SIOUX CITY -- In assessing how navigable Sioux City is for bicyclists, local officials will readily admit the city falls behind the pack.
Though it has taken large strides in recent years adding connections to its multi-use trail system, leaders agree the city has far to go to become more friendly to cyclists on the same level as other large cities in Iowa.
Sioux City ranks low on various metrics that judge cities' bicycle-friendliness, and leaders say lack of infrastructure has contributed to a low number of people commuting to work by bicycle.
"I would say we're not halfway there yet," Mayor Bob Scott said. "We've got some nice trails, but it's hard if you want to ride from your house to that trail. It's not so easily done yet."
But a push for increased connectivity is mounting. Sioux City expects to soon form a committee to investigate transportation improvements that could include the city's first bicycle lanes.
City planner Erin Berzina said the group, which will be comprised of city staff and representatives from area organizations and agencies, will examine previous studies and look at the best way to connect the city.
Part of the work will include modernizing an active transportation plan completed by University of Iowa students in 2015 that contains several suggestions on making the city more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.
"We want to expand (the plan) and really look city-wide at some connections that we want to make in the future," Berzina said. "(The goal is) connecting the trail system with our pedestrian walkways and being able really to make it from one end of the city from the other on something besides a motor vehicle."
Bicycle commuters: few and far between
According to the most recent estimate from the U.S. Census Bureau, 0.2 percent of Sioux City workers -- or fewer than 100 people -- commute via bicycle. That's one of the lowest percentages among Iowa's largest cities, although fewer than 1 percent of workers commute by bike in eight of the state's top 10 most-populated cities.
Among Sioux City's regular commuters is Albrecht Cycle Shop owner Korey Smith, who rides the Perry Creek Trail daily to the downtown shop.
"Luckily for me, if I want to go to work, I ride a block and I'm on the bike trail, then I'm off a block," he said.
But cycling to work isn't as accessible for others, he said.
"From the west side to Morningside, or if you worked out near the Southern Hills Mall, it's extremely difficult to get out there on a bike," he said. "Especially if you're wanting a nice, serene ride."
Sioux City has zero bicycle lanes and is believed by some, though unconfirmed, to be among the largest cities in the country without them. Local advocates for bike lanes say the number of commuters will increase once that infrastructure is in place, not before.
The city has this year been in discussion with the bicycle renting service LimeBike on bringing hundreds of rent-able bicycles to the city. Smith said having more bikes without more infrastructure for them is akin to "having a bunch of cars and no roads."
Siouxland District Health Department health planner Angela Drent frames it using a modified line from "Field of Dreams": If you build more trails and bicycle lanes, the users will come.
"We need to be able to get some of that infrastructure in place so people feel comfortable," she said. "We know there might be others that might bike more frequently if they felt more safe and had an easier way to get from their home to work."
Kati Bak, president of Siouxland Cyclists, said she believes commuters and recreational riders are looking for more safety on the roads. Cyclists are involved in accidents each year, and many fear being brushed by a passing car.
"Community awareness and bike lanes would probably (improve things), especially for those that want to commute to and from work," she said, adding that employers also play a role in providing accommodations such as showers to encourage their employees to commute via bicycle.
Sioux City does not fare well on metrics that attempt to score cities' bicycle-friendliness.
People for Bikes, a charitable foundation and coalition of bicycle industry representatives, rates Sioux City one out of five on its city scorecard, which judges municipalities based on ridership and safety statistics, the cities' networks, reach and acceleration of progress.
The rating is lower partially because Sioux City does not have complete data for the "acceleration" category, which measures how quickly the community is improving its infrastructure and increasing ridership. All other criteria fall between zero and two on the five-point scale.
The League of American Bicyclists ranks the state of Iowa No. 30 on its 50-state scorecard. Eight communities in Iowa have earned the league's Bicycle-Friendly Community designation, of which Sioux City is not one.
In early July, ADT Security Systems named Sioux City the eighth-most dangerous city for bicyclists in the country. Sioux City joined four other Iowa cities -- Webster City, Waterloo, Johnston and Des Moines -- among the nation's 10 worst.
Councilman Alex Watters, a strong proponent of bicycle lanes, said he was bothered by ADT's July report. While he, like many, took the study's methodology and accuracy with a grain of salt, he said he didn't like to see Sioux City named in the ranking.
"When you see your name listed on a national list of the most unsafe cities for cyclists, I think that's really a wake-up call, and I think it's a wake-up call that we needed," Watters said.
Scott similarly mentioned the report to the council in July and asked city staff what they were going to do about it. He mentioned Jackson Street as a possible thoroughfare from the north side to downtown that could be ripe for painting bicycle lanes.
"Jackson Street's the most logical," he later told The Journal. "I would like to see something in that area."
Watters said bicycle amenities are essential in not just attracting workers, but also major employers, to the city.
"A lot of these people that are looking to come for different jobs, even companies that are looking to relocate, they pay attention to those things," he said. "Burying our head in the sand and saying look, it costs too much money, we don't have the space, we're not interested in doing that -- I think is really a theory of the past."
Later this year, the city expects to begin appointing an Active Transportation Committee comprised of representatives of the city and local organizations involved in transportation.
Sioux City already has an outline to work with. In 2015, students with the University of Iowa completed a plan that identified a series of steps to make areas of the city more accessible in ways besides automobiles.
The 146-page document outlines several locations for bicycle lanes, and Sioux City has programmed some of those projects into future years of its capital improvement program, including nearly 9 miles of bicycle lanes on major thoroughfares such as Jackson, Fifth, Sixth and West 19th streets.
Michelle Bostinelos, executive director of the Siouxland Metropolitan Planning Council, said the plan is a good starting point but could use some updates and strategy on how it fits into the city's budgeting process.
"Right now that plan is getting a little bit old," she said. "We would like to be able to re-evaluate those."
Berzina said the committee will aim to include representatives of SIMPCO, the Siouxland Trails Foundation, Siouxland Cyclists, Siouxland District Health and city departments.
Sioux City's Parks and Recreation Department, with the support of the Sioux City Council, is also continuing its work connecting trails across the city. Last month, the city opened a new connection spanning the gap between the Outer Drive and Floyd Boulevard trails, a connection long wanted by cyclists, runners and others.
Salvatore said work on another long-anticipated project, a 1.5-mile stretch of trail connecting the Chris Larsen Park and Chautauqua Park trails along the Missouri Riverfront, will likely begin next year, as the city is still waiting on its permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Other trail pieces are also in the works.
One project in the design phase could add bicycle lanes on the northern part of Hamilton Boulevard. Salvatore said that is in the preliminary design phase, and a future public meeting will discuss the addition of the lanes.
"This is a really healthy process for us to be going through," he said of the increased conversations on bicycle connectivity. "It's a priority of the City Council and cyclists that have really decided this issue needs to be discussed, and this is a great way to go about accomplishing something."
Bak said as Sioux City the last few years has added more trail connections, she has seen more momentum for cycling as more people take to the trails and the Siouxland Cyclists' group rides.
It's a positive step, she said, something she wants to see more of.
"I know that Sioux City's making headway," she said. "And we know that there's a lot more to go."
SAC CITY, Iowa -- Orville Von Ehwegen sprang for breakfast for everyone who stopped by The Villager on Main Street in Sac City on Saturday morning.
Von Ehwegen's grand treat follows a tradition he established when he turned 90, more than a decade ago. Von Ehwegen, a lifelong resident of Sac County, blows out 101 candles on Tuesday. This will be the 12th community meal he's provided. He and his family hosted more than 200 guests for a luncheon at the VFW in Sac City when he turned 100 last August.
I tell the man of the hour he looks as if he could pass for 75, maybe younger. With a gleam in his eyes he says, "I've got a good engine, but my running gears are wearing out."
Wearing out? Hardly. Von Ehwegen mows five yards, including his own, using a Toro MyRide zero-turn radius model he bought and, get this, made payments for last year. "I was chopping leaves last fall and hadn't yet paid for it in full," he says.
Owner Kelly Bundt of Sac City Hardware says Orville didn't just buy the mower, which retails for around $5,700, he also purchased a steel tiller. "He tills other peoples' gardens," Bundt says.
"I sold two of the Toro MyRide mowers," Bundt adds, "one to Orville, who was 100, and one to an 18-year-old."
I tell Orville that Bundt must believe he's a good business risk. He chuckles while nodding. "I had the mower paid for by this spring," Von Ehwegen says.
Orville Von Ehwegen says his decision to treat everyone to breakfast on or about his birthday represents his way of thanking folks for their trust and loyalty during his long run in business at Orv's Appliance Sales & Service. Von Ehwegen estimates he had most of the appliance business in Sac County by the time he sold the business in 1985.
"When I was in business, people came to me, apparently, because I knew what I was doing," he says. "And I was fair and honest. Their loyalty allowed me to build my finances and reserves. I think it's fair to return the favor."
Von Ehwegen opened Orv's with his wife, Ruth, in 1959, after securing a $30,000 loan from Sac City State Bank.
"Dad didn't take a vacation for years," says daughter Pat Smitherman of Texas. "He'd send mom and I for a little trip and he'd stay at the store because he wanted to pay that loan off."
"It took me six years to pay it off, but I did it," Von Ehwegen says. "We had a wonderful business because so many people had already gotten to know me as I worked for years for Farber & Otteman Furniture Store."
Owner Arlin Otteman in 1959 wanted to get out of the appliance end of the furniture store, so he cut his service man (Von Ehwegen) loose and allowed him to take over the appliance end of the enterprise.
"I came home when that happened and my wife (Ruth) was in bed," Von Ehwegen says. "She asked if I had moved any furniture that evening and I said I hadn't moved a stick. Instead, I told her I'd gotten a pink slip and that we were going into the appliance business."
Ruth's reaction? "She sat straight up out of bed and said, 'What beer joint have you been in?'"
Von Ehwegen smiles, reflecting on a business Ruth and daughter Pat helped him build over 26 years. He also lauds the business acumen and friendship of Alin Otteman, who compensated Von Ehwegen for four stints at various appliance service education sites in Sioux City and Omaha.
He got into the furniture trade with Farber & Otteman around 1948, two years after marrying Ruth and one year after they welcomed the birth of Pat, their "pride and joy."
Orville, who worked for local farmers following his eighth-grade graduation, served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, helping operate a drag line and doing crane work in the South Pacific. He says he lived to tell about his experience only because an Australian soldier warned him to jump from a truck as a Japanese bomber approached.
"I jumped from the truck into a fox hole and the bomber got the truck," he says. "I wouldn't be here today had I not been warned."
After their retirement, Ruth and Orville traveled for years in a motor-home. They sold that unit then took 54 bus trips out of Northwest Iowa in a period that spanned several years. Ruth died in 2003, leaving Orville to fill his time by mowing, tilling, moving snow, growing flowers and produce, sipping coffee with his friends at Hutch's Cafe, attending St. Paul Lutheran Church and volunteering once per week as a sorter of clothing at the Orphan Grain Train in Ida Grove, Iowa.
"I get up early and drive 34 miles to Ida Grove to volunteer every Tuesday," he says. "I'm usually there by 7 a.m."
"Dad couldn't boil water when Mom died," says Pat, who has joined her husband, Jerry Smitherman, in Sac City for the celebration. "Now, he cans and he freezes corn. He irons all his clothes with a steam press. He tends to his flowers and mows yards. He even texts on his cell phone, he doesn't think anything of it."
He also buys breakfast, at least once every year for friends and strangers alike. He savors this tradition and hints at making it more frequent.
"Some people have said to me, 'Orv, can you do a birthday-and-a-half?"
He pauses and lets the prospect hang in the beauty of a sun-splashed August morning in his beloved Sac City.
The birthday boy grins, eyes aglow. He leans forward and says, "I may do that next year."
SIOUX CITY -- The new management group at the Sioux City Convention Center says it doesn't anticipate construction work at the venue and at the adjoining hotel it's building will hamper business over the next year.
Kinseth Hospitality Co. took over management of the Convention Center Jan. 1 and this summer began working on a five-story Courtyard by Marriott Hotel next door that will eventually adjoin the venue.
The City of Sioux City will also soon begin adding a nearby parking deck, renovating a portion of the Convention Center and adding a new "pre-function" space that will attach directly to the hotel.
Senior vice president Bruce Kinseth said much of the construction work will occur outside the Convention Center and will not affect events.
"Our goal, and the city's goal, is to try to do the work where it doesn't affect some of the real big events," Kinseth said. "(Interior) convention center work is going to be scheduled summer 2019, which is the slowest time of the year."
The new management company has received generally positive reviews in its first few months on the job, although Sioux City is still finalizing financial numbers from the company's first six months of operation.
"So far it's gone well," City Manager Bob Padmore said. "I've heard from people who have had events there that they've been well-staffed, catering has been good and things have seemed to be transitioning fairly well."
Kinseth said the company has booked many of the same events that have been held in the past, including the upcoming Siouxland Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, and he believes the venue's finances will improve under their management.
"We certainly believe that we've improved the cost structure on the Convention Center," Kinseth said.
According to Kinseth's contract, Sioux City incentivizes the company for cutting down on the subsidy taxpayers foot each year to keep the venue running.
The overall hotel and renovation project is anticipated to make the venue, which has had some recent struggles with conference bookings, more marketable to a wider variety of events. Once the projects conclude, Kinseth will manage both the hotel and the venue, and the city is banking on the attached hotel to drive an increased interest in event and conference bookings at the venue.
"The big picture long-term is to build the revenue stream on the Convention Center by being able to offer the hotel and being able to offer groups that want to have hotel rooms for a business meeting," Kinseth said. "The new ballroom, we hope, will attract more upper-scale events and weddings -- things like that that a big flat space did not attract over the years."
The hotel and convention center improvements are a central piece of Sioux City's Reinvestment District, which includes four economic development projects valued at approximately $130 million. The state has granted contingent approval for $13.5 million in future motel/hotel and sales taxes from new developments in the district over 20 years.
Another of those projects, an expo center in the city's former stockyards, will also be partially marketed as an event venue. With a main arena anticipated to be well over twice the size of the convention center, city officials have said the expo center could attract larger trade shows, such as the Siouxland Home Show, which currently uses the Convention Center.
Terri Schelm, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Greater Siouxland, said the event currently faces space limitations and has a waiting list of vendors hoping to join the show. Other current vendors have said they could expand if there were more space.
"Where we're at, we've outgrown the Convention Center," she said. "We certainly have had great service and great participation with the Convention Center, but if it's an opportunity to grow, sometimes you have to make changes."
Schelm said plans go a year at a time, and she doesn't foresee the event moving right away. Construction of the expo center is expected to begin in summer 2019 and conclude in 2020.
Kinseth said he hopes not to lose events from the city-owned and privately managed convention center to the privately owned and city-managed Siouxland Expo Center.
"The city has two venues, and they probably don't want them competing over price, but we wouldn't want the city or anybody to move business to the ag center," he said. "We want every event we can get. We still want all the boat shows, the home shows, weddings, banquets and corporate business meetings."
Mayor Bob Scott said he believes there's potential for the two venues to compete, but his hope is that larger events in the expo center would make space at the convention center for new event business sparked by the development.
"You would hope that the venues that need a larger area would be the ones that go there and that that would maybe free up that facility," he said.
Padmore said he sees the two venues as complementary -- the expo center capable of accommodating shows that would be too large for the convention center, and the new hotel and ballroom space opening up a market for new events that want more than just open floor space.
"A lot of communities our size have RV and boat shows," he said. "We're really constrained because our convention center isn't able to offer the scale that would be needed for multi-vendor home and boat show."
Kinseth hopes to open the new hotel in 2019.