Thursday, August 25, 2011

Along The Trail

Show The Love
There was a round of e-mails, a meeting and a whole lot of discussion after an article about construction of the west ramp of the BDB on the Arkansas Times blog brought out the usual comments blasting riders. There were actually some very reasonable and balanced comments, especially mine, of course, but there was some of the standard "ban bikes", "rude cyclists", "wasted tax dollar" rhetoric. I'll discuss this more as time goes on, but let me say that the powers-that-be in North Little Rock are hearing the complaints. Crowds haven't been a problem on the NLR trails of late, as hot weather had already left most of our trail miles virtually unused and the opening of Two Rivers Bridge has caused an exodus to the west. I think most of the people who complain about trail traffic head out on those precious beautiful sunny Saturday afternoons, when it's warm, but not too hot, and expect to have things to themselves. Happiness often requires reasonable expectations.

This photo was taken around 5:30 on Tuesday evening, peak ride time. I saw fewer than a dozen people between Burns Park and the BDB. If you want solitude, go out any time it's over about 95 degrees. Even when conditions are primo, you can pretty much have things to yourself on Friday and Sunday evenings.

Some folks will bitch if they have to share any resource with others, but let's make it a point to not give more reasonable people cause to complain. In my mind, that doesn't have to mean that we have to ride the trail at 12 MPH ringing our bells, but we all need to be very aware of how the actions of a few rude riders can shape the opinions of many people. It's funny that I never see letters from riders complaining about the rude 4-wide walkers, long-leash dog owners, and out-of-control children. We're just a tolerant lot, I guess. Be polite and friendly and perhaps some of that tolerance will rub off.  I think the vast majority of trail users are among the "silently satisfied", but nobody can hear us smile, though I do appreciate comments like these:

I've said it here before, and I'll repeat it here -- Burns Park's MTB trails, and the River Trail and its bridges, played a huge role in my family moving here. My tax-paying, public-school attending, local-business-supporting family, that is.
Josh Gordon

I'm an IT professional and moved out here about 2 years back from San Francisco. If it weren't for the Rivertrail and likeminded projects I would have taken my talents elsewhere. I love Arkansas and Arkansans, but if I can't ride my bike and enjoy recreation then I'm not living.

Near sunset, from the Big Dam Bridge. We have a "destination quality" ride right here at home. There is a reason that most River Trail patrons are a satisfied bunch.

Natural Wonders: Two Fawns and One Jackass
Thursday evening, as I rode up the LR side of the Big Dam Bridge, I noticed a few folks looking off the bridge toward the woods. I assumed they were looking at a deer, which are an everyday sight at some points on the trail, but I slowed to take a peek, anyway. I was right about the deer, but these turned out to be a couple of still-dappled fawns, nibbling on a bit of grass for several minutes before settling into the tall grass and becoming near-invisible.

The fawns seemed indifferent to the presence of a small crowd of onlookers. I assumed their mother was nearby, but more wary.
This little guy seemed delighted.
Scenes like this, in the heart of the city, help define our unique trail system.

And, now to the jackass. All of us who regularly ride the Big Dam Bridge have seen some examples of folks who just don't have a clue. They might be walkers, riders or rickshaw drivers, but you know what I'm talking about. Well, Wednesday evening as a buddy and I rode toward home down the NLR side of the bridge, at the spot on the bridge where sight distances are least and the gradient is at its maximum, some damn fool was down in the middle of the lane doing push ups. Head downhill, huffing away in his cutoff fatigues. It's the closest thing to a blind spot on the BDB, and there was some traffic on the bridge.  Bless his soul if he is military and doing PT for deployment somewhere, but I didn't get that impression from his disregard for self-preservation. I can't think of a good reason to do push ups there, but then again, we occasionally hear about folks falling asleep on railroad tracks. One makes about as much sense as the other.

Pinnacle Valley Bike Paths: Premature Celebration

I guess I jumped the gun on celebrating completion of the new bike paths on Pinnacle Valley Road to Maumelle Park. Some areas still suddenly run onto gravel, the path is very narrow and it snakes abruptly around obstacles at a couple of points. The trail is not completed for its full length, so hopefully most of the glitches will be ironed out as the job progresses.
I'm sure this utility cut will be repaired, but for now it's a hazard. This is on the west side of the road.
On the east side of the road, there are several places where the trail came up short at crossings, like this one at Beck Road.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this project will look when it is complete, as it is will greatly enhance safety along this narrow stretch of road, but for now I don't advise riding it. If you choose to use the path on your road bike, take it slow and be prepared to stop and dismount.

It looks like the jungle heat is leaving us for a few days, so get out there and ride!
And smile while you're doing it, please.


Joe Jacobs said...

Great post John - I've been using the mountain bike this week to get away from crowds by jumping onto Pfeifer Loop and the Burns Park trails to get some dirt on the bike.

Josh Gordon said...

Since you quoted me, John, I'll leave this nugget, as well.

As cyclists, we have a certain feel for how slow 10mph, or whatever, can be. However, for a pedestrian, this can seem ungodly fast, especially if someone goes whizzing by you at what seems like too close for comfort (you'd be surprised by how far away from a person that can be).

My point is that, as cyclists, we can go a long ways towards being responsible trail users by giving other users as wide a berth as possible, not as wide as necessary. There's a lot that we're comfortable with that others are not. Please keep that in mind as you weave in and out through throngs of other trail users, and use a little discretion.

Your intention may not be to scare, infuriate, whatever, other trail users, but your understanding of the experience may be different than theirs.

My rule of thumb: be hyperbolic in the room I give other users and, given a choice between whizzing through heavy trail traffic and waiting a few seconds for the trail to clear, I let the trail clear. Is my trail use perfect? Probably not, but I'm trying.

Finally, think about your intended ride and trail traffic conditions. Saturday morning may not be the best time for ego-racing with my buddies or sprint training. Save that for the stretches of roads. But, heavy trail traffic pace makes a great warm-up!

Okay, soap-box put away. Have a great weekend of riding everyone!

Chad said...

I have never actually walked across the bridge. Have you? If not, I have an experiment for you. On a nice day when there is a lot of traffic on the bridge, walk across a few times and see how the bikes treat you, then report it here. Maybe wear a hat and glasses so people don't recognize you. Also, don't wear your stretchy pants, you need to look like a walker. I think this would be an interesting project. I have been meaning to do this myself to gain some perspective.

Anonymous said...

Josh has it right. Wide a berth as possible, go slow. Push up guy, kids and dogs darting in front of me does not matter. I am biking to yield to everyone with pleasure. Great blog JBar.

JBar said...

I make it a point to walk the bridge from time-to-time. I agree that it is a good exercise in perspective. I recommend it! Thanks, folks.

Charlie Roberts said...

Well written John, I truly believe that all cyclist need to understand and embrace that we are responsible for both our own actions and those of the non cycling pedestrians, in almost all cases we are more aware of what is going on or what is about to occur than the non cycling pedestrians and we should exercise control and strive for the polite and safest methods of interactions with the pedestrians.

Its actually quite easy to be proper on the trail but I can't for the life of me think of a way to teach or convey the etiquette to every person who might dawn a bike and hit the trail.

Cindy Caton said...

Josh Gordon pretty much sums up how I feel when riding on the trails. I put my bike up a year ago, because I couldn't enjoy riding anymore. I'm not a cyclist, fast rider. I ride for exercise and leisure. The walkers, runners, etc don't bother me when I ride, because some of them walk faster than I ride. :)

What does bother me are the cyclist that speed by me with out any regard to my situation. Meaning I have people around me and I'm trying to maneuver around them when out of no where comes a bunch of cyclist weaving in and out. I understand they are trying to get around to, but it just adds to the chaos.

I took to riding in the early morning hours on the weekend. Worked fine as long as I don't run into a group of cyclist who are so focused on their ride they don't consider who is around them.

I had an incident on the wooden bridge on the burn park side. First time riding in a long time. No one was coming, so I started across the wooden bridge. Out of the blue here comes a cyclist who crosses the bridge while I'm crossing it. Now I understand he was confident we weren't going to hit each other, but I wasn't. I ended up falling into the rail. He stopped and asked if I was okay. Yep, just learning. His response, you need to learn how to ride. And he left.

Needless to say that left a very bad taste in my mouth. I know there are decent cyclist out there. I've run into a few. I'm not against them. I'm for everyone having a place to ride, walk, roller blade, push-ups (ridiculous), etc....We have to learn to share the trails. It's for all of us.

I'm thinking of getting back on the trails again, but I'm honestly a little reluctant. Maybe I will try on an early Saturday morning or late evening.

Thanks for allowing me to post. I enjoyed reading your blog.

Vinny F said...

"Pinnacle Valley Bike Paths: Premature Celebration"
unless you're training for cyclocross than it's awesome! lol

Unknown said...

As a cyclist and a runner, I've traversed the bridge numerous times on a bike and on foot. When I'm running, I have to say that I really appreciate those cyclists who announce their presence before passing me. (My husband, notably, doesn't do this, because he thinks it makes people jump towards him, and I've heard other cyclists express similar sentiments. I disagree.) As trail traffic has increased, I've started leaving the iPod at home, and I think it's improved my trail experience. I wish others would do the same, or at least keep the volume way down (and for goodness' sake avoid occlusive headphones).

Anonymous said...

Cindy it was a rude yes. But I know I speak for many who would love to have you back out there enjoying your bike.

JBar said...

Cindy, it sounds like you've had some setbacks, but no reason to give to the bike. Spending more time on the bike will increase your confidence. In the meantime, if you encounter a situation in which you're uncomfortable, simply stop and dismount. You'll get there with some practice and it is worth it!

Casey Willits said...

How many thousands of miles of sidewalks are there in Little Rock for people to walk on or walk their dogs? Now how many miles of paved trails that bicycles can use?

The nature of cycling requires a longer distance to accomplish real exercise. These very few trails are crucial for beginning riders like me. And even a beginning rider picks up speed on the down ramp.

I can't believe people would call cyclists careless. The ones using the trail at high speeds are very aware of exactly how much bodily damage will be done if they fly over their handle bars. The "careless" cyclists are not these ones....perhaps the downtown and midtown hipsters who think they are cool for not driving...but not these cyclists.

Fido doesn't appreciate the view on a bridge. Just walk him in your neighborhood or even a park.

And again, let's be real: BDB is not about alternative transportation. The percentage of users that are actually getting to work or normal commercial activities is miniscule. It's recreation, tourism, and exercise. Which are all still perfectly fine civic goals. We fund parks for exercise, why not trails and bike infrastructure?