Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Sunday turned out to be clear and sunny, a welcome rebound from Saturday's drizzly gloom and unfulfilled threat of all day rain and a perfect afternoon for a town ride. As I rode through Argenta, I was without an agenda, so I made one up, deciding to do a tour of our bike bridges while surveying some of Little Rock's bike infrastructure challenges. Call it a field trip.
I started with the Clinton Park Bridge, which is always mellow, occupied mostly by strolling walkers whose eyes are often drawn from the scenery to the list of donors etched into the concrete at their feet. A few cyclists pass through, but one seldom encounters long-leashed dog walkers, unsupervised kids, or mad dog bikers on the CPB.

I recommend the Clinton Park Bridge for those folks who might complain about the behavior of fellow users on the BDB or Two Rivers Bridge. It's very civilized.

Upon leaving Clinton Park, finding the best way through the River Market is often a little puzzling for me due to the intersecting sidewalks and driveways, but as long as you don't ride down any stairs, you'll likely end up on the Medical Mile. Unfortunately, we soon encounter some of Little Rock's challenges.

The washed out section of trail beyond this gate is soon to be repaired, but then what?

A couple of years ago, a section of the dead-end Medical Mile trail section washed into the Arkansas River. Since it didn't really go anywhere anyway, there was no rush to repair the damage. Now, the city has plans to rebuild the trail and to build a bridge over the Union Pacific tracks, somehow connecting to Cantrell Road. From there, the picture of a route along Cantrell becomes less clear.

The Medical Mile ends just to the right of this view, and Dillard's data center is to the left. It would be handy if this structure, which I assume to have been a rail crossing, could be recycled as a bike bridge. 
Once over the tracks, planners face more obstacles.

After finding a way around mid-sidewalk utility poles, a route along Cantrell will have to co-exist with Dillard's traffic.

The closer I look, the more appreciation I have for the difficulties involved in getting a bike path or lane through this stretch, and even on this quiet Sunday afternoon, I feared riding in the Cantrell Road traffic lanes. In an effort to grasp the big picture, I resorted to the ultimate big picture resource, Google Earth.
Dillard's HQ appears at the top of this view, and Cathedral School occupies the center triangle.
It seems clear that a route paralleling the tracks around the Cathedral School property would be most practical, but I'm told that this solution is a political impossibility. School interests apparently fear the social element that a bicycle-pedestrian path could bring to the culture rich location. This is an impasse that needs to be resolved for the good of the community as a whole.

Do it for the children!

I came across this crack team of small experts as they made their way along the sidewalk at Cantrell and LaHarpe. They had attentive leadership and maintained very good ride order.Many less confident riders find this stretch to be daunting. These guys deserve some trail through here.

Among the items discussed at the Little Rock Bike Friendly Committee meeting, were a proposal to reduce traffic lanes on Riverfront Drive in order to create wider, more safe lanes for cyclists and pedestrians, and the promise of repaving Rebsamen Park Road from Riverfront to the Big Dam Bridge. 
The idea has been put forth to put the traffic lanes on Riverfront on a "road diet", resulting in wider, presumedly safer, bike lanes.

Rebsamen Park Road from the Big Dam Bridge to the new traffic circle at the interesection with Riverfront is due to get a much-needed repaving.

I hope to not be redundent as I revisit some bike advocacy issues, but part of my self-appointed role here is to help keep you informed about the progress and politics of things that will affect us over time as riders. I'll express my opinions, but hope that you form your own and express them to city leaders and to representitives of BACA and entities like the Little Rock and NLR Bike Friendly Community Committees.  I think that recreational and sport riders are underrepresented in bike advocacy circles, so speak up!

 I'll now get back to the Sunday tour aspect of this article! I'm finding it interesting how the three bridges and their surroundings seem to be taking on individual personalities. I have already mentioned the Clinton Park Bridge, where you're more likely to see thoughtful types attired in casual slacks and looking pensive than a pack of club cyclists. Two Rivers Bridge has definitely become the place for casual exercise walkers, big family gaggles, long-leashed dogs, multi-child strollers, sky gazing bird-watching wanderers, training wheels, skates, scooters, and just plain stopped and standers. For cyclists, patience, disregard for average speed, and a "just passing through" attitude make up the best plan at Two Rivers.

Two Rivers Bridge and Park make a great passage to get to the open roads west of town, but it's no place for speedsters.

The Big Dam Bridge and the trail sections reaching from it seem to remain the center of activity for more serious riders, runners and other active recreational users. There will still be a large mixed crowd on the approaching spring days, but the shorter Two Rivers Bridge will help draw the gridlock crowds from the BDB.

When I saw this rider's jersey, I was unsure whether I was witnessing a jail break or a piece of performance art as he became a part of the geometry of rail and shadows. Perhaps he just liked the jersey, but I found that to be unlikely and much less fun.

That just about brings the story of the Sunday tour to a close. It was mostly a recreational field trip, but I wanted to throw in a little information gathering on current bike advocacy issues along the way. It was a lot of fun and I learned some things. That's the nature of a field trip.


Chad said...

You know, I used to think that Two Rivers would alleviate some of the the BDB crowding. I have changed my mind. For the most part, it seems (to me) like Two Rivers is drawing out a totally new and previously unrepresented crowd. BDB is getting NLR and the Heights/Hillcrest area. Two rivers looks to be bringing out West LR. It may just be me, but long-leash dogs and children on training-wheels/scooters/roller blades/anything else with wheels, just kinda reminds me of the somewhat suburban nature of WLR. It is interesting how a bridge will draw people away from their TV and into the sunshine. I would love to see a demographic map showing from where different bridge users came. Also, yes, the bridges will be chaos soon as everyone comes out to get their requisite "outside fix".

Josh Gordon said...

"School interests apparently fear the social element that a bicycle-pedestrian path could bring to the culture rich location."

Are you kidding me? Um. That social element is already using that corridor, first of all. Secondly, I'M that social element (so are you). Thirdly, I would think if they (Episcopal School or Dillards) deigned to investigate what they are actually talking about, they'd discover their assumptions are quite backwards. Put differently, I wonder how many of them use one of the three bridges you discuss, thus making themselves part of this "social element". Finally, (and I've said this before in this space) it's infuriating that no one thinks this is an appropriate use for Imminent Domain. Imagine a lessor "social element" in that space and imagine how fast Imminent Domain would go to work.

JBar said...

Yes, Josh, I was kidding you, and the situation is bullshit.There is a well-established homeless camp right in front of the school. My tongue-in-cheek point was that they already have the undesirable element that they fear and that a trail would bring a stream of responsible citizenry (me, of course, and even you!) to the isolated area behind the school.
Sorry, but my style demands an occasional dose of sarcasm or irony. Don't make me go all literal on you!

And, Chad, I consider everyone who uses the bridge and trails to be our allies. I ain't complainin'!

Pat Goss said...

Getting a bridge across the tracks (presumably at the Baring Cross railroad bridge)will be a great accomplishment. It will bring the Medical Mile into play, and I cn handle the mess behind the River Market more easily than the city streets. Get me across the tracks, and I can stop, look both ways, and cross Cantrell to the sidewalk in front of Episcopal Collegiate and then rdie down the sidewalk and under the viaduct.JBar, you mentioned a route along the tracks behind Episcopal Collegiate. Would that route use the bridge over Baring Cross bridge or a crossing over the tracks at some other location? Finally, any information about how the merging just east of the Jimerson Creek bridge of traffic from the west ramp off the BDB and the old trail will be handled?

Anonymous said...

The city had an opportunity to force ECS and Dillards to leave a right of way for the trail on their property, since both of these developments had to have zoning variances. However in keeping with their policy of not doing anything that the big hitters in LR didn't want they passed. A prime example of the opposite side of this (i.e. doing what the big hitters want) is the plan to change the entrances into the Pleasant Ridge Shopping Center. The AHTD is against it, the LR Planning Authority is against it, so the City Directors voted for it.

Anonymous said...

If Dillards were smart, they would have not only allowed Rivertrail devolpment on their property...but also opened up some retail/walking shops in their strip of it. A little strip with coffee, smoothies...whatever just a waiting game until they file Bankruptcy like every other dinosaur/we won't adapt to people's demands company. Businesses that don't care about community image don't last long in these days of instant communication. As for the school I they're already tinkering on bankruptcy, hope they don't look for the same community that your dicking over to bail them out.

Anonymous said...

Protests in front of Episcopal School during parent pickup time would be effective. Let the parents explain to their kids what the school is doing. - viva Rebel Alliance!