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The Bikes that Bring People Together

There are community gardens tucked into the corners of Frogtown; there are new bike lanes popping up on the East Side. Saint Paul is full of hidden treasures that are often missed while driving in a car. Move Minnesota and Cycles for Change are partnering to help residents discover what’s great about their city by hosting six Slow Roll St. Paul community bike rides this summer.

Slow Roll is a nationwide movement that began in Detroit. It’s all about inclusive, community-building bike rides that highlight the vibrancy of major cities. Slow Roll St. Paul kicked off in 2017, with a goal of bringing people together through biweekly community bicycle rides right here in Saint Paul. Slow Roll St. Paul rides create community spaces that reflect and uplift the people in local neighborhoods; incorporate the arts and cultures of black and indigenous people, and other people of color; and provide great opportunities for bike organizations, non-bike organizations, and local businesses to collaborate.

So, how do bikes bring people together? How can investing in bicycling become investing in your community?

On June 13, at the first Slow Roll St. Paul ride of the 2018 season, people gathered with their bikes in the Fellowship Church parking lot in Frogtown. One rider noticed the large group slowly amassing and walked over with his bike too: “I live across the street from here,” he said.

Another local resident learned about the ride on social media: “I follow Frogtown Farm on Facebook and they posted about the ride,” he said. “I live in South Como and used to work at Mississippi Market, so I know this area well.”

At 6:00 PM, 35 riders took off to tour the neighborhood on two wheels, making stops at Golden Thyme Cafe, Frogtown Farm, and Model Cities. The 5-mile ride took us north to south, over I-94, through Rondo, and along a hidden neighborhood park path. At Golden Thyme Cafe restaurant-owner Stephanie Wright talked about the importance of supporting local businesses and businesses owned by people of color. Frogtown Farm’s Communication and Development specialist Shelby Rutzick greeted riders as we pedaled up the hill to the top of the farm and emphasized the importance of providing neighborhood-grown food to residents of Frogtown. After the ride, it was time for food and conversation. Kizzie Downie, Director of Community with Model Cities, welcomed riders inside the new BROWNstone building next to the Green Line’s Victoria Street Station. Kizzie gave tours of the Reading Room, which highlights the history and stories of black railroad workers in Saint Paul.

Just two weeks later, a similar scene was set at the Indigenous Roots Cultural Arts Center on the East Side, an awesome local space that promotes the practice holistic well-being through indigenous arts, culture, and tradition. This time, riders were joined by a special guest: Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx! Sylvia is the WNBA’s 2017 Most Valuable Player, and she also loves to bike. She donated part of her MVP award to Cycles for Change last fall, and has continued her generosity into this year by giving bicycles to seven Cycles for Change youth apprentices and joining us for a Slow Roll St. Paul ride.

Around 50 people came ready to roll slow, and after a warm kick-off from Indigenous Roots’ co-founder and co-director Mary Anne Quiroz, we all set off through the neighborhood, riding by parks and community hubs including the East Side Freedom Library, Hmong Village, and Duluth Case Rec Center. We wrapped up the evening inside Indigenous Roots’ dance room, with riders huddled over pupusas, listening to representatives from the cultural arts center speak to the importance of voting and standing by your neighbors, followed by music for the more intrepid to dance to.

The first rides of the season not only showed off businesses and organizations important to the Frogtown, Rondo, and East Side communities, but also showed riders how easily accessible these places are by bicycle. Maybe just as important, is the way the neighborhoods feel different when traversed by bicycle. Neighbors waved and little kids yelled hi. Houses seemed to have more details, potholes in the road were easily noticed, and cottonwood floated in the air while glinting rays of the setting sun. It was nice! Especially in areas where hearing engines and horns are the norm, it’s a welcome change to hear 50 bikes clicking and whirring all at once, music playing in the distance, and neighbors chatting and laughing.

Ready to join us for our next ride? On Wednesday, August 8th, Slow Roll St. Paul’s Frogtown/Rondo ride will begin at Cycles for Change’s St. Paul shop. This ride is youth created and will be youth led, thanks to Cycles for Change’s youth apprentices, and will focus on providing space for youth in the community. Gather 5:30 PM, depart 6:00 PM, return 7:00 PM, with free food to follow.

This post was co-written by Move Minnesota and Cycles for Change.