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Oberstar Will Be Missed

We are terribly sad to learn of the passing of Jim Oberstar — our extended League family expresses deepest condolences to Jim’s family and enormous gratitude for his extraordinary life and service. 

Jim Oberstar has been a friend, adviser and mentor to the entire bicycling community for a quarter century and he will be sorely missed by us all. His service to the 8th Congressional District, the State of Minnesota and the nation was exemplary and an inspiration.

As I told Streetsblog USA…

The first time I met Mr Oberstar was late 1988, or early 1989. I had written to commiserate about his being “doored” and he not only replied but suggested I come in and discuss the upcoming transportation bill! His commitment to bicycling was clear even then — we had lunch in the Members dining room and I can still see the faces of his staff as his schedule for the day went out the window. He wanted to talk about the opportunities to weave bicycling into that legislation… and the rest is history!

On another occasion, we had bike reception on the Hill and right next door there was another event hosted by a Minnesota group. The Congressman came in to our event, said a few words and went next door. I assumed that would be the last we’d see of him that evening. Fifteen minutes later, I see him back in our room chatting away with folks about bicycling — in fact, that was the evening he confessed how much he enjoyed putting away work papers and pulling out his copy of Bicycling magazine on the plane back to his district.

Jim tracked every mile that he rode and so we were shocked to realize in early 2002 that he had never ridden a century (100 miles)! Gary Sjoquist at Quality Bicycle Products created the Oberstar 100 in September of that year — coinciding with the Pro Walk Pro Bike conference in St. Paul — to put that issue straight. We rode an urban century around the Twin Cities using many road and trail projects funded by the very programs he created. About 60 miles into the ride, I was alongside him and saw that he was churning up the ramp from the Cedar Lake trail into downtown Minneapolis on the big chain ring (hardest to turn). He had yet to drop onto the small ring…60 miles into the ride. He was a beast.

We were so honored when Oberstar joined our board of directors in March. During his first board meeting he spoke as eloquently and forcefully in support of our equity goals as anyone, at the same time showing a deeper respect for and knowledge of our history as an organization than his colleagues. He was still talking about “the upcoming transportation” 25 years on, with the same enthusiasm as in that first encounter. His inspiration will carry us through — and we will miss his advice, leadership, and friendship.