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Euro bike bliss: Swedish Kattegattleden bike trip

by McKay Jenkins

My family and I were just a few kilometers into our bike tour up the west coast of Sweden when we pulled off for lunch beside a two-window shack in the tiny fishing village of Domsten. It was there, biting into a piece of smoked mackerel—caught by the proprietor’s husband in that very bay—that we knew were in for a special week.

photo of route signMy wife’s maternal family has lived in western Sweden for hundreds of years, and this bike trip would take us 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the city of Helsingborg north to Gothenburg, her family’s hometown. Riding a bike into her ancestral city was something Katherine had wanted to do for years, and now that our kids were 18 and 15, we were finally doing it.

The ride followed the Kattegattleden route, named for the enormous bay it rims. It began just across the water from Helsingør, Denmark, site of the castle in which Shakespeare set his play Hamlet. The route runs almost entirely on paved (and dedicated) bike trails, along wooded gravel paths through nature preserves, or along virtually untraveled country roads.

photo of bikers on the Kattegattleden route in SwedenI have done a lot of bike touring over the years. I’ve ridden 800 miles down the Pacific Coast, along the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, across New England from Maine to New York, across Virginia and Montana, and at length in both France and Quebec. Never in all my bike-touring career have I seen such a magnificently laid-out bike route. Only once or twice a day would we find ourselves pedaling beside a busy road, and this was always with a concrete barrier between us and the cars, and never for more than a few hundred yards.

photo of sun over the horizon at seasideThe eight-day route followed the west coast of Sweden, weaving between tiny fishing villages; small-scale farms growing potatoes, wheat, and Swiss chard; and at least 400-year-old towns with cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes. The distances between inns ranged from about 40 to about 65 kilometers—roughly 25–40 miles—per day. Given the terrain’s nearly entirely flat profile, these distances never seemed too long, with one exception: one of the longer days featured a strong northerly wind, which we battled for about five hours.

The east coast of Denmark was visible off to the west for the first day but then gave way to the vast Kattegat Sea separating the two Nordic countries. Along the way we happened upon an array of surprises.

  • In Bastad, we rode straight onto the grounds of the Swedish Open tennis tournament, which offers free admission.
  • In Gothenburg, we took in the Gothia Cup, the largest youth soccer tournament in the world, featuring some 1,700 teams from around the world. Admission here was free as well.
  • In between we happened upon a Mackerel Festival in the town of Bua, lining up with hundreds of others to sample local fish and (apparently famous) Bua pudding.

Truth be told, we seemed to spend as much time eating as we did biking. The Swedes are known not just for their love of fish but for their seemingly bottomless appetite for caffeine and sweets during their daily “fika,” or late-afternoon coffee breaks. Our photo album has as many images of cardamom buns and chocolate cakes as it does tidy red cottages or village harbors.

Even in the cities, bikes and bike paths were everywhere. Scandinavia, like much of Europe, has been far more ambitious that the United States in its creation of bicycle infrastructure.

Part of this has been made easier by European land-use planning. Most cities are far older than cars, after all, and (at least as importantly) much of the countryside never suburbanized. Many older cities were initially designed to accommodate foot- and horse paths, which (as many American drivers have discovered) have always felt too narrow for car traffic.

Visit Copenhagen, as we did before setting off on this journey, and you will be astonished at the numberless thousands of bicycles jammed together near the city’s central train station. In town, biking is simply the most sensible way to get around.

photo of bicycles in Copenhagen, Denmark

Out in the country, small farms still dominate the landscape, and country roads, while built for cars, are not (with the exception of thruways) built for suburban commuter traffic. Out on our bikes, we passed the occasional tractor, but never did we feel threatened by angry commuters. Even in the country, bikes are the rule rather than the exception.

The bike tour was simple to set up. We organized the trip through a company called Gyllene Turer (gylleneturer.se), run by the very helpful Jesper and Britt-Marie Rothstein, who also provided an excellent book of maps. Gyllene Turer set up the whole trip for us. They secured bikes for us, arranged luggage transport, and arranged bookings in all of the hotels. The bike path has its own website kattegattleden.se, through which one can find a link for luggage transport and links for organized bike tours, one of which is Gyllene Turer.

The route was incredibly well marked, with signs at every crossroads or important turn. This was a “supported” tour, meaning that drivers from the company picked up our backpacks at our inn each morning and drove them to our next stop, saving us the struggle of carrying 30 extra pounds of food and gear.

Staying in inns and bed-and-breakfasts also saved us the trouble of carrying tents, sleeping bags, and cooking gear. As someone who has carried his own gear on a number of long bike trips, I have come to appreciate the beauty of a warm bed, a hot meal, and a light bike. The fact that I am in my 50s and not my 30s may also have something to do with this. And I think it’s safe to say that telling my teenage kids that there was a hot tub waiting for them at the end of most days didn’t hurt!

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Volunteers needed for upcoming events

Calling all volunteers!

Do you care about bicycling conditions and bicycling advocacy in Newark? Can you spare a couple hours of your time to help BikeNewark during one of several upcoming events that are happening from now through mid-October? Then, we need YOU.

Simply email BikeNewark and write “Volunteer” in the subject line and let us know specifically when you can help. If you can help more than once, that’s great too. Can’t volunteer? Consider a donation to help support projects that will further progress toward making Newark a more bicycle-friendly city.

Here’s what’s happening and how many volunteers are needed for each event.

City of Newark logoSunday, September 15 – Newark Community Day
(4 volunteers needed, 1 hour minimum each)
11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
BikeNewark tent near Delaware Ave. at The Green

BikeNewark web logoWednesday, September 25 – Bike Central
(2 volunteers needed, 1 hour minimum each)
10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
BikeNewark tent near Delaware Ave. at The Green

BikeNewark web logoWednesday, October 9 – Bike Central
(2 volunteers needed, 1 hour minimum each)
10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
BikeNewark tent near Delaware Ave. at The Green

Yes, we’re quite busy right through the fall. Thanks in advance for helping us out.

 

Urgent support needed for bridge project

City Council meeting this Monday, July 8, at 7 p.m.

engineering artist's rendering of Emerson BridgeThe White Clay Creek/Emerson Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge Cost Estimate and Funding is on the agenda for the Monday, July 8, Newark City Council meeting. The Emerson Bridge will be located over the White Clay Creek immediately west of the existing Paper Mill Road vehicular bridge (see figure above).

The meeting will be held at the City of Newark Municipal Building, 220 South Main Street and the will begin at 7:00 p.m. Along with Council voting on allocating additional funding for the project, there will also be discussion on potential cost saving measures that was a part of value engineering completed for the project. One of the potential cost saving initiatives includes a reduction in the width of the proposed 194 ft.-long structure from 12 ft. to 10 ft. for a $60,000 savings. Attached is informational material on the project that was included in a public workshop that was held in April.

This will likely be the last time you will be able to comment on the bridge project with City Council.

Newark Bikeways map detail showing Bridge project and proposed conduit trailNote: The current plans contain no physical connector to the Pomeroy Trail, which is part of our proposed Newark Bikeways low-stress network; however, we’re told it is included in the city’s 2021 Capital Improvement Project budget. We’d also like your support for voicing the need for associated funding for this paved off-road conduit from the Pomeroy Trail to the bridge approach pathway (see figure), so that low-stress connections can be made to the Newark Reservoir and trails beyond.

Bike to Work Day 2019

 

photo of most of the attendees of the 2019 Bike to Work Day in Newark

Bike to Work Day event sponsors: Bloom Energy, City of Newark Dept. of Parks & Recreation, Trek Bicycle Newark, STAR Health, and WILMAPCONewark celebrated National Bike to Work Day on Friday, May 17. This beautiful sunny day brought more than 80 riders to Mentors’ Circle on the University of Delaware campus for the early morning event.

photo of Christine Schultz and Matt Kinservik
Christine Schultz and Matt Kinservik arrive at Mentors’ Circle.

Thought ridership was perhaps not what it should have been on such a nice day, the event enjoyed great support in terms of sponsorships, led by Bloom Energy, which allowed us to this year to include a “grand prize” of a new Trek FX-1 bicycle.

Speakers and attendees alike rode in, each in one of six area “bike trains.” Attendees enjoyed light breakfast fare and coffee and garnered free “Bike Month Delaware 2019” T-shirts, courtesy of DelDOT in cooperation with the Delaware Bicycle Council.

photo of Lou Rossi
Lou Rossi talks about why he commutes to work.

Having ridden in early because of his busy schedule, last year’s keynote speaker New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer kicked off the list of speakers at this year’s event.

University of Delaware Vice Provost Matt Kinservik followed up with an official welcome on behalf of the host institution, giving some personal testimony to the positive changes that are occurring in Newark while confessing that he may not have been worthy of his image being used on the event publicity this year.

Kinservik introduced UD mathematics professor and stalwart bike commuter Lou Rossi, who spoke about why he commutes to work, logging in some 13 miles roundtrip every weekday.

photo of Mayor Jerry Clifton
Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton addresses the morning’s attendees.

Newark-area State Representative Paul Baumbach then spoke to the gathered attendees. He was followed by new Newark City Manager Tom Coleman, who spoke about the current construction challenges facing the city but the many bicycle-infrastructure improvements on the horizon. New Mayor Jerry Clifton, who showed up early and helped set up, talked about his family’s experience bicycling.

On behalf of the City of Newark and BikeNewark, BikeNewark Chair and event emcee, Bob McBride, helped event coordinator Mike Fortner present this year’s Bicycle Friendly Community Leader Award to Susan Grasso. She was chosen because she had spent a good portion of the past three years working behind the scenes, both as a concerned citizen and as a member of BikeNewark, to advocate for bicycling as a normal and viable mode of transportation.

photo of Bob McBride, Caitlin Grasso, and Mike Fortner
Flanked by BikeNewark Chair Bob McBride and event coordinator Mike Fortner, Caitlin Grasso accepts the Bicycle Friendly Community Leader Award for her mother, Susan Grasso.

McBride ran down a list of projects and efforts which Grasso either initiated and/or she was directly involved in and concluded, “[Susan] always has been helping encourage people to bicycle more and advocate for better conditions for bicycling. Most recently, she has been serving on a city Sustainability Committee, which completely fits her desire to see more and more bicyclists—i.e., cleaner transportation—on the road here in Newark.”

Though Grasso could not be present to accept the award, her daughter, Caitlin, accepted on her behalf and read words of gratitude that her mom had composed and sent her via cellphone.

Fortner, one of BikeNewark’s liaisons from the City of Newark, joined McBride to make the morning fun by giving away several gift certificates to local businesses. Then, to cap off the event, the Trek bicycle winner’s name—Rayanne Luke—was drawn by Trek Bicycle Newark manager Dave Schindler, and the bicycle was presented to her.

A large group photo was organized to close the event, and afterward lead sponsor Bloom Energy shot its own group photo before everyone headed off to work for the day.

photo of Bloom Energy group
Lead event sponsor Bloom Energy sent a strong contingent of riders.

2020’s Bike to Work Day event in Newark will take place on Friday, May 15. BikeNewark looks forward to seeing you there.

Photographs by WILMAPCO’s Heather Dunigan.

A No-Brainer?

by Mark Deshon

photo of bike under city signageSometimes a “no-brainer” is just that.

BikeNewark is indeed thankful that on Monday night, April 29th, the City Council overwhelmingly recognized the wisdom of not removing the bike lane on Delaware Avenue (instead of placing temporary parking along that heavily used central Newark artery), because it is a safety issue.

However, after that night’s lengthy special City Council meeting on the City’s parking plan during the Main Street rehab project, I got to wondering why removing the bike lane ever made it to the drawing board in the first place. Certainly, this signals to me that, while the City and its businesses like its designation as a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” the City staff doesn’t naturally consider bicycles as a mode of travel that deserves adequate accommodation on the roads, and Newark’s businesses don’t view people arriving by bike as equally important downtown customers.

This is why an organization like BikeNewark exists—because there’s a real sense among the cycling community that we have to continually remind those in positions of authority, whose decisions have far-reaching consequences, that people do get around on bikes and that this is good for everyone, those biking and those benefiting from fewer cars on the road and less air pollution.

Believe me, I get it. I understand the importance of economic vitality in this city, particularly Newark’s downtown businesses, which will each struggle to a greater or lesser extent over the next year during the upheaval on Main Street.

But we need look no further than vibrant cities like Ft. Collins, Colo.—where my son lives—for evidence that where the bicycling community is truly valued, economic development is robust and businesses benefit greatly. In fact, everyone benefits—those who prefer getting around on two wheels, four, or none.

Having now lived in Ft. Collins for two years, my son now hates the “long,” 15-minute drive to his job in Loveland, wishing instead that his job were in the city in which he lives, so he could bike to where he works, shops, and plays. He’s obviously been spoiled by platinum-level bike infrastructure there.

As a longtime Newark resident, I’ve experienced that how my son would prefer to travel to his job, downtown businesses, and recreation areas is actually quite doable here in Newark—a much smaller university city.

What if we were to take the approach of making bicycling even easier and more preferable and encourage city residents to ride their bicycles to get around during the Main Street construction (thus mitigating our already-awful traffic issues)?

I know that, contrary to the League of American Bicyclists’ designation for Newark, there are many who don’t consider this city very bicycle-friendly. It takes all of us working together, but especially a serious commitment on the part of City Council and City staff, to make a “Bicycle Friendly Community” a reality, not just a tagline on a road sign.