Friday, June 22, 2012

Pinnacle Valley

The Big Picture and Sharing The Love
The recent agreement laying out 88 miles of Arkansas River Trial System may be optimistically seen as a turning point toward the ultimate creation of a statewide network of bike trails and designated routes; at least that's how I'm going to choose to view it. There is obviously a lot of work to be done in terms of overcoming fiscal and engineering barriers and changing the mindset of government agencies and the public, but every monumental endeavor requires an idea, a plan, and a good foundation. The ARTS concept is a big step in the right direction. I regularly heap praise on NLR Mayor Pat Hays and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines for their leadership and resolve in the building of the River Trail and its associated bridges, so now I feel compelled to throw a little love at folks like Rob Stephens, who chairs the ART Task Force, and Marsha Guffey and Jim McKenzie of Metroplan for their roles.  These are not people you'll see riding every afternoon along the river, but they see the value of alternative transportation as a means of enhancing the health and quality of life of our citizenry and as an attractive engine for economic development.

Mark and Mike seem to be getting on board.

That would be Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe. I have been somewhat critical of what I considered to be half-hearted efforts on the part of Little Rock to fulfill long-made promises on a number of issues, but I'm becoming cautiously optimistic that Mayor Stodola and his staff have stiffened their resolve to get some things done. I sat in on a meeting of the LR Bike Friendly Community Committee, chaired by Ed Levy, recently and was pleased to see his honor,  the mayor, present. Assistant City Manager Bryan normally represents the mayor's office and, while Bryan is a sincere and genuinely nice guy, the nature of the arrangement often leads to questions and requests being passed on until the next monthly meeting as Bryan seeks answers or confirmation of information. Now, I see that Mayor Stodola will be speaking at the July 11 BACA meeting at the Capital Hotel to discuss the city's opportunities to incorporate cycling and alternative transportation into future plans. Funding from the recently passed sales tax and the possibility of the renewal of an existing property tax millage, along with community support, will be the key to these plans coming to pass.
On the state level, it appears that Arkansas's recent ranking of 50th among states in terms of bike friendliness by the League of America Bicyclists has created some impetus from the governor's office to change things. Nobody wants to finish DFL, and Arkansas's dismal ranking was mostly the result of having virtually no statewide policy position on cycling. I've heard from several souces that Governor Beebe got his staff together and has initiated discussions that will hopefully change that. This could include changes in driver's license training manuals, enforcement policy and road construction planning among other things. The simple fact that cycling is on the radar at the state level is an improvement.

A More Focused View: Getting Along With the Neighbors and Location Specific Behavior 

Pinnacle Valley Road

The opening of Two Rivers Bridge has allowed droves of cyclists to easily access already popular road rides in western Pulaski County to the Pinnacle State Park and Wye Mountain areas. The resulting bike traffic has been readily accepted by some area residents, not so much by others. I had heard that residents of Pinnacle Valley Road had started a petition drive to ban cyclists from the road between County Farm Road and Maumelle Park and the rumor was confirmed on a recent Saturday as our small group of riders awaited a group member who had flatted on exiting Two Rivers Park. As we waited off the road at the corner of County Farm Road and Pinnacle Valley, a gentleman pulled up and rolled down his window to shout, "I signed a petition to make you people ride on that bike path and get off the road". Unfortunately, the well-intentioned 'bike path' constructed by the county, limited by right-of-way and drainage requirements, is little more that a sidewalk and cannot be ridden safely at normal road bike speeds due to driveway crossings and various zigs and zags around trees and other obstacles. This is especially true when it is shared with local residents who are using it for walking or jogging. It is important that we as cyclists be sensitive to the fact that these folks live out there. It is also a matter of looking out for our own safety. Please be polite and move to the right and stay single file as traffic approaches. This is simply good manners and is required by law in many cases.

Near Pinnacle State Park Visitor's Center: Danger Lurks

Related to the traffic on Pinnacle Valley Road, another area that represents a hazard to both cyclists and to motorists sharing the road is the hill just east of the Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitor's Center. While most of PV Road is relatively flat and straight, making for good sight distance, the approach to this hill is troublesome.

Cycling super-model Chuck Richesin demonstrates the limited sight distance when approaching the crest of the hill east of the Pinnacle S.P. Visitor's Center.

Motorists overtaking cyclists at this location have three choices as I see it. They can:

1) Patiently slow down until they and the cyclist are over the crest of the hill so that they can see far enough to safely pass. I believe the speed limit here is 35MPH, so they may lose upwards of 20 seconds if they wait behind a 10 MPH cyclist for the full 1/2 mile distance of the climb.

2)  Take their chances entering the oncoming traffic lane in order to give the cyclist the 3-foot safe passing distance as required by state law.
3) Blast by the cyclist dangerously close at their normal driving speed of 45-50 MPH

Obviously, #1 is the most desirable, though least likely, option in my experience, with variations of #2 and #3 being the most popular.

I think that Pulaski County plans to ultimately have bike lanes along this stretch of road and even a bit of shoulder on this short section would be a good thing, but for now we have to work with what we've got.

Another factor that makes riding to the right on this narrow stretch of road important is the possibility that passing car will encounter cyclists traveling in the opposite direction as occurred during this demonstration. I've also noticed riders stopped at the crest of this hill waiting for slower buddies. That's fine until a car comes along and is forced into unseen oncoming traffic; especially if that oncoming traffic is me!

Afternoon sun further complicates the scene for westbound drivers. Keep in mind that if you don't ride single file to allow cars to pass, you are forcing them further into the oncoming traffic lane which may be occupied by unseen cyclists. Drivers focused on passing riders may not notice riders coming in the opposite direction, like the rider in this shot.

Except for the afternoon sun factor, the situation is the same for eastbound traffic.

I'm not just writing this to be preachy, though I do seem to love my little sermonettes, but Pinnacle Valley is a regular route for me and I've observed these situations time after time. The one that irks me is when I encounter a group of 3-4 cyclists riding two or more abreast seemingly oblivious to the fact that a couple of cars are stacked up behind them. On more than one occasion, the cars have blown around them into my lane at a high rate of speed, not even recognizing a lone rider as oncoming traffic.

Let's be good neighbors and safe riders by being aware of the situations that exist out on the road, whether they be political or structure related. See you on the road.


Vinny F said...

Welcome back! Yeah NLR Mayor Pat Hays and Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines are my heros they are truly outstanding! I was fearful of what would happen when the masses discovered the routes only the few of us had been riding in the past, but it's just growing pains. I'm sure the same increase in bike traffic will actually dramaticly increase their home values and make those neighborhoods more desirable in the end. As far as Pinnicle Valley Road is concerned, I've heard allot of "it's hilly and twisty bikes shouldn't be on it" rhetoric...Here's a link to the most popular bike route in the Bay area, it's pretty similar (no shoulders, hilly, curvy)and people have been driving and riding it for decades with no issues.

Lisa said...

Great post J, thanks. Per Vinny's point and after our recent visit to the Bay area ourselves, we discussed many times that part of the difference between the two is the attitude of the drivers. We, as drivers and cyclists, will have to work very hard to bring noncycling drivers to the point of acceptance. Being an "a-hole" cyclist who rides with the attitude that he has a RIGHT to be on the road, anywhere, any time, under any circumstance, only fuels the fire that is feeding problems like this petition. So thanks for the admonition of "be nice and be safe". They'll come around.

She said...

It's not good to be in the bottom! Arkansas should be on top!

JayB said...

Cycling doesn't pay my light bill, and I would rather my life insurance policy not have to, so I cut my route short when heading that way.

Tom Ezell said...

Many thanks to JBar for this well-reasoned illustration! This ain't the Bay area, however, it's Arkansas, and once you get outside a certain radius from downtown, you're in the midst of the average rural Arkansan who won't even touch the bikes on a Wal-Mart sales rack. I vividly remember the guy up in Mayflower three years ago who wanted to get out of his truck and fight me for ridig on Highway 365 up there. We've had a lot of cycling deaths just from these folks running over cyclists legally riding in the past year, much of it under just the sort of circumstances JBar describes here. Y'all be careful out there, and leaving the iPod at home and wearing a mirror is a derned good idea when on these sorts of roads

Tim McKuin said...

Thanks for the update JBar!

Anonymous said...

Maybe there was a kernel of truth in this month's Bicycling mag that LITTLE ROCK is one of the cities working hard to break into the top 50 bicycling cities in the US. Could've fooled me. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Tom has a good point about peoples mindset. Frisco and Colorado appear to be aware of the stricter laws and maneuver around cyclists accordingly. But what is known in rural Arkansas?

Ignorance of safe passing law. Not been a single ticket issued under the law.

Cyclist being killed by driver running a redlight and the driver getting a $500 ticket.

Cyclist issued a citation in Little Rock in March when he was struck by a passing car's mirror.

Anonymous said...

I've ridden the well-intentioned bike path 20 times without incident. The sad fact is that someone is going to get killed riding out to Pinnacle Mtn one of these days. It's unsafe for cycling. I wish it wasn't, but it is.

Anonymous said...

Lisa is 100% right.

I am both a resident of this area, and ride a road bike, so I understand the viewpoints of both sides. Since this is a cycling blog, let me give you the residents viewpoint.

Far too many of the cyclists that they encounter seem to be rude, and have no regard for people needing to be somewhere in a timely manner. Routinely, cyclist along County Farm Rd ride two and three side by side, outside the bike lanes and just let traffic slow down and wait until they can pass. The vast majority of the time the lanes along County Farm are fine for road bikes, as I ride them almost daily, and have never had a flat along this section, although I may be jinxing myself by saying this. One resident of Beck Rd recently almost hit some cyclists head on who were riding three abreast around one of the sharp blind corners on that very narrow road. In addition residents have been held up by organized races and rides where the residents are held up by the police with no advance notice so they can plan their trips accordingly. Cyclists also routinely ignore the stop signs both in and outside the area. Just this morning I saw an employee/owner? of the bike rental in the River Market cruise through a downtown stop sign going at least 10mph. If we want to be taken seriously as equals with vehicles than we should obey the same laws. All of this builds up frustration with cyclists. I get irritated too, yet I understand why cyclists cannot use the Pinnacle Valley lanes, and have used them only one time myself.

The county made a big mistake with the bike lanes along Pinnacle Valley by not widening the road as they did on County Farm. We should ensure that they not make the same mistake when they extend the lanes to Pinnacle Mountain. The city just did the same thing, building substandard paths near the Verizon building on Riverfront.

More than a few of the residents of the area have purchased bikes since the trails have opened up, and I believe many are understanding. Hopefully, courtesy on both sides will develop, and we can all share the road in a safe manner.