Eric Iwersen's not your typical cyclist.
Most of us plan a route of established roads, paths and trails and go where we have been designated to ride (for the most part) by planners and engineers working for the cities, county and state.
Iwersen gets to enjoy rides from a different perspective. As a transportation planner and community liaison for the City of Tempe, he is one of those planners creating the roads, paths and trails we ride on as well as coordinating the public art pieces that are helping to shape the identity of his community.
"There is a uniqueness to Tempe that is sitting here waiting to be tapped into," says Iwersen. "We are the college town, the arts and academic center of the region. Moving around by bike is a natural fit."
Iwersen, who is also a visual artist and painter as well as an active member of the Tempe Bicycle Action Group, has long been interested in place making. He arrived in Tempe from Boulder, Colo. in August, 1989 to attend ASU and never looked back. This year, he was named Tempe's Bike Hero by the city.
"I always loved looking at all of the corners of the city. Down alleys, through neighborhoods, seeing how these pathways and places connected."
While getting his cultural geography degree, he was fascinated by the critical mass movements in San Francisco and Seattle and began organizing some of the first critical mass rides in the Valley, which led to his first meeting with the City of Tempe transportation department. Despite a less than receptive first meeting, the department hired Iwersen as a planning intern and he is now working on 15 years with the city.
Although Iwersen has had a hand in bike-oriented projects throughout Tempe, his favorite route runs through the northern part of town through the newest stretch of trail in Papago Park, around Tempe Town Lake, and through the historic Tempe neighborhoods of Maple Ash and Mitchell Park.
Iwersen kicks his ride off from Cartel Coffee Lab in the Maple Ash neighborhood on Ash Avenue, just south of University Drive. Follow Ash north to Fifth Street and work over to Mill Avenue to head across Tempe Town Lake over the Mill Bridge.
The first spot that Iwersen likes to point out is the new Crosscut Canal path just on the north side of Curry Road off of Mill at Moeur Park. This is a brand new access path that intersects the south end of Papago Park over to the canal path along the east side of Papago.
This entry is an intersection of generations of transportation planning, dating back to roadway work done in the 1930's. The new path has been funded by federal stimulus funding and integrates public art and convenient pathways that naturally meld into the Papago environment. Even with section of the path gated to protect the newly placed art, many cyclists are already using the path to connect between Scottsdale and Tempe.
Follow the path northeast through Papago, past "The Bowl," a long standing assortment of dirt jumps used by BMX and mountain bikers, to the canal path that starts near Evelyn Hallman Park. The Tempe stretch of path runs north to McDowell Road and joins seamlessly into the canal path the runs through Scottsdale and intersects with the Arizona Canal with trails that roll west for another thirty miles.
To keep the ride local to Tempe, double back along the canal to Hallman Park and ride around the pond to the creosote stand in the northeast corner of the park. Tucked along a very inconspicuous path is a new public art and information display outlining the history of the local creosote plant with some very interesting bronze sculptures displaying the various stages of the plant's growth.
From Hallman Park, jump into the southbound bike lane on 68th Street/College Avenue and take it down past the Arizona Historical Society Museum, past Curry and into the Town Lake Marina. From the marina parking lot, take the lake trail heading west and ride the loop around Town Lake, checking out the various public art works along the route as well as the newly installed pedestrian bridge over the dam.
Once around the lake and back into Tempe Beach Park, get back on Mill and roll south across University to Ninth Street, turning right and back into the Maple Ash neighborhood. Be careful as you cross University as there is not a bike lane for the 100 yards up to Ninth.
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Maple Ash and Mitchell Park are perfect neighborhoods to roll through on cool fall and spring mornings. These blocks have great historic homes, residents strolling the streets, birds in the trees. And Tempe and the neighborhoods have installed numerous examples of public art to give the neighborhoods identity and points of pride, many of which include or reference bikes and the important role of cycling in the community.
"There is some redevelopment that is appropriate, but historical preservation is vital to the success of Tempe as well," says Iwersen. "We're in a great spot right now to identify ourselves as a community. We want to be unique and supportive of the creative class. And bikes play an integral role in that effort."
Trip Distance: 12.5 miles
Trip Duration: 1-2 hours at a leisurely pace. Be sure to stop and check out the art and views along the way
Difficulty: Easy with a short hill or two through Papago
Route Map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/51142088