Monday, April 30, 2012

Reading the Signs

I'm generally not real big on rules. Most things just kind of take care of themselves in a civil society, but I also understand that there are many rules in the form of regulations, ordinances and statutes that we are expected to obey. Or not.  Is a rule really a rule if nobody knows about it? Yes, as a group of riders on a night ride found out last week when they encountered Pulaski County deputies patrolling the River Trail in their vehicle. By all accounts, it was a cordial enough encounter, with the riders being informed that the park was closed after dark. The riders were allowed to continue on their way out of the park and back over the Two Rivers Bridge. The question becomes, is the park closed after dark? Does that mean everybody?
Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines has publicly stated that the ART through Two Rivers Park would be open for commuters 24/7. So, if the guys from the 8:01 (start time) ride group had just been passing through instead of cruising the loops, would that have been OK? Would the deputies have agreed? In an encounter of this type, the officer is just almost always right, and if he's not, I'm unlikely to tell him about it. It's really only fair when everyone has an understanding of what the rules are, so I set out Sunday morning at a comfortably late hour to see what I could find out about the rules at a couple of points along the Arkansas River Trail. It became a 60 mile research project that allowed for plenty of visiting and side trips.

Earlier on the same evening as the 8:01's Two Rivers encounter, I had angrily expressed my opinion of a driver that I had to brake for as he blasted out of Murray Park in an Escalade without so much as a glance at trail traffic. I usually approach River Trail intersections as if I have the right-of-way, though I'm always prepared to stop. After all, we're all ultimately responsible for our own safety. Most motorists do yield to trail traffic, so a rider stopping for a crossing auto can result in a John Prine-ish stand-off.

"It was a four way dilemma
we all arrived the same time
I yielded to the man to the right of me
and he yielded it right back to mine
well, the yield went around and around and around"

                                                  The Accident, John Prine.

So, I asked myself whether riders do actually have the right-of-way when crossing the driveways, golf course entrance, and street crossings along Rebsamen Park Road. As often as I ride the trail, I couldn't answer, so I rode out to read the signs.
The trail crossing at the entry to the Rebsamen Park Golf Course has a speed bump and a crosswalk sign.
The exit side of the same crossing includes a bike crossing sign. I assume that these signs indicate that cars are to yield and I think the law is clear on pedestrians; however, what about bikes operating on the trail? That's not so clear.

My legal research was limited to reading this, but I do not think there are any ordinances for Little Rock or North Little Rock that specifically address cyclists crossing traffic lanes while on multiuse paths.

The trail crossing near the BDB indicates that it is a bike path and a pedestrian crossing, but the right-of-way for cyclists is only an assumption. Most motorists yield to cross traffic, but many just barrel on through.

In a roundabout way of speaking...
...the new traffic circle will be a source of confusion until we all become familiar with the concept and function of the new road furniture.
With this signage, I'm sure that everyone will approach the traffic circle with perfect confidence! First, spin in a circle, then move to your left to what looks like an icon of a crested bird that is doubly male. From that point, be alert to cyclists and pedestrians in the crosswalk!

I actually like the concept of the traffic circle and, with proper attention, it should prove more safe than the intersection that it replaced, particularly if Rebsamen Park Road is repaved as promised with functional bike lanes. Riders heading east on the bike path must stop and proceed over a crosswalk to get to the eastbound bike lane.
I noticed come confused folks approaching this intersection, but I believe that is because we are simply unaccustomed to the traffic patterns of a roundabout.

Does the instruction to yield seen above apply to riders? Maybe. Sharp-eyed reader Richard Bassett sent me this article regarding the differentiated treatment of walkers and riders in Fayetteville. 

Low hanging limbs? At this point east of the traffic circle, I assume cyclists are just supposed to duck.

The 5 MPH edict is silly by anyone's standards, and is universally ignored. On the Sunday afternoon that I took this photo, there was little traffic and miles of open trail. A reasonable speed on a bike trail is situational. Adherence to the other suggestions would go far in reducing trail conflicts, most of which are caused by simple inattention.

Recently, I read a good article about conflict on a heavily used multi-use trail somewhere in Florida in which the writer referred to the trail as a roadway. That's a simple concept for virtually anyone to grasp. When you are operating a car, bike, or even walking on a roadway, most folks behave responsibly; they stay in their lane, they signal their intentions, pass on the left, and look where they are going. Transfer that mindset to the RT and folks will no longer walk 4 wide, stop unexpectedly, allow their dogs 20 feet of leash, gather to chat at busy intersections, or drift into oncoming traffic.....and what a wonderful world it would beeee.....

A River Market Danger Zone
Sometimes, confusing signage is worse than no signs at all; however, there is one particular spot on the trail where that is certainly not the case. Near the beginning of the Medical Mile trail section in the River Market, a busy driveway crosses the trail with no warning to either trail users or drivers.
Here's what riders see on their approach to a busy driveway in the River Market.

And here is the intersection from the perspective of drivers. 

You would think a trail crossing in this busy area would be heavily marked or at the very least have a couple of yellow stripes to caution drivers that they are approaching something!

On to Two Rivers Park!

This article started with the question of hours-of-use at Two Rivers Park and I'll finally get to the question, though I cannot derive a conclusive answer from what I found. First, I checked the approach to Two Rivers Bridge, where that is absolutely nothing to indicate any time-of-day restrictions. In an effort to cover my bases, I went to the foot of River Mountain Road, where I did find a sign.
 This sign predates the Two Rivers Bridge by many years. I assume the ordinance cited is by the City of Little Rock. The ride group was stopped by Pulaski County deputies. The NLR and LR bike trails are open 24/7; by policy in North Little Rock and at least by default in Little Rock.
 This cluster of signs near the restrooms at the head of the Two Rivers Park trail section covers a lot of ground, but not a word about park hours. So far, even the most conscientious trail users would have no inkling of limited hours-of-use unless they either came down River Mountain or do as I did and round the corner there seeking direction.
Finally! The only indication that Two Rivers Park closes is found at the entrance from County Farm Road. This is what the officers were enforcing when they asked the 8:01 ride group to leave the park.

My conclusion is that there is no reasonable way to have expected the riders to be aware of a policy posted at one entrance at the opposite end of the park from their access point. The rest of the trail system is open all hours, as are the BDB, Junction Bridge, and Clinton Park Bridge, though I believe that Burns Park through which the ART passes officially closes at 10PM, and I would hope that the Two Rivers trails are ultimately treated the same. I am glad to hear that the sheriff's department has a presence at Two Rivers, as it is quite isolated and such areas can draw undesirable activities, though I would prefer that they be there to keep the park safe, rather than close it.

While I think the riders did the right thing by simply complying with the officers' request that they leave, it would be a better situation if all parties were aware of the policies in force. I've ridden in Two Rivers Park after sunset several times and found it to still be active with riders, runners, and walkers, especially in the winter when days are short and sunset comes early.

Let's go ride.We'll work out the policy issues in plenty of time; hopefully without big rules to solve minor problems.

A New Link: The Community Bicyclist

I just added The Community Bicyclist to the collection of links from JBar Cycling. I try to make it a point to spread the love for local bike shops as fairly as I can, but it is difficult to give equal coverage, if for no other reason than that we have many very good shops in Central Arkansas.  When Diane and I started riding, we went to Bikeseller, now Competitive Cyclist, because Craig and Elaine Zediker were long time friends and we had attended enough store Christmas parties that we felt like we owed Craig a little payback for the annual ration of beer, wine and finger food. The result was a string of bike purchases, customer satisfaction and a great service experience, even though I'm sure that there were times that Craig wishes that he'd referred me to Chainwheel. I was starting to ride a lot of miles and I showed up at their door for every creak, squeak or pop until I learned to do most of my own work. You might say I was a demanding customer. Z man would likely say that I was a pain in the ass, but that's a subject for a longer article and a different blog. Since then, we've purchased bikes from the Community Bicyclist, Chainwheel, Arkansas Cycling and Fitness, and Spokes. That's about all of the business that we have the means to spread around, but shops like J&P and Riders Ready have gotten high marks from their customers as well.
In wrapping up this ramble, I'll say welcome aboard to Community Cyclist. In addition to the variety in product lines and the convenience of the various locations, each shop has its own vibe and personality. Choose the shops that have what you need, that provide you with good service, and that simply feel the most comfortable to you.  We've got great local shops and the chances are good that you'll see the folks you deal with at the store out on the roads and trails. That's being part of the community.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Along The Trail: Projects, Produce And A Modest Proposal

There always seems to be a project or two under way along the River Trail; some large, most small, but usually resulting in a safer ride experience. On the North Little Rock side, the city has temporarily bypassed a short portion of the trail in the downtown Riverfront Park as the existing asphalt and some pesky cottonwood roots were removed. A couple of the trees have been removed recently and, while I always hate to see a big tree go down, the goal is to make the trail more safe and easier to maintain.
These cones are meant to direct trail users around construction and to the lower level sidewalk. As of Tuesday night, the new asphalt had been laid and was being ridden by scofflaws. I'm unsure if further work is to be done at the site.
The bypass is actually a cool little diversion, though the sand washing down from the bank above should give riders all the reason they need to go slow! John Martin is the supermodel prop.

On the south side of the trail, the roundabout at Rebsamen Park Road and Riverfront Drive is open to auto traffic, though the newly extended bike lanes are not yet complete. The jury is out on whether this will enhance rider safety as it should. Much will depend on how readily Arkansas drivers and riders adapt to the somewhat foreign concept of traffic circles. The best advice I can give is, "Just keep moving along, folks..."

The new traffic circle is open for business. Riders using the road can just go with the flow, while those heading east and entering the street from the bike path will still have to be aware of cars approaching from several directions. The extended bike lanes will be a big help when they are completed.

Last week's crop report was all about the bounty of fat, sweet mulberries that are easily spotted along the trail. This week's report comes by way of my lovely bride Diane, who spotted some of the first ripe blackberries of the season as she made her lunch ride from Garver.
Diane opted not to reveal the exact location of these beauties until she has a chance to do some serious picking, but I'm sure that my sharp-eyed readers will be able to locate some of their own. The area near the Big Rock quarry is usually thick with the fruit-bearing brambles.
A snack size baggie is perfect for protecting a cell phone from moisture and can do double-duty when trail snacks are encountered. Some of these blackberries got the chance to party with  fresh strawberries in my cereal last night. Mmmmmm..

I love welcoming all of the fresh fruits and vegetables as they come into season, but not nearly as much as my wife does. Diane simply cannot pass up local strawberries, blueberries, peaches,etc, when in season, so there are times that I feel I have to eat them several times a day. Not bad duty, but I'm just one man! How many quarts of berries can one person be expected to consume? The only correct answer at my house is "all of them". They're just too good to waste.

My Modest Proposal

I'm a proponent of all types of cycling, but at heart I'm a recreational road rider. My time outdoors is precious and the River Trail is a spectacular resource. Whether folks are just riding or walking, counting the grazing herds of deer at Two Rivers Park, watching the sun set over Pinnacle Mountain from the BDB, or gazing at the river from the Clinton Park Bridge as it flows downstream into the Grand Prairie, all are embracing a community asset that can be enjoyed by anyone. Our trail system is world class, so I'm always slightly taken aback when I hear a Central Arkansas resident say that they've never been on the trail or have never walked across the Big Dam Bridge. It's especially disturbing to hear some of these same folks complain about the money spent for these projects as "wasteful". 
Here's my proposal: 
Take a friend, neighbor, business associate, or family member down to the river and show them what they're missing. The Big Dam Bridge is the obvious choice for a walk, but if you can get them on a bike, all the better for expanding the range of your tour. If your guest is stubbornly sedentary, invite them to lunch at Forty-two at the Clinton Library. It's not as impressive as the views from the BDB, but it will give them a chance to see the steady stream of walkers, runners and riders using the CPB, all the while enjoying fine dining and a touch of the Natural State in the heart of the city. 
Plan your excursion! Hot weather will soon be upon us and it will be increasingly difficult to tempt folks out of the confines of their air-conditioned abodes.

Landmark for JBarCycling

It's no big deal in a world where a YouTube post can pull millions of hits, but page views for JBarCycling have just passed the 100,000 mark since Google started providing me with stats. I've posted a total of 549 articles and currently get an average of a little over 1500 reads per week. When I started writing the blog, very few folks knew about it and I'm sure that many of the early articles were read by fewer than half-a-dozen friends. I still enjoy the writing and I still try to inform and entertain. I'm not selling anything, so my only reward is the positive feedback that I get from you guys; some of it in the form of posted comments, but most of it comes in the form of a shouted "thanks" from a passing rider. Every once in a while, I get a comment that really touches me, such as the airman on the BDB100 ride who thanked me for giving him a link with home while he was deployed in the Middle East. I didn't have much of a plan when I started and, frankly, I still don't, so I'll just keep muddling along and hope that you keep reading.
I'll tell the rest of you the same thing I told the airman. Thank you. You guys are what makes this a fun and rewarding endeavor for me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Weekend: Too Big To Be Contained here!

As is usually the case for spring weekends, there are more events scheduled than I can adequately cover, so I'm going to be link-dependent! This is an enviable problem for the cycling community and one that seems to be growing along with increasing numbers of cyclists. Here are a few events of note:

The Slobber Knocker MTB Endurance Race

Slobber Knocker, presented in part by CARVE and Chainwheel , is happening on Saturday, April 21, starting and ending in Perryville, AR.  The main event is 75 miles, and there is a 55 mile option as well. This is the third race in the Arkansas Mountain Bike Marathon Series, with the next event in the series coming up on May 19 with Syllamo's Revenge. While Slobber Knocker is mostly fast action on timber access roads, Syllamo is all about the single track.

Photo from Syllamo's Revenge site
The 65 Roses Tour: Searcy, AR

This 65 mile tour, with a 35 mile and 11 mile "Fun Ride" option, benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and starts from Spring Park in Searcy. On line registration is closed, but you may still register in person before 7:15 AM. Details may be obtained by following the link above.

CARTI Tour De Rock Training Rides: Saturday 8AM River Trail Station

The Tour de Rock has grown into arguably the second most popular event ride in Central Arkansas (the BDB100 is still the biggie!) and is a fund raiser for CARTI. While the event itself is popular, the Saturday morning training rides leading up to it could pretty well stand on their own as folks join in to build early season fitness and hone their group riding skills. In a change from recent years, you must be registered for the Tour de Rock in order to participate in the training rides. I think the training rides had become so popular that the numbers were stretching the resources of the volunteers and sponsors.
The training rides usually have three groups based on average speed so that everyone can find a comfortable spot. For those interested in throwing down a fast century, the Tour de Rock is the ride. The course is flat and it is easy to find a fast pack to work with; then it's up to you to hang on for 100 miles! The ride date has conflicted with vacation plans for us for the last couple of years, but my most recent TdR was by far my fastest 100 miler. That said, not everybody is interested in scorching the course so there are plenty of folks just enjoying the ride and making leisurely stops at the well-stocked aid stations.

Next week, Saturday April 28: Biking for Bigs
(OOPS! Date corrected to 4/28! JB )

Biking for Bigs is a 20 mile River Trail tour in support of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas.  This is the first year for this event.

Biking for Bigs looks to be a nice family event or just a chance for riders to get the feel of an event ride. I know that many folks are a little intimidated at the thought of hitting the open road for events like the BDB in what they perceive as a mass of mad dog speedsters, so a smaller event and shorter distance can be helpful in gaining confidence for that first century.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Along the Trail:TT, Mulberry Bounty, Working Dogs, Puzzling Behavior

The sheer number of folks along the River Trail these days is a good indication that there is a lot going on as runners, riders, skaters, walkers, fishermen and all types of other users share the resource, each with their own mission and their own measure of what makes up a successful day.

TT: Pleasure or Pain?

Boston Mountain Cyclists , along with The Community Bicyclist, are once again hosting time trials near Two Rivers Park in Little Rock. Follow the time trail link for the event flyer, but basic info is that the event takes place near where the RR tracks cross Pinnacle Valley Road west of Two Rivers Park at 6:30 most Thursday evenings. A time trial is called the "race of truth" because there are no team tactics, no drafting, and no hiding in the pack. It is simply a matter of a single rider covering a set distance as fast as they can. Much of time trialing is a mental exercise, with some riders excelling at the discipline, relishing the solitude and the pain, while others simply suffer.
Time trialing is about maximizing the pain to minimize the time. If you've got much left in your legs at the finish line, you're not doing it right! For good time trialists, the pain is said to be exquisite, for us regular folks, it just hurts!
Patrick, Andrew, and Evan are through with the suffering part and have moved on to "goofy".

My buddy Mike and I rode out to check out the TT last Thursday and as we rode through Two Rivers Park, we started seeing cyclist after cyclist, many with trial bikes and aero gear and many with standard road kit, all intent on their mission. It was reported that 55 riders had participated that evening, and the series is growing. I might even venture a try before they lengthen the course next month!

The crop is in!
I really enjoy it when I stumble across edibles growing free in the wild. Along the River Trail, there is a bumper crop of mulberries, and the trees are readily located by the purple stains puddling the trail.
These fallen mulberries mark the spot! Ripe mulberries are sweet, tasty, and very common along the NLR trail. Once you start looking for them, it becomes easier to spot the many other mulberries nearby.
It seemed early for mulberries, so I checked the date of my post on the subject from 2011. It was a full month later, with berries ripening in mid-May. Folks, I think we're going to have a long, hot summer!
I would advise against white bibs as a general rule, but if you choose to go that route, you might want to skip the mulberries. You cannot eat the ripe ones and hope to come away unstained.

Good for the goose...
While I'm a lover of almost all living things (my exception list starts with chiggers and buffalo gnats), I supported NLR's goose hunt plan. Though I had little appetite for blasting the pesky fowl, action was definitely needed. A compromise was reached with folks who protested the hunt and, though the friends of the geese have come up short of their promise to raise funds for the effort, the NLR Parks folks contracted some "hired guns" in the form of Australian Shepherds to keep the geese moving along.
 This is a job that I could enjoy! The Aussies bringing up the rear have done a good job of moving the geese out of the northside parks.
Goose? Goose? Anybody seen a goose? 

Since the dogs have gone to work, I've seen gaggles of geese in some new locations, including the grounds of Garver, LLC, and a field on County farm Road. I assume they are refugees as the numbers in the parks have dropped dramatically. To that I say good riddance, and I hope that the solution is permanent.

The speed-indicating sign on the BDB was operational for a short time, the went to "00". I think it attracted some speedsters, but surely none beat this time posted by the devil-may-care Robert SanJuan.

Before complainers jump on Robert (who is properly attired for villainy in his CARVE kit), he was riding a very sensible speed as he passed the now-constant "66".

And on top of that.....or not?
Is it an epidemic, as one bike shop guy called it? Is it a fad? a fashion? a fetish?

I'm talking about the seemingly increasing number of cyclists choosing not to wear a helmet. I expect it from the Wal-Mart bike crowd and from the dudes with black T's and BMX bikes, but there suddenly seems to be a lot of kitted up road riders riding bare-headed. Granted, most appear to be newbies, but I still don't get it. They say there are two kinds of riders, those who have crashed and those who will. I had been riding a couple of years when I first heard that and at the time I had never been on the pavement other than a minor "failure to clip out" incident. It wasn't long, however, before I had my first abrupt encounter with the asphalt. Then I had my second. Then I had what I hope is the worst accident that ever happens to me.
The compressed area in the upper right of this photo was the impact point when I crashed last March. The blow was enough to knock me unconscious, chip the orbit above my right eye, fracture eight ribs and a vertebrae. The foam was compressed and fractured and I believe that it saved my life.

I've heard all the excuses for riding without a helmet and don't buy into any of them. Modern bike helmets are cool and comfortable. If yours is neither, go shopping. 

I have been approached by three different folks in recent weeks specifically asking me to write something about the bare-headed trend. I decided not to bother until last week when I ran into my wife at a Specialized bike demo. Dan Lysk of Arkansas Cycling and Fitness brought up the subject and I pretty much waved it off; however, before I finished my ride I got a call from Diane. As she rode back to her office from the demo, she had come across an accident near Burns Park. A couple, both wearing helmets,  had been JRA, "just riding along", when the husband moved over to give way to a runner. In doing so, he clipped his wife's front wheel. What had been a casual evening ride rapidly evolved into a crash, a head injury and an ambulance ride to the emergency room. Diane was calling to say that she was going to be late getting home as she helped the husband gather bikes and get to his vehicle for the drive to the hospital. The woman was showing symptoms of a concussion, her helmet was smashed and she had some road rash, but it would likely have been much more serious without a helmet.
I'm not much on rules and I've been told that pushing helmets "discourages people from riding". If that's so, then perhaps they don't need to ride. I also think that bumping around on platform pedals and fat tires is much lower risk that riding clipped in on a road bike. Choose your own headgear, but please keep your health insurance current as a consideration to the rest of us. I would speculate that most of the bare-headed riders fall into the "those that will" category alluded to in the first paragraph. "Those that have" can usually be seen with helmet firmly buckled.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Good Riding, BACA News, Trail Work

There has been a lot going on in the cycling community in terms of advocacy, progress on some projects, races and, most importantly, a lot of absolutely perfect riding weather.
I got out Tuesday night and joined the Major Taylor ride group for a little spin, along with my friend Chris Irons. The story of Major Taylor is a fascinating one. Last year, in preparing for an article about the club that I never wrote, I went to the NLR public library to find a biography. I ended up in the "children's nonfiction" section, where the small furniture and decor made me feel kind of creepy as I searched by the Dewey decimal system. I think the only book on Major Taylor that they had was for "third grade and up", so it had my demographic covered. Anyway, Chris dropped his chain on the first climb in Burns Park, so I stopped to assist him. This is an old sandbagger's trick to allow one to avoid an ass-kicking on a group ride, and one that I would never employ. We rejoined the bunch and headed to the newly paved Fort Roots climb and we noticed that there were groups of riders everywhere! At least 12-15 people came down Fort Roots as we climbed, and there were groups scattered all over the trail system. Let's all be sweet to others on the trail. It's early in the season and group rides are the frequent target of complaints, not matter how well the riders behave. Most of the complaints are unfounded, so let's keep it that way!

Bike Advocacy of Central Arkansas
 Founding member Gene Pfeiffer sharing a little wisdom at the April BACA meeting.

Elections were held for a slate of new officers and board members for BACA. The newly elected officers include Tim McKuin, President, along with Bryan Shipman, Chad Cragle, David Paoli, Judy Lansky, and John Gillam. It will take a while for the new team to gain some direction, but I'm very pleased with the varied cycling interests that are represented. Tim's focus on transportation is evidenced in his MoveArkansas blog, and other board members are involved in mountain biking, racing, recreational riding and even bike polo. With the experience of long-time BACA folks like Gene Pfeiffer and Judy, I have expectations that BACA can once again become the inclusive, broadly representative voice of cycling that it was founded to be.

Trail Work
Mountain bikers have been busy doing trail work in local parks. In case you think that trails just get built and maintained on their own, it's time to think again!
I ran into this trail crew as i returned from the Log Cabin ride last weekend. David and Susan Paoli, along with Laura Wooldridge, had spent their Saturday morning clearing brush, logs, cottonmouths and mosquitoes from the Pfeiffer Loop. I don't think they got all of the mocs and skeeters.

David and Susan Paoli had just cleared the Pfeiffer Loop prior to the recent flooding and they were back at it again last weekend, with racer Laura Wooldridge pitching in as well. I also got the word that Team Spokes has done a lot of work at Allsopp Park.
If you're a mountain biker and you see something along the trail that you can fix, stop and fix it if you're able. I usually have some hand pruners in my hydration pack for the purpose. While you don't need to head into your local State Park with a chain saw, most of the trail building and maintenance is done by volunteers who like to ride and know that it takes some work to have a quality trail system..

Street Work

The traffic circle at Riverfront and Rebsamen Park Roads is nearing completion, along with extended bike lanes. It appears that the bike lane westbound from Riverfront has been extended further east that I expected, which is a very good thing!

I had understood (and complained about) that the bike lane extension from the new traffic circle would only extend to the apartments in the background. It now appears that the lane will be extended through the narrow section currently created by the median and the single traffic lane.

While I will continue to point out issues that I think need attention, I've got to give the City of Little Rock some credit. They're trying!

Side Note: Several folks have asked me about the tree cutting along Murray Park. The trees that were within "falling range" of the utility lines are being cut to prevent damage to the lines. Ice storms and tornadoes have hit the area in recent years, so this is s preemptive strike.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Revisiting The Log Cabin

One of my favorite Central Arkansas road rides is what I refer to as "The Log Cabin Ride". I've written about this ride before and, though I didn't plot it and I didn't name it, I'll share it.
The route is about a 40 mile round trip from the BDB and starts with a climb of River Mountain Road, followed by a trip through Pleasant Valley and a climb up Pebble Beach en route to a climb up Rahling Road. From there, things mellow out for the trip out Denny Road and Kanis to Burlingame Road. The destination is Ferncrest Road, which climbs sharply from Burlingame before passing by the namesake "Log Cabin, a 14,000 square foot home overlooking a small lake, which is in no way reminiscent of Abe Lincoln's point of origin. Follow the link above for a map.

Here's a view of the route starting and finishing from our home on North Little Rock. It's a 60 mile ride from Park Hill.
Here's a Google Earth view of the Log Cabin. It is mostly obscured from view by evergreens along Ferncrest Road, but it's worth taking a peak through a gap in the trees.

After climbing the initial pitch on Ferncrest, riders get a little downhill followed by a couple of more climbs, then a sweet mostly downhill ride across the ridge that runs between Burlingame Road and Colonel Glenn. The return includes another great descent on Ferndale Road to Pfieffer camp before rejoining Denny Road and backtracking to the BDB. In between are several more sharp little climbs. 
Here are the stats from our ride:

Ride Time: 3:52:22
Stopped Time: 37:20
Distance: 59.25 miles
Average Speed: 15.30 mph
Fastest Speed: 46.24 mph
Ascent: 2081 feet
Descent: 2145 feet

This is a very good mid-distance ride, has little in the way of traffic,  and covers a wide range of scenery and terrain. We did it as a two-up conversational ride, but I have been broken by the Ferncrest climb on a couple of occasions when I was not at my best and/or in over my head. Go give it a try.

Ferndale Grocery: Reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated.

Several months ago, it was widely reported that the Ferndale Grocery at the Kanis and Ferndale 4-way stop had closed. Bridge construction on Ferndale had cut off the store from much of its customer base and local news outlets carried the sad news that the business had shut its doors. What they failed to report is that a buyer came along and the store stayed open. We were pleased to see the doors open and the shelves stocked, as this is a oft used stop for road cyclists.
My ride partner Sam got to do the honors of buying.

One thing that disturbed me has to do with cyclists patronage of the store. I made a slightly smart-Alec comment that "We may not buy much, but we won't be a burden". The clerk then told Sam, "We get a lot of cyclists in here who don't buy anything, use the bathroom, and leave us to clean up after them." So much for a positive image. Folks, if you stop in a little market or gas station, keep in mind that many of them struggle to make ends meet. This isn't Wal-Mart and it is often the owner working long hours and mopping the floors after hours. Be friendly, buy something and say, "Thank-you."

Let's ride.

Cantrell Curve Follow-Up

After becoming aware of the planned Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department project to make safety improvements to Cantrell Road immediately west of the Union Pacific viaduct and posting an article about it, I attended a meeting of the Little Rock Bike Friendly Community Committee  last Wednesday. I'm not on the BFC, but sit in when I can, as it represents an opportunity to deal directly with folks from city government and it allows them to learn of issues concerning cyclists. To briefly set the stage for my point, should I ever get around to making one, the city is planning a link from the Medical Mile River Trail section to Cantrell Road just west of the viaduct. The AHTD is bidding a project to rebuild the curve on Cantrell just west of the viaduct.So, both governmental entities are planning concrete and steel projects on the same very crowded piece of ground.

And they are not talking to each other. 
On the surface, it just seems plain silly. Neither the city nor the AHTD claimed awareness of the other's project, and nobody that I was able to talk to about it seemed very concerned. This obviously isn't the first time city planners have had to deal with AHTD projects and I think this situation is just the first one to get my attention.  It appears that the highway department exercises its autonomy when dealing with urban highways and the LR folks just shrug and say, "it's their right-of-way and they don't have to tell us." I did find out  that the AHTD project was brought up in a Metroplan meeting some time ago, but it apparently did not get much attention from the city.
This appears to be just another example the kind of governmental inefficiency, arrogance and infighting that drives folks to the Tea Party, but it's not that simple. It is the result of decades of turf battles and political wrangling that has left us with a constitutionally independent agency in the form of the AHTD. The highway department is governed by a commission and is purposely insulated from the whims and possible strong-arm tactics of the state legislature.  I can also see that urban highways like Highway 10/ Cantrell Road present somewhat unique challenges in that too much input, from city government, for example, could result in endless debate over minor projects. Some of the city folks seemed a little put out that they were questioned on this matter, but I think they were showing their frustration that comes with dealing with the AHTD. That said, these are smart, capable people who mean well, but there seems to be something broken about the working relationships between agencies.
I will admit to a degree of political naivete, and I'm sure there is more to this story. While I am beginning to understand how all of this comes to pass, it doesn't serve the best interest of tax payers. The reality is that it's just plain silly.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Opportunity Lost? Cantrell Road Safety Improvements


That's the official name of the proposed Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department project to improve the approach to the viaduct over the UP tracks east of Dillard's HQ and the Episcopal Collegiate School. The viaduct and the road approaching from the  west have long been the scene of frequent automobile accidents. The curve is not a constant radius turn and is fairly sharp relative to the speeds with which cars often travel in the area. Add a sprinkling of rain and you can be pretty certain that someone will crash into the bridge structure or other traffic furniture, hence the usual sprinkling of broken glass, turn signal covers and bumper parts along the sidewalk to which cyclists are relegated as we make our way through the patchwork of a bike route that serves this high-traffic stretch. 
In short, the safety improvements for drivers are justifiable and needed. So, what does it mean to cycling infrastructure? 
This area is the heart of one of the biggest obstacles to "closing the loop" on the Arkansas River Trail System and also represents a danger zone for folks attempting to use bikes for transportation to downtown Little Rock. The City of Little Rock has proposed the ambitious  $20m "River Bluffs" trail section to run along the river behind the Dillard's headquarters, which failed to garner the federal grant money required to make it a reality. As an alternative, the City laid out a sketchy plan to bridge the Union Pacific tracks from the "Medical Mile" trail section and then somehow join the sidewalk just west of the tracks and viaduct. I've asked how this would be done and the answer was something like "we're open to suggestions". Here's one suggestion: Pay attention to public announcements from the highway department and work with them to address your needs. That may be simplistic, but somebody in city government should have been 1)aware of  this project and 2) aware of its potential impact on the city's street plan for alternative transportation. It seems that the AHTD's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator could also have served a role in communicating with the City.

The highway improvements do not include any changes to the viaduct structure, but will soften the curve for about 350feet west of it. 

I see this as an opportunity lost because a clear plan by Little Rock and coordination with the Highway Department could possibly result in the integration into this project of the City's planned tie-in of the River Trail to Cantrell Road. The AHTD project has bid once, but the bids exceeded the budget and were rejected. The job will re-bid on May2, 2012. Every square foot of real estate in this area is precious due to the proximity of the UP tracks, Cantrell Road, and the intensive commercial and school developments, making this a squeeze point, so precise long-term planning should be applied to any changes in the infrastructure. I fear that once this project is completed, it will become even more difficult to plot a cycling route. I made inquiries with a City of Little Rock official who had no knowledge of the plan. Highway department spokesman Randy Ort was very helpful in assisting me in finding information on the project, but  Little Rock's cycling initiatives were not a consideration in addressing the safety issues on this urban stretch of state highway. 
My opinion is that both the City and cycling advocates have missed an opportunity. The federal transportation dollars are allocated for safety improvements, but any discussion of construction through the area should have involved the City and at least have included consideration of alternative transportation needs.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Bike Races and Stuff Along The Trail

This is definitely a busy time of year for the cycling community, with a lot of racing going on locally and the European classics underway. Many of the best pro races are among the one-day Classics,  including last Sunday's Tour of Flanders and this weekend's Paris-Roubaix, so set your DVR. This race is the reason that so much cycling gear is named  Roubaix. The "Hell of the North", as it is known, has broken a lot high-end bikes and hard men with its infamous cobbles and relentless racing. Unlike the Grand Tours, there is no tomorrow in races such as Paris-Roubaix, only victory or defeat in one of the most prestigious events on the pro cycling calendar.
Local Racing
Over the past weekend the Ouachita Challenge race and tour kept a bunch of mountain bikers off of the streets, while the Northwest Arkansas Classic entertained road racers. That's all good stuff, but the best thing about spring is that it is simply a great time to be out riding the bike. There have been a lot of little developments along the River Trail and I've been knocking out some miles while being a little slow on the keyboard, so we'll take a little tour while I clean up the desktop.
The rain of week-before-last created a little flooding along the North Little Rock side of the trail, causing a few days of detours and still affecting the Isabella Jo Trail.

 As the water receded in Burns Park, it exposed this unfortunate gar hung in the fence at the dog park.

The rest of the trail system was open for business over the weekend and the crowds were thick. Based on the challenges I experienced in riding the BDB and Two Rivers Park, there will be plenty of complaints of user conflict. That's a topic for another time, but it's safe to operate on the assumption that the walkers you encounter are oblivious to your presence and might change direction at any time, and, no, they're not watching their kids. That's not fair to the many folks who share the trail, but it is the conservative approach to self preservation.

Goose Egg
I've resisted discussion of the Burns Park goose problem, but will say that I'm delighted that the dogs have scattered them for the moment and I hope it's a sustainable solution. Before the recent floods, I had noticed a pair of geese hanging out near Victory Lake. On the day prior to the big rains, I noticed why they had been staying so close.
These geese must have read the same article that I did, which indicated that parks folks and volunteers would be searching the weeds and brush for nests in order to addle the eggs.

The geese may have eluded the the people seeking to make the inviable egg by coating it with oil, or addling, but I doubt that it eluded the rising water.The goose will lay another egg and start over. Geese will tend addled eggs, but will lay again to replace lost eggs.

 Dining Options Along the River Trail

Forty Two at the Clinton Presidential Center 
 I had noticed the outdoor dining area at the Clinton Center while crossing the Clinton Park Bridge, and I was curious about it as a lunch opportunity. Then I overheard a friend speaking positively about the high quality and low price of food there, so I decided it deserved a try. I didn't ride my bike there, but it is just a few yards off of the River Trail, so it is a good option if you're out and about and they're open on weekends! The highest price on the lunch menu is $10.50, and I opted for the "Tortas" pork sandwich, booked as a "Mexican sub" for $9.90. There are bike racks in the front of the building near the entrance and you must pass through security, which is quick and painless. Though I'm sure security is relatively high, the bike racks are a little isolated so a lock is in order.
 This view of Forty Two from the Clinton Park Bridge aroused my curiosity. In the shade to the famous "double-wide", I found white tablecloths, casual outdoor dining, and prices that were surprisingly reasonable for the setting.
Impress your best gal or a business client with this choice of lunch spots. Easy parking or easily bike and pedestrian accessible. We may have to try to Sunday brunch.

 Heifer Village Cafe
I've dined at Heifer with a fair degree of regularity over the last couple of years. Initially, I started eating lunch there as an easy-parking alternative to the River Market, but now it's usually a destination of choice. My office is in southwest Little Rock, which offers few lunch options, and Heifer Village is just a few minutes away. Last Friday, however, I was working from home and Diane was leading a lunch ride from Garver's office near the BDB to Heifer Village, so I went downtown to meet them. Access to the cafe is easiest from near the back of the building, parking at the east end of the parking lot. Bike racks are located near the outdoor dining area and are visible from inside, making for an anxiety-free lunch for a rider who doesn't like to leave his bike out of sight.
The menu at Heifer Village Cafe  features many local products, is very reasonably priced, and offers choices for sides that includes homemade chips or healthier salads and fruit.

I highly recommend either of the restaurants, but I advise against the gar. I don't think it was fresh.

Planning Your Week

Wednesday: Specialized Mountain Bike Demo
Here's a chance to go out and rock the new Spec' Epic you've been lusting over on your home trail.

From ACF:
Specialized MTB demo
Specialized Mountain Bike Demo is next Wednesday (4/4) from 3pm to 7pm! There will be both men and women's mountain bikes for you to test ride!. We will be in the parking lot by the boat ramp on Burns Park (Tournament Dr). Please bring your ID, credit card, helmet, shoes, pedals. See you there!

      Thursday: BACA Meeting and election of officers

Many folks have expressed frustration about the state of BACA and its role, or lack thereof, as a broad-based cycling advocacy group. Well, it's easy to complain from the sideline, but that's not where the action is! Shuffle on down to the Oyster Bar on Thursday night and cast a ballot for the candidate of your choice in the election of BACA officers! Since people usually have to be coerced into taking on such demanding and often thankless positions, I expect there to be much less vitriol than a Republican primary and a few more beers. Joe Jacobs over at Arkansas Outside gives the subject a more in-depth treatment here.