. The Bike St. Louis path connects South Grand with Lafayette Square, Washington Avenue, Soulard and points in between. By following the map or the plentiful road signs, you can bike safely from Forest Park to Busch Stadium without a hiccup. Maps are available at Big Shark Bicycle Company (6133 Delmar Boulevard) and all Touring Cyclist locations, as well as on the Web at www.bikestl.org.
Creve Coeur Park is a gorgeous place to cycle, with a flat ride and a cool breeze whipping off the lake. What makes it special is the recently added trail that now connects the southwest corner of the park with the Katy Trail via the 364/Page bridge. The bike trail across the river is not a shared-traffic situation, keeping bikers off the highway. Directions are available at www.bikekatytrail.com/pagecrossing.
Built out of the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad line, the Katy Trail spans some 225 miles -- all the way to Clinton, Missouri. It's been around since 1986, making it one of the oldest trails in the state. Made of packed limestone, virtually everyone to whom we've mentioned the Katy to either has scars from it or knows someone who does. Pay that no mind; just take it slow and enjoy yourself and you'll avoid the Katy road rash. It has multiple trailheads, but the best (and nearest) is at Frontier Park off Boonslick Road on the St. Charles landing. There are brewpubs and shops up and down this historic district, and the trail is easily accessible, widely used and terribly beautiful. More information is available at www.bikekatytrail.com.
The remaining obstacle facing St. Louis bikers, it seems, is St. Louis drivers. You can avoid the endearing shouts of "get off the road" and "you stupid idiot" by sticking to bike trails and parks, but where's the fun in that?
"It's a matter of getting into the psyche of St. Louis drivers about what the role is between bikers and drivers," says Bike St. Louis Project Manager Julie Padberg-White. "It's simple: cars try and share the road with bikes, and bikes try and share the road with cars. If our driving community was aware of that role, everything would be a lot easier." It's getting better.
Though riding through Lafayette Square or Compton Heights can be just as breathtaking as speeding past limestone bluffs, if you want to get out of the city, the Greenways Project has developed a ring of trails around St. Louis that roll past rivers and break through the greenery surrounding them. Our favorites:
The Riverfront Trail follows the Mississippi River from the old Laclede Power building just north of the Arch to the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Its twelve miles are paved, making for an easy ride. The first five miles or so follow the flood wall and pierce the north St. Louis industrial sector, where you can watch trains and barges load and unload, but after that it breaks into open land and great river scenery. What's neat are the mural and poems on the flood wall at the trail's beginning. What's not neat is that there's really no place to stop except the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing, a nationally recognized Underground Railroad site. The Chain of Rocks Bridge itself is a pedestrian bikeway that traverses the nation's giant mud vein and will take you to the Confluence Trail.
The Confluence Trail parallels the Illinois side of the river for sixteen miles, from 20th Street in Granite City to Russell Commons Park in Alton. It is so named because it passes the point where the Missouri and Mississippi merge -- a spot marked at the Jones-Confluence State Park, which you'll see on the way. The trail offers some amazing scenery, and it's a pretty easy ride on asphalt and oil-and-chip surfaces. While you're on the trail, you can stop at the National Great Rivers Museum and learn about, uh, our great rivers. Or you can hold out for Alton, where you can grab a drink and some lunch.
The Sam Vadalabene Bikeway Still riding? Good, because the twenty-mile Sam Vadalabene Bikeway picks up in Alton and ends in Pere Marquette State Park north of Grafton. It's also the prettiest so far, winding between limestone bluffs and the river. The trail follows the Great River Road on a clearly marked bike lane that passes through scads of tourist-friendly spots with shops and restaurants aplenty.
Maps, driving directions and more information is available at www.confluencegreenway.org. Also, visit www.greatrivers.info for more about the River Ring, a planned network of 45 greenways (17 of which are complete) that will encircle the St. Louis Metro Area.