12. Cycling City USA

By Romi Carrell Wittman

You’ve no doubt heard the term Old Pueblo. But what about Cycling City? It’s a nickname that recognizes Tucson’s ever-expanding biking culture, but how did it earn this moniker?

It all dates to 1983 and two key events.

That year, Richard DeBernardis embarked on a bicycle tour of the United States, including a stop in Tucson. He fell in love with the area and its weather and decided to create a new bicycling event: The El Tour de Tucson. Fewer than 300 people took part that year. Today more than 9,000 people participate each year, drawing international attention to Tucson – and it generates some $10 million for the local economy annually. It’s also now the No. 1 Road Cycling Event in the U.S. according to USA Today.

The event also helped put Tucson on the radar of the global cycling market, an industry projected to reach $69.23 billion in 2024 according to Statista. TJ Juskiewicz, executive director of the Perimeter Bicycling Association – the non-profit that produces El Tour each year – said, “El Tour showcases the amazing cycling community and the incredible support from private and public partnerships.”

The other key event of 1983 happened in October when a devastating flood ripped through Southern Arizona, dumping seven inches of rain in four days. Structures along the Rillito River were consumed by floodwaters, leaving 10,000 people homeless and causing $300 million in damage. When rebuilding began, an idea took root: What if a continuous biking and walking path was created? And so, The Loop was born. 

At 131-miles, the Loop is the longest continuous path of its kind in the United States. Extending throughout Pima County, The Loop has transformed Tucson into one of the nation’s top cycling destinations. In fact, USA Today named The Loop the number one bike path in the country in 2021 and 2022.

The Loop is set to expand in Fall 2024 with a connection north of Avra Valley. The six-mile section will connect nearly 30,000 residents in North Marana to the Loop. Currently, the Loop stops at Avra Valley Road. 

Jim Conroy, director of the parks and recreation department for the Town of Marana, said the $4-million project has been in the works for many years. “I joined Parks and Rec a little over six years ago and I started working on this within weeks of being in the job,” Conroy said. “This is a significant regional connection.” 

Once complete, the new section will include a protective barrier on the Avra Valley Bridge that then will loop around to a 1.8-mile underpass that will take riders under CalPortland Cement’s access road. Given the structural elements involved, this is one of the more challenging engineering aspects of the project. “The culvert will be constructed to withstand 750,000 pounds,” Conroy said. 

Conroy added that the project is a great example of the relationship between Pima County and the Town of Marana. “This has been a very good experience and it’s a great example of the cooperation between Pima County, CalPortland Cement, and the Town of Marana,” he said. “A very broad range of people use the Loop so getting additional miles is always a big deal.”

Pima County has adopted many other bike-friendly amenities, including bike boulevards, which are residential streets designed with bicyclists and pedestrians in mind. Andy Bemis from the City of Tucson said, “There are a total of 66 bike boulevard corridors totaling 95 miles planned for Tucson.” To date, 11 are complete and 28 are scheduled for completion by 2029. The rest will be built pending funding. 

The Loop and Tucson’s many biking events have dramatically raised Tucson’s profile in the international biking community. The 2024 Bicycle Leadership Conference takes place here this spring. Put on by PeopleForBikes, a biking trade association, the event will bring the industry’s top leaders together. Ravi Rajcoomar, PeopleForBikes VP of business networks, said, “Guests will take in the breathtaking landscapes and world-renowned food scene. Leaders from around the globe will feel like they’re experiencing a retreat rather than a conference.”

Damion Alexander, a REALTOR®, avid cyclist and all-around promoter of cycling said, “What we have going on right now is amazing. We have mountain biking, road racing, BMX, gravel rides,” he said. “There is so much good going on in Pima County right now.” 

Alexander pointed to the construction of cyclist-friendly roads, Loop connections and expansions, and traffic calming features, which make cars go a bit slower and are safer for cyclists. He added that a velodrome may soon open near the Pima County Fairgrounds. 

Cycling has become such a force in Arizona that Alexander thinks it should be part of the state’s famous 5 C’s – Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Climate…and Cycling. “Citrus is outdated,” he said. “Arizona is about cycling!”


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