Thursday, April 23, 2015

Along The Trail-More NLR Detour Improvements, The Usual Crowds, And Some Observations

The City of North Little Rock responded quickly and very well to feedback on the Broadway Bridge area trail detour.

Before
Before the recent changes, riders exiting Riverfront Park and turning left (west) were tempted to ride behind the orange barrels in the eastbound lanes. The barrels were meant to keep eastbound cyclists and drivers out of the construction area.
 As seen looking west from the Riverfront Park gate, the traffic barriers seemed to provide a protected path, but were intended to keep traffic out of the prohibited construction area.
Cyclists who chose that option, like this large family group on rental bikes, found themselves dumped head-on into two lanes of 40-MPH traffic. The speed limit has been reduced to 30, but it is seldom heeded.
Eastbound riders were either funneled into the construction zone or forced into the single traffic lane.

After: Much Better!

Riders following the detour on to Riverfront Drive now are given clear direction.

Signs clearly indicate that both pedestrians and cyclists should cross to the westbound lane or to the sidewalk.

Eastbound riders now have a marked bike lane, and the correct placement of the barriers should help keep cyclists from entering the construction zone.
The "after" photos are compliments of Chris Wilbourn, NLR Planning/Traffic Engineer (Director). 

I had sent Chris some photos and feedback last week and when I called to follow up, he was already on the site making changes. Thanks also go out to Danny Dillon, NLR Chief of Staff Danny Bradley, and Alderman Charlie Hight. All of them, along with Massman Construction and the AHTD, have worked to help keep the River Trail open and safe for cyclists and pedestrians during the bridge construction. 
I have also been working with Jeremy Lewno of Bobby's Bike Hike, as many of the "confused" riders were on rentals. Jeremy and his crew have scouted the area and are making it a point to inform their customers about the detour. Jeremy is also the Little Rock Bike-Ped coordinator, so he is busy with the many issues on the south side of the river. 
The improvements are the result of a city being responsive to feedback from the community and responsible in maintaining the viability of the River Trail. The trail is a big draw for the entire area and an important part of the character of our city. 

 The Usual Crowds and Complaints

Spring has been kind of punk in central Arkansas this year, continually being thumped back by a stubborn winter, but the few really nice days have seen big crowds on the Big Dam Bridge and the Two Rivers Bridge and Park. Most of us know the drill by now. On the nice days, folks who seldom venture out join the trail regulars and make up a discombobulated, multi-directional moving (or not)  cluster that can try the patience of all of the players.

With some close observation, you can usually start to identify sub-sets within the crowd:

Regular Trail Users: These may be riders, runners, or walkers. Some are people you know by sight if you spend much time on the Arkansas River Trail. The frequent riders will usually ride solo or in a small group, riding single file in crowded areas, calling out politely to let others know they are passing. When you see them involved in a group ride, there's usually good order and "the rules" number 2, 3, and 43  are in effect. They save their speed work for the open road or empty trail sections, which are easily found.
Runners and walkers stay to the right side of the trail or bridge and know to glance over their shoulder before making a sudden stop or change in direction. If ear buds are in use, music is low enough to hear a greeting or warning. They keep an eye on their children and a short leash on their dogs. These practices are a matter of both good manners and self-preservation, along with a dose of respect for other trail users.


RTUs-Doing it like they've been there before.

Weekend warriors: The riders in this set may actually ride frequently and have enough miles on their legs to believe that they are pretty fast. Unfortunately, many also believe that their average speed, Strava KOMs, and very sexy aerobars are more important than the safety and good manners mentioned above. "On your left" is shouted as an imperative and what should be a polite alert comes to simply piss people off. Ear buds, the bane of multi-use trails, are often present. Attire may range from gym shorts to full kit. The full kit guys in this subset don't usually really ride the team represented or they would have enough experience to have graduated from this group.
Runners in this set are often in pairs or small groups. All will likely have ear buds in and can somehow manage to take the entire width of the trail so that they can run abreast while not talking to one another (See "ear buds"). Passing riders often have to shout loudly in order to get their attention. In extreme cases, a shoulder tap may be used. Walkers in this group may follow the same patterns, or they may easily drift into the next classification.

The Blissfully Oblivious: Unfortunately, many very nice people fall into this category. They love getting out on the trail from time to time, often with family or friends. They have absolutely no clue that anybody else is doing anything with any purpose or direction. They'll stop in mid-trail and mid-stride to chat or look at deer/dog/bird/flower/sky/river without a thought. They'll walk 4 or 5 wide with kids, dogs, or strollers blocking the width of the trail. They don't think anything of leaving their kids' bikes laying on the trail and they may find the foot of a bridge a great place to congregate. In many cases, both their children and their dogs should be on shorter leashes. These are the people who actually create the most potential for conflict and danger on the trail, but they would never guess it. They can try the patience of most folks and may enrage type-A personalities. Some of these people come across as inconsiderate a-holes but, for the most part, they are just oblivious.

The RTUs are often grouped in with the WWs by the BOs, as the differences are subtle to the untrained eye. There are inconsiderate a-holes within each group, but the vast majority of people on the trail are polite, considerate, and follow the simple protocols of the trail.They are happy to be outside doing something that they enjoy, and they don't mind sharing.


 For me, "typing" people along the trail is a form of entertainment, and if you ride the trail much, you'll encounter everything from swimsuit models to Chick-Fil-A cows.  People come and go, but over time you start recognizing "the regulars", then you exchange a nod or a greeting and start forming a bit of a bond. The trail is the only place I see some of the folks that I consider to be friends. I've known them for years and may not have their phone number or even know their last name, but we share something important.
Go out and ride with your friends. And look out for the BOs. They don't know any better, so just say, "bless their hearts" and know that most of them will be back home on the couch once it gets really hot, and you'll be back among the RTUs.



Monday, April 13, 2015

River Trail East Spur- Southeast Trail

Note- After I posted this article, Rob Stephens advised that the designated  name of this section will be the "Southeast Trail". 04-14-15

There has been much discussion  within central Arkansas bike advocacy circles about the detours to the River Trail caused by the Broadway Bridge project and the lack of progress toward "closing the loop" along Cantrell Road, along with some problems caused by inconsiderate patrons of the Big Dam Bridge.
While this has been going on and over the previous few months, Rob Stephens of the Arkansas River Trail Task Force has been quietly going about the business of getting a substantial new section of the Arkansas River Trail System formalized.


This map defines the route and shows sign locations for the new River Trail East spur. 
The route for the most part will use streets and roads that are included within the Little Rock bike plan, and formalizes a long-used ride route east of the City that many of us refer to as "the Airport Loop".The route passes by or near the Clinton Presidential Library Park, Heifer Project International, the Clinton National Airport, the Little Rock Port Authority, Dassault Falcon, and Welspun on the way to the David D. Terry Park. The scenery along the flat ride varies from parkland to industrial to lowlands marsh. Traffic is generally light, especially on weekends, and the road quality ranges from excellent broad avenues near the airport to rail-crossed and pot-holed in the industrial park. One-way mileage to Terry Park is about 13 miles. Look for the signs to go up soon.
The Clinton National Airport has recently installed bike racks for travellers, employees, and visitors, and boasts the fastest free Wi-Fi Internet of any airport in the country. There is an easily accessible Starbucks near the terminal entrance to satisfy the need for a jolt of caffeine or a bite to eat.
The various institutions and businesses along the route were generally supportive of the project, with some seeing it as an opportunity for associates to commute by bike or to enjoy the fitness opportunities offered by having a nearby designated bike route.
The Arkansas River Trail Task Force operates under the auspices of Metroplan, the regional transportation authority.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Updates: BDB Policy, Detours North and South of The River

On the BDB...
In statements to media, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde seems to have softened his positions on nighttime closure and the banning of dogs from the BDB to say that such actions are "under consideration". I think we can all appreciate his frustration with irresponsible pet owners and those who would use the BDB as an after-dark party spot, leaving behind litter and damage. I have confidence that Judge Hyde will act fairly and appropriately.

North
North Little  Rock elected officials and staff continue to evaluate and tweak the River Trail detour required by construction of the new Broadway Bridge. I met alderman Charlie Hight, chief of staff Danny Bradley, traffic director Chris Wilbourn, and Danny Dillon recently at the site to observe traffic and take an on-the-ground look at the current situation along Riverfront Road. The City had already responded to input from the cycling community by adding signage cautioning drivers of the presence of pedestrians and cyclists, and by reducing the speed limit to 30 MPH.


Dillon, Wilbourn, Hight, and Bradley.

Vehicles travelling east approaching the construction zone.


Striping was added to provide a bit of a buffer between the traffic lane and cyclists traveling east on Riverfront.

A radar speed indication sign has been placed west of Smarthouse Way to alert motorists, and there was discussion of making the intersection of Riverfront and Karrot/ Smarhouse Way a 4-way stop in an effort to slow traffic. My understanding is that the AHTD (this is a state highway) has approved that measure should it be deemed necessary. 
The situation here will be dynamic as construction progresses, so be alert for changes to this route. There is no doubt that both trail users and drivers will be inconvenienced, so we'll all need to be patient. 

South

Most of the pipeline construction along Cantrell Road near Episcopal Collegiate School is complete, though I did notice equipment still on site last week.The sidewalks on both sides of Cantrell have been improved slightly. 

River Trail signage on Markham from downtown now directs westbound cyclists to cross to the north side of LaHarpe at State Street. After crossing LaHarpe, the trail continues west on North Street. 
Approaching LaHarpe/ Cantrell Road on North Street. My cycling model is the lovely Mrs. JBar, Diane.

It appears that Mayor Mark Stodola has given up on the idea of a grand River Bluffs trail section running along the Arkansas River behind Dillard's Corporate headquarters. Dillard's has apparently consistently refused  to allow the project, and there is little or no interest in or support for it among members of the Little Rock Board of Directors. Stodola is said to be trying to gather support for the idea of designating the sidewalk along the north side on Cantrell as the route of the River Trail. 

 The sidewalk near the Packet House has been widened to allow riders to bypass utility poles that had been centered on the walk,.
Multiple driveways, approach lanes, traffic islands, and rough, off-camber curb crossings make for sketchy riding. 

Though improved, passage along the north side of Cantrell makes for poor riding. The planned connections at either end of the section will certainly approve the approaches, and will eventually allow riders to make their way west from downtown without using Markham Street or crossing LaHarpe and Cantrell. 

The long-term "detour" on the sidewalk in front of ECS is much improved, and I believe that, given the choice, most riders will choose it over the north side of the road.

Without unlikely cooperation from either Dillard's or the ECS interests, the choices are few for routing the River Trail through this densely developed area. Changes of heart or changes in leadership may ultimately allow for a more visionary plan, but it appears we'll be riding sidewalks for the foreseeable future.

The construction of the new Broadway Bridge is going to challenge all types of transportation along both sides of the Arkansas River for the next couple of years. The closing of the present bridge, currently planned for June 2016, will likely create more mayhem than we can imagine. It will be interesting to see if the end result is an improvement or a detriment to our trails system. I'm optimistic that progress will continue with Broadway becoming another viable river crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. Questions remain as to what their options will be when they land on the south side of the Arkansas. 







Friday, April 3, 2015

Genuine Bad News-Pulaski County To Close Big Dam Bridge At Night, Ban Dogs



As usual, responsible people will lose the use of a public resource due to the inconsiderate or malicious actions of others. Sad, but understandable.
There are some nuggets of good news.
This information from Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde was forwarded by BACA president Mason Ellis to BACA board members:

Sorry I am out of town this week and cannot attend your meeting.
The Maumelle trail project is still looking for funding. 

We have applied for a grant that will allow us to install a 14’ lane on Pinnacle Valley Rd extending west from County Farm Rd. I’m optimistic about this one.  

We expect announcement very soon about the trail extending from Clinton Bridge to Terry Lock and Damn Park on Frazier Pike.  

We expect to begin closing the BDB because of vandalism and criminal activity occurring during the night. The closure time will be the same as Burns Park and we will have the BDB open early in the morning for our early risers. 

We also anticipate banning dogs on the BDB very soon. The cost of sending a crew out at least 3 times a week to clean up dog poop is not going to continue. It’s a disappointment to do that but the continued disrespect of some dog owners leaves me no choice.


More later.
Judge Hyde


The preliminary engineering continues on all three sections of the Southwest Trail. 
I hope to see you at your next meeting.

We will need to discuss this as a board! I don’t believe anyone wants to see the BDB closing at any time! Also, as big of an annoyance people walking their dogs and not picking up after them is, we need to work towards keeping the bridge open to all users.

We can discuss tonight at the meeting but I wanted to give everyone a heads up.  

Thanks,
Mason Ellis
I've always thought that the fact that the River Trail and the Bridges were open to all 24-hours per day, 365 days per year to be part of the unique charm of the River Trail system. Unfortunately, a different kind of bridge user has been emerging as folks realized that this unique venue is isolated and not subject to the immediate presence of law enforcement. It has been noticed that as darkness approaches, the crowds change from the usual families, exercise enthusiasts and nature lovers. The apparent result has been an increase in vandalism, litter, and illegal activity. Most of us will be unaffected by the nighttime closure, but it still pisses me off that, as usual, good people may lose privileges due to the actions of assholes.

There is good news in the above.
 I have an article on the works of the East Spur trail extension to Frazier Pike, which is largely the result of some very good work by Arkansas River Trail Task Force chairman Rob Stephens. We've been trying to get together to ride the route, but bad weather has popped up at every turn.
I am very pleased to hear that some positive action, if preliminary, is being taken on the Southwest Trail. Judge Hyde and the Quorum Court are also intent on building true bike paths along Pinnacle Valley Road. Ironically, Justice of The Peace Doug Reed, who represents district 1, opposed applying for a grant and providing funding for the project. Since many of his constituents have been vocal about the need to get cyclists off of "their" road, it would have been rational to assume that he would be supportive.

On the Not-So-Genuine News Of April 1

I want to thank Rob Stephens for his River Trail Task Force "Press Release" regarding trail closure.
He may have stumble on to a viable business model with the Uber Water Taxi. When the Broadway Bride closes in the summer of 2016 for replacement, desperate commuters would likely line the banks of the river seeking transport.
My article on the River Bluffs Trail Section is unlikely  to come to being. It would require some political risk on the part of mayor Mark Stodola, cooperation from the LR Board of Directors, and some community spirit on the part of Dillard's. Stodola seems to have abandoned the grand idea in favor of a far-from-ambitious plan of permanently routing the River Trail down the sidewalk and across the driveways along the north side of Cantrell.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Arkansas River Trail-Good News On "Closing The Gap"

April 1, 2015

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola made a major announcement today regarding the Arkansas River Trail "Cantrell gap". After years of pressure from BACA, along with other cycling and pedestrian interests, Stodola said, "I'm tired of hearing about it. We have a fantastic plan from Jacobs Engineers, we have widespread support from the community, and now we have a commitment from the Walton Family Foundation for matching funds that will allow us to complete the River Bluffs Trail Section."
He pointed to the Walton Family Foundation's pledge of $15-million which supplemented federal TIGER grants and local funding to complete the 36 mile, $38-million Razorback Greenway in Northwest Arkansas.
 From the Greenway website:
Trails for bike riding and walking ranked second out of 18 different amenities that new homebuyers look for in a community, according to a 2002 survey of new homebuyers sponsored by the National Association of Home Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders.

 A Foundation spokesman said that central Arkansas had been important to the growth of Walmart in its nascent years and that the Walton family was glad to be able to give back to the community. It's also good for business: "Trail systems are proven to spur economic development and bring more people to communities That's good for Walmart."
Dillard's representatives did not wish to comment.


The official name for this spectacular addition to the Arkansas River Trail System has yet to be decided.

It is thought likely that the trail, cantilevered dramatically over the Arkansas River behind the Dillard's corporate headquarters, will be named for the Walton Family. 
Local cyclist and former state representative Sam Ledbetter, who helped allocate $1,000,000.00 in state funds for the trail completion several years ago, was heard to say, "It's about time. The City of Little Rock has been sitting on the funding almost long enough to term-limit Jason Rapert." 
It is hoped that construction will be completed in time to coincide with the dedication of the new Broadway Bridge and the re-opening of the River Trail sections affected by that project.
Stodola said that he was going to act on his oft-voiced strategy of using eminent domain to force the acquisition of the needed property and easements." We have projects underway for the east and west termini, and now we're going to close the gap. It's not just about bikes and walkers. It's about building a better city." 
When asked what prompted him to act now after years of foot-dragging, Stodola cited available funding, his many unfulfilled promises to the cycling community, enhanced tourism and economic development opportunities, strong support from city directors Erma Hendrix and Lance Hines, and the fact that "I won't have Judy Lansky riding my ass", as determining factors in the decision. Hendrix reportedly said that she had recently read the story of Major Taylor and had come away inspired to create more safe cycling opportunities for the people of district 1, "especially for the children".

Fairy tales can come true.

Task Force Announces Arkansas River Trail Closing



Contact: Robert Stephens

Arkansas River Trail System Task Force

PRESS RELEASE

Closure of the Arkansas River Trail

Little Rock, April 1, 2015: The Arkansas River Trail System Task Force announced today that the popular trail system in Central Arkansas is closed until further notice. The Task Force regrets this decision and understands it will cause considerable inconvenience to residents and visitors to Central Arkansas.

The circumstances that have lead to this decision are numerous

Because of the multiple construction projects that are occurring along the trail, local governments are overwhelmed with the amount of trail detours. Public works and parks departments must install signage for these detours and restripe trail sections that are affected by these construction projects. Their costs have been considerable and they’re crying ‘uncle’ to all the detours”, Task Force spokesman Rob Stephens noted. “The cost to install these signs must be borne by local governments and are not budgeted in the contractor’s bids. North Little Rock Parks department has even tried to reduce costs by mounting detour signs with Velcro. Contractors have installed Bicycle Abatement Devices in their construction zones to dissuade renegade cyclists. Trail users are now in a twilight zone situation.” Stephens encourages trail users to take advantage of the newly established Uber water taxi service on the Arkansas River to access the downtown areas.
Another factor in the decision to close the Arkansas River Trail is the exponential growth in the Canada Geese population. The geese have commenced their spring mating rituals and have started attacking trail users. One person was chased off the trail by a gang of angry geese and was rescued by the North Little Rock’s Parks’ ranger Ian Hope. The geese also create piles of excrement on the trail forcing cyclists to walk their bikes due to the slick trail conditions. When reached for comment, North Little Rock’s professional geese dog, ‘Shep’, could only put his head between his paws in frustration. Shep has been coordinating his geese chasing efforts with Little Rock Parks’ geese dog Jill, “We chase them back and forth across the river”, explained Shep, “they just won’t leave.”
The Arkansas River Trail System Task Force mission is to develop, maintain and promote the Arkansas River Trail and adjoining trails in Central Arkansas. The task force is made up of representatives from the municipalities, counties and agencies that are encompassed by the Arkansas River Trail.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Spring Classics Are Upon Us!

Before I became absorbed with all things bicycle, like most Americans, my knowledge of the international bike racing scene was limited to an annual dose of the Tour de France. I will admit that even my interest  in the Tour only became quasi-serious when American Greg Lemond won it, and then, of course, Lance Armstrong made cycling fans of all of us with his years-long dominance. I thought that the best bike racing always took place in France during the month of July right up until my neighbor Darwin loaned me a VHS tape of a very muddy Paris-Roubaix.
George Hincapie in the 2002 Paris-Roubaix . In conditions like this, riders are forced to the crown of the road or to the gutters in order to avoid crashing out on the slick pavé.
Photo from Cyclingtips

I won't say that it convinced me that the Tour was for pussies, but I came away convinced that the real hard men of cycling show their colors in the spring in Belgium where rain, slick cobblestones, cold, and cow shit defined the race course. The winner was decided not by team time trails or weeks-long strategy, but man-to-man in one day contests in which the first rider across the finish line wins. Period. Game over. The only second chance is next year.
Check out schedules at CyclingNews , VeloNews, this get a good overview from entry on Wikipedia. Live video can usually be found at SteephillTV or Cyclingfans.com.

A note on cycling websites: I was introduced to Velonews as the "go to" site for live race blog-style coverage. Over the years, Velonews dropped live coverage in the face of competition from CyclingNews. One was usually no better than the other but it costs money to have folks pecking away on the keyboard with live descriptions of the action. I subscribe to Velo magazine and their VeloNews website still has excellent content; just lacking in immediate coverage.
Video streaming sites: They often require some finessing. You'll usually see several sites for English language, and many will ask you to download software. I advise against downloading from any of those links. When you find a broadcast that you want, there will often be a banner ad obscuring the view. Maximizing the image usually bypasses those ads and their pesky links.

Live and delayed broadcast coverage of some races can be found on NBCSports  or beIN Sports (Comcast channel 268). I have my DVR set to record events with CYCLING as a keyword so that I can catch events without having to search for an obscure listing. You can also usually find highlights or the closing kilometers of a race on YouTube by searching the race name.

Don't miss out on some of the best racing of the season! The drama is already increasing as perennial classics contenders Fabian Cancellera and Tom Boonen have already fallen to injury, and Peter Sagan has had several poor performances, having been dropped in the final kilometer of Wednesday's E3 Harelbeke. Sagan, Tour green jersey winner and all-around top rider, had been anointed as a likely classics star.
This is vital information for those of you already plotting to take prizes in the JBarCycling Fantasy MiniLeague.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pedal On Down To Pedal Palooza- Sunday, March 29, 2015 11:00 AM-4:00PM


I really appreciate events like this, as it gives a community a place to pick up bargains and get rid of unneeded goods, an environmentally and economically sound practice. As a bit of a gear-head, I always seem to have parts and pieces that never made it to some project or used gear that is perfectly functional but no longer in my "active use" inventory.  Of course, I'm also a procrastinator, so I still have all of that stuff! While Pedal Palooza won't clear my garage and barn of surplus kayaking, windsurfing, camping, fishing and cycling gear, I may be able to pick up some stuff that I think I really need!

At Biketoberfest last fall, I was in the middle of a project to renovate a vintage Trek road bike, and was in need of some brakes and a rear derailleur.I had a pair of Shimano Ultegra shifters, but really didn't want to spend a couple of hundred bucks to complete the group. I was able to pick up everything I needed for a few dollars and topped it off with a Brooks Team Professional saddle for a fraction of retail.

I was able to make a practical project of this sweet ride.

I'm not in the market for anything right now, but I still plan to check out Pedal Palooza, and may have to ride my town bike so I will have panniers just in case i run across something that I just don't know that I need yet!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Broadway Bridge Construction- Caution

North Little Rock Construction Area-Please Keep Out


I got a call this morning from Cooper Kyhl, engineer, with Massman Construction. Massman is the contractor for the Broadway Bridge project and Cooper was asking for a little help and consideration from the cycling community. As has been reported here in previous posts, a portion of the Arkansas River Trail has been closed to pedestrian and bike traffic as Massman does preliminary work on the bridge. As the job site has become more active, the Massman folks are increasingly concerned about trail users who have been bypassing barriers and entering the construction zone.

I will confess to having ridden around a few barriers in my role as a quasi-journalist in my quest to provide readers with relevant and current information, some barriers are what I'll call "suggestive", while others clearly mean "keep out".


 The east closure fence clearly means "KEEP OUT".

This closure also clearly says, "KEEP OUT", as well. Unfortunately, this fence has been repeatedly pulled up. It will be anchored more securely. 

The east end of the construction zone is very secure; however, at the west end there was an easily bypassed barrier where the detour meets the trail, and then there is a chain link fence, shown above, that is more secure. While I doubt very seriously that recreational cyclists were pulling up the fence, curious riders who have bypassed the first barrier are obviously taking advantage of the open gate, as Khyl has observed them riding out through the construction gate near his job trailer. Since my visit to the job yesterday, the west end barriers have been made more secure.

Bottom Line: Massman understands that the detour in an inconvenience, but they are serious about safety on their project. Please respect that. The trail is impassable near the bridge, so riders are still forced on to Riverfront Drive. The area will become increasingly hazardous as time goes on, so we just need to get used to the detour. 

On The Detour....
I contacted Chris Wilbourn, NLR Planning/Traffic Engineer (Director), regarding the lack of clearly visible signage along Riverfront Road advising drivers of the presence of cyclists. We had discussed the need for the signs in some previous conversations, and Chris responded quickly, working with the AHTD to get better signage. The Broadway Bridge replacement is a project of AHTD. 

Additional signs along Riverfront Road. Signs like this have been added to the east and westbound lanes.
 The crosswalk has been more clearly marked,

Thanks to Chris Wilbourn and the AHTD. Thanks, too, to NLR Alderman Debi Ross for her support. I had asked about the possibility of bike lanes on this stretch, and Chris indicated that temporary bike lanes are possible. There is no shoulder or even a white stripe between the traffic lanes and the curb. 

In Little Rock

Kyhl advised me that they were preparing to close a portion of the River Trail in Little Rock, as well. Things are going to be very sketchy for cyclists in the downtown area for the next couple of years.
This is a preliminary map of the River Trail detour in downtown Little Rock.

I have been involved in many discussions and meetings on the subject of handling trail traffic in downtown Little Rock during the bridge project over the last couple of years. There was never a real consensus, likely because there are no really good alternatives. The map above shows westbound traffic using Clinton Blvd/Markham Street, while eastbound traffic is one way on 4th Street. Local cyclists will find their way, and visitors will likely be very confused. 

We've all known this was coming, and the detours will be a hassle, but the present situation will just be a warm-up for the mayhem that will ensure when the Broadway Bridge is actually closed to traffic. Learn to be patient. Now, go ride your bike. The sun will shine....sometime. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Glory Days- Fine weather arrives!

Early spring here in Arkansas has thus far been a bit of a disappointment. For cyclists, that may be a bit of an understatement, as it had really sucked. We seem to have had very few nice days, and the few that have come along have mostly been during the week and prior to the time change. We've endured more than our fair share of cold, dreary weekends, late season sleet and snow, grey skies, and record low March temperatures. That is why the past Sunday was so welcome. A drizzly cool Saturday led to a warm, sunny Sunday that seemed to call every rider, dog walker, runner, stroller, and baby carriage roller to the Arkansas River Trail.

So, here we go again!
With the crowds come the usual challenges of minor trail user conflicts, so cyclists need to be acutely aware that we share the trail, and many of the folks that we share the trail with at this time of year do not have a clue as to the norms of trail etiquette.
 Two Rivers Park saw the usual congestion on Sunday.

There was something for everybody to enjoy along the trail.
A perfect day on the BDB
Parking everywhere along the trail was problematic. Near the LR side of the BDB, cars parked in the bike lane and along the road well past the Overlook turn. 
Blues Brothers? I guess you don't need a license plate for a surplus cop car; just blown out pipes and a big V-8 to roar out of a crowded park. 

-Please be polite. I often hear riders, mostly newbies, barking "ON YOUR LEFT" as if it was an imperial command. That pisses some folks off. It is supposed to be an act of consideration to advise people that you are passing by. A kinder, gentler, "On your left, please.", will usually make more friends. I long ago settled into using "Passing by, please.  Thank you." That usually gets me a wave, a "thanks", and often a  smile.

- Manage groups. Group rides are fun. Group rides are empowering. Group rides create bonds and can improve your riding. Group rides can scare the hell out of people, simply due to the mass that is passing by them in close proximity. Keep this in mind. If you're a leader, slow down the pack and pass the word for the group to tighten up as you enter busy trail sections. When you get back out on the road, maintain a slower pace so that everybody catches back on. Do not punish those riders who exercise good trail manners by  forcing them to chase.
This group included several folks on aero bars. I was glad to see them sit up so they could reach their brakes as the turned on to the trail at Two Rivers Park

-Do your time trial riding on the road. Aero bars and high speed don't have a place on crowded trails. None of the walkers are going to be impressed by either your new helmet or your awesome power and most experienced riders will pick you out as a recent convert to triathlon.
Being polite and sharing the trail is only burdensome if you choose to make it so. It is simple to "Be alert. Be polite. Stay right."  It is slightly more difficult to be patient with the ranks of the clueless with whom we often. share the trail, but we can do it.

It's a new season. Be careful.
Within the last few weeks, two members of my small ride group have been hit by cars, and a third took a crash resulting in serious injury when he touched wheels with another rider. The only lesson here is that the season is young and many of us are not quite in the mid-season groove. Take it upon yourself to be extra mindful of your own safety and the safety of those around you.

A couple of notes on trail and road conditions

There is a lot of gravel on the roads of central Arkansas, usually with complementary potholes as a result of the recent snow and ice. The bike lanes along County Farm Road have been covered with gravel for the last couple of weeks, making it sketchy for cyclists and prompting many of us to choose the traffic lanes for their relative safety.
 Gravel is dangerous for road riders.
These riders are trying to stay right to allow traffic to easily pass, but gravel in the bike lane was a more immediate hazard. I'll note that these guys were not really "parade makers" holding up traffic. I spotted the line of cars approaching and waited for the shot.

Pulaski County responds!
I dropped a note on Sunday to Judge Barry Hyde's office concerning the gravel. I got a response that it had been forward to Roads and Bridge guy John Burton, and that the bike lanes would be swept today (Monday). Thank you! Pulaski County has usually been responsive to reasonable, specific requests and that kind of working government is to be appreciated.

Flooding on the North Side

High flows on the Arkansas River make for dramatic viewing at the BDB and can cause some problems along the North Little Rock River Trail. 
 This little girl had a plan for the rising water. Feet up and flying!

The first photo was taken at about 1:30, and this one was taken several hours later at near peak flows according to the USGS.

Be aware that the high water may change you ride plans. The USGS gauge information indicates that the river peaked Sunday afternoon, so unless we get more precipitation upstream, things should be returning to normal pretty quickly.  

Pinnacle Valley Restaurant

I'm going to give these folks another pitch. They are eager to welcome cyclists and are working to make us feel wanted. They have a nice beer selection and I'm looking forward to checking out the food. 
Owner Gina Fullerton showing me the deck behind the restaurant at Pinnacle valley and Beck Road. She, along with husband Mike and manager Christian, are set to welcome cyclists. They will be equipping the tables with umbrellas for shade, though the sun felt pretty good on Sunday. 
In addition to the restaurant, bar area and deck, a large meeting/party room in back boasts one of the bigger projection TV's I've seen.

I can see the Pinnacle Valley Restaurant becoming popular with riders for a post-ride brew or a late breakfast after knocking out some weekend miles. They will have their grand opening on Thursday. Drop by to say hello and check it out. They will soon open a convenience store for riders and park users, and plan to install bike racks. 


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Along The Trail- Slow Times, But Just Around The Corner.....

Though the calendar is telling us that it is spring, the lingering cold, drizzle, snow and ice seem to disagree. As I type this, our weather forecast is calling for thunderstorms, then 3-5 inches of snow followed by single-digit temperatures. The Razorback baseball team  and staff spent 4 hours Monday shoveling snow and ice from Baum Stadium in order to get in a double-header. Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks...and hot chocolate and a parka.
 Events like the Crosswinds Classic and the Little Rock Marathon took place last weekend in dismal conditions, so hats off to those who raced or supported those in challenging conditions.


NLR Trail Detour

As previously announced, the ART through North Little Rock's Riverfront Park has been detoured on to Riverfront Road. The detour is fairly well marked, thought the promised signage alerting motorists to the fact that they are sharing the road is minimal.

Last week, a few scofflaws disregarded the signs and rode through the construction zone. I think that we can safely say "Trail Closed" now. 

Barge mounted cranes will be the norm along the downtown waterfront for the next year or two. 

We all knew that the replacement of the Broadway Bridge was going to disrupt road and River Trail traffic, and that disruption is upon us. The crappy weather has kept trail traffic to a minimum, but as daylight savings time kicks in and spring inevitably comes, the riding community will have to make adjustments. Many groups ride from the submarine and they will immediately be forced out on to Riverfront Drive. I think that will be manageable until the Broadway Bridge  is closed to automobile traffic. I think that we will have an opportunity to give the City some feedback in the interim. If you ride this stretch and see room for improvement, make suggestions through your alderman if you are a North Little Rock resident. 

Some big event rides are already adjusting, with the BDB100 shifting the start to Riverfront Drive and Olive St. in North Little Rock (near The Enclave)  and the CARTI Tour de Rock moving its start from Burns Park to the US Bank at Broadway and Main.

Where are those pesky weekend crowds?
Weekend crowds have not been a problem on the BDB

Below the BDB, things are a little more active as gulls and pelicans compete for stunned shad coming through the dam.

I've managed to get in a few rides over the last couple of weeks, but there was little of the usual pleasure in the experience. We can usually count on some warm sunny days and reunions with our ride groups in the month of February, but I can recall only a single primo day over the last couple of months.

 The trail was not totally devoid of tourists. 

I ran into Shawn and Jill as they attempted a tandem selfie on the BDB last week, but they found their arms were too short to get the 2-seater in the frame. I offered to take the photo for them, and then dragged them up to Two Rivers Bridge before they turned back to try to get downtown before dark. He was from Texas and she from Wisconsin. They were headed north to her home, but were very impressed with what they found when they decided to take a ride here. I didn't hear what prompted them to get on the bike, as they had no information the bridges and trail system  but were delighted with what they found. they were already plotting a return trip.
Snow and ice can linger for days on the bridges and shaded parts of the trail. Forecast rains should clear the remain snow just in time for the next round of winter weather. Hopefully, our last for the year.

The first week of March is usually full-on spring in Arkansas, but as we brace for yet another round of snow and ice, we can take some comfort in the fact that sunset will be after 7:00 PM starting Sunday and us working folks will have more evening ride opportunities. That is a good thing, but I'm not putting away my tights and shoe covers quite yet.

Pinnacle Valley Restaurant

I've had a couple of e-mail exchanges with Gina Fullerton, one of the owners of the Pinnacle Valley Restaurant, which has opened at the corner of Beck Road and Pinnacle Valley. I had reported that their "soft opening" menu consisted of mostly burgers, catfish and barbecue. Good stuff, but not exactly ride fare. When I rode out last Sunday, I was pleased to see an extensive Sunday brunch menu, breakfast all day, and very reasonable prices. White tablecloths and a fresh interior gave the place a very nice feel. They will be opening a convenience store space, and plan to gear some of their offerings to the needs of the riding community. They will have some form of bike parking and will welcome cyclists. 

They offer beer and wine, and though the place is adorned with Bud Light banners at this time, they are carrying craft brews from the Lost 40 and Lazy Magnolia breweries.Lazy Magnolia is located in Kiln, Mississippi.and they advertise as "Mississippi's oldest brewery" as they approach their 10th anniversary. Of course, Lost 40 is Little Rock's hottest new brew house and they are quickly earning a reputation for their fine beer.
I'm looking forward to dropping by for a weekend after-ride "second breakfast" and our occasional Wednesday evening brews cruise may have found a new destination. Gina assures me that we will be welcome, road grime and all.  
 




Wednesday, February 18, 2015

FREE BEER!!!!! Well, Kind of free--Little Rock Gran Fondo

Last year, I was pretty excited about the first Little Rock Gran Fondo. Michael Chaffin of the Capital Hotel, Tony Karklins, then of Orbea, and Jason Warren of Arvest Bank were the ring leaders, and I knew that they all had some first class ideas as to what they wanted to include within the event experience. That meant good swag, good food, and a far better-than-average post ride street party. Heck, Lance Armstrong even made the ride.

For the most part, they pulled it off. Though their weather control was a little sketchy, we did manage to avoid major deluges out on the road and the post party actually saw some rays of sunshine before the bottom dropped out. Things were a little slow to get underway as riders stood in the drizzle so that a local TV station could get a live shot of the roll out on their morning show.

Waiting in the rain for a train (not a country song, but should be)

After a delayed start, last year's Gran Fondo riders soon had their rhythm, only to see it interrupted by a train at the first rail crossing we encountered. That actually added a little ironic humor, since at the start we had been told that we would have to stop " in the very unlikely event of a train" at the crossing.

In the end, blue skies and sunshine capped off a first-rate rider experience.

From Michael Chaffin, here is the early word on this year's Fondo:

LRGF registration is now officially open. $99 ($75 for the Medio Fondo) early bird special runs through the end of February. Then price increases to normal ($125 for Gran Fondo, $99 for Medio). Same format as last year except we've added 50 spots for those wanting a shorter distance. Registration is limited to 250. That number seemed to work well. We'll stay South again but add some new territory. There will again be two great rest stops (one for Medio) and the food festival at the end. Each rider receives a comp entry into the food festival...which now includes 2 free beers! Additional tickets can be had for $35 each. More details about the course, Chef line-up, etc., to follow in the coming weeks. Also, training rides are planned to begin the first week of March.


Many folks seemed to struggle with the registration link last year. I have tested the link above and it takes you right where you need to go. Also, there are links on the registration site for a Facebook page and a blog where updated information will be posted.




Tuesday, February 17, 2015

NLR Trail Closure-Broadway Bridge Precurser

In this case, "precurser" likely means the minor cursing the will be followed by months of major cursing when the Broadway Bridge is ultimately closed for demolition and construction.

The contractor for the Broadway Bridge has established a small village of construction trailers  along Riverfront Drive, and has a work barge staged at the nearby Riverfront Park. The first impact on the River Trail will take place sometime in the next couple of weeks as the trail will be closed from the Willow Street gate (Willow Street runs along the east side of Dickey-Stephens Park) to near the Union-Pacific RR bridge to the west. My understanding is that they will be removing some pedestrian stairs and other non-structural bridge components as they prepare for the bigger job at hand.
Cyclists will be re-rerouted to Riverfront Drive, while runners and walkers will use the adjacent sidewalks.

The map above shows the location of the upcoming River Trail detour.


The trail will closed from this point near the Willow Street Gate
 Willow Street and Riverfront Drive behind Dickey-Stephens Park. Traffic is currently not heavy, but the 4-lane divided road tends to encourage high speeds.

I have some concerns about how cyclists, runners, and other trail users will fare on Riverfront Road. Concerning striping and signage, Chris Wilbourn,  NLR Planning/Traffic Engineer (Director), shared this information in response to my inquiry:
Yes, there will be additional signage (See Attachment-map above). No lane striping at this time.  Signage for cyclists is “Share the Road”.

In addition to what is shown on the attached plan, NLR Traffic has added a temporary pedestrian crosswalk and associated signage at Karrot*, redone the pedestrian crosswalks at Willow Street and will be adding a couple of warning signs prior to the Detour on both ends.

Detour signage shown and described above is schedule to be installed this Friday; however, it may stretch to the first part of next week due to the weather.


 Riverfront at Smarthouse Way. Westbound riders will turn left here. Karrot St,* mentioned above, is directly across Riverfront from Smarthouse Way. The temporary crosswalk is shown here.
 This new asphalt trail takes detoured riders back to the ART near the Union Pacific rail bridge.

It will get worse before it gets better....
This detour will be a minor inconvenience in comparison to the mayhem that will accompany the closure of the Broadway Bridge, and will provide us with an opportunity to see how having bike traffic on Riverfront will work out. The difference being that Riverfront is relatively lightly used now, but when the 20,000 cars that normally use the Broadway Bridge daily are diverted, many, if not most, will use Riverfront to access the Main Street and I-30 bridges. It appears to me that the road is wide enough to support traffic lanes and a bike lane and I hope that, if possible, re-striping the road to that end will be considered. 

Impact on tourism
This particular stretch of the Arkansas River Trail serves not only local commuters and recreational riders, but it links the rest of the trail system to the Clinton Library, Clinton Park Bridge, the Junction Bridge, downtown hotels, Argenta, the River Market District, and a bike rental location . As a result, it is used by the many visitors to the area who wish to use the Arkansas River Trail. Due to the dysfunctional state of the trail on the Little Rock side along Cantrell Road, most folks  coming from Little Rock choose to cross the Clinton Park Bridge to access the River Trail. The trail is a proven attraction and I  think the local tourism economy will suffer if steps are not taken to assure that visitors can safely access it from downtown.