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. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

JBar Sermonette, Number Unknown-More Pinnacle Valley

Since my buddy was struck by an unrepentant driver on Pinnacle Valley Road a few weeks ago, I have engaged in quite a few conversations and have made some observations of riding in the area.

First, let me say that things are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. Folks in leadership positions within Pulaski County Government, Arkansas State Parks and at Pinnacle Mountain State Park have expressed a desire to improve the situation on the roads west of Two Rivers Park, but there is not an easy fix and none have the financial resources for adding shoulders to the existing roads or building dedicated bike paths.

It is somewhat ironic that we really have a lot in common with the drivers in the area. Like them, the cycling community would like to have infrastructure that would allow us to safely get the hell out of the way. Until that time, we need to learn to work together as best we can. I don't hold out much hope for reforming many Roland commuters, but we should be able to ease things a bit if will just pay attention. 

Please pay attention and be polite

I'm always resentful when rider behavior is blamed for all conflict on the road, and I'm quick to defend cyclists on the whole, but I shake my head at some of the things that I see. Last weekend as I rode back in toward Two Rivers Park on County Farm Road, I observed two female cyclists heading west on road bikes and in full kit (I mention that for context-they should know better.) taking the entire lane as two cars were held up behind them waiting for an opportunity to pass. They were riding two abreast, one near the center line and the other near the white line, chatting as they rolled along at 12-14 MPH, seemingly oblivious to the patient drivers behind them. The sight distance is long at that point and I kept waiting for the riders to do something right. Not only did these riders not move to the bike lane, but they made no effort to acknowledge or work with the drivers at all. That's not sharing the road. That is hogging the road. Ladies, not only are you potentially inflaming already strained relations between cyclists and drivers, but you are simply being rude. If you had been driving a car that will only go 15 MPH, you would likely have eased to the side of the road to let other drivers pass. And then you would get a better car.
Being on a bike does not mean that you can't use good manners. In fact, our vulnerability should drive us to have very good manners.

Pinnacle Valley Road At Highway 300- Don't Gather There

A few months ago, my small bunch of riders had stopped on the shoulder on highway 300 at the end of Pinnacle Valley. A state park ranger pulled up and asked us to move down the  shoulder and back from the road so that we did not block the line-of-sight for drivers at the stop sign there. That makes sense.
A few weeks ago, a pair of my friends were sharply admonished by another ranger for stopping there and told to get off the shoulder and on to the grass. That made less sense, and no reason was given for the command, but they complied.
Subsequently, I have spoken to Ron Salley, superintendent of Pinnacle Mountain State Park. They have become sensitive to groups of riders stopping to regroup or gather at that location, with large groups often simply stopping in the road. Admittedly, I have been in groups which have done just that. The park gets complaints from drivers and the situation can be dangerous for riders. When stopping at that intersection,  please don't stop on Pinnacle Valley Road, and move far enough away from the corner on the shoulder of 300 so that your group does not block the view of drivers at the stop sign.
We are creatures of habit and  groups tend to use the same points to gather. In this case, we are drawing the ire of drivers and park officials alike, so let's try to work with them. We need folks like Ron Salley on our side. He has been very supportive of the cycling community and we do not want to be perceived as making his job harder.
Pass it on.

Pinnacle Valley Restaurant opening

This restaurant at Pinnacle Valley and Beck Rds. is in the "soft opening" stage. Based on the posted menu, the fare will consist of catfish, barbecue, burgers and similar fare. The Budweiser signs are up in full force and there was a notice of application for a mixed drink permit several weeks ago.
What does this mean for riders? In the event of a bonk, you will be able to refuel with a hot dog and fries for $4.99. It will also mean an increase in traffic and some of those drivers will have had a beer or a cocktail, which is all the more reason to exercise good road riding practices in the area.
I have no idea of who owns or manages the business, but most merchants welcome a cycling community that patronizes their business. The few businesses that I have encountered that did not appreciate cyclists were those who felt put upon by groups coming in only to use their restrooms, fill bottles, or take a break in their parking lot.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Dear Counsellor, Thank you for your concern and the cool refrigerator magnet.....

Yes, the attorneys of our fair city and the surrounding area were quick to follow up on the filing of the accident report from my car encounter last week. Why, the Taylor King Law Firm of Arkadelphia was so concerned that they sent me four letters in a single day!!! Much to my disappointment, King was one of only a few firms that did not include a refrigerator magnet. He did, however, include the largest "post-it note with longhand script to look like a personal message". I'm glad know that he is "on my side and by my side", though if he is really by my side, that could be a little creepy. I don't know the guy, so why is he there?

Traffic accidents are good for the printing business and the post office, and accident reports from the NLRPD cost 15.00 each, so personal injury lawyers have a cost associated with lead generation, along with stiff competition.

Rainwater, Holt & Sexton handily won the battle of the lawyer refrigerator magnets with their Razorback football themed entry. The Minton Law Firm walked away with the "Mr. Practicality" award for including a calendar.

Thank goodness that Michael Crockett is there to "save me from a nightmare". I wish he'd been there the other night when I dreamed that I got a chance to play some music with Johnny Cash and my E string broke. And then Johnny told me that my best original tune sounded just like "Wagon Wheel". I was bummed. Double bummed. Perhaps Crockett could have either woken me up or quickly slapped on another string. Given the fact that the man in black has passed on, I feel like I missed my only crack at getting him to give my song a listen. Maybe that wasn't a full blown nightmare, falling into what I refer to as "frustration dreams", so I may have been out of luck even with Crockett on my side.

Some folks give ambulance chasers a bad name...

I'm glad that I don't need the services of these guys. They serve a purpose, but can also tempt honest people to go for some easy money and serve as a vehicle for dishonest folks to scam the insurance companies. I had a minor accident in my truck a few years ago while returning after dark from a ride along the river. In negotiating gridlock concert traffic near then-Alltel Arena, I had a 4 MPH fender brush with another vehicle. I was at fault, but the officer said, "I can't give you a ticket for this.", due to the conditions and the fact that the police were directing traffic. Unfortunately for the other driver, he was driving his girlfriend's car on a suspended license and with no proof of insurance. I thought the cops were going to have to cuff the young man as he threw a fit, stomping around the scene and raising hell after being told they would have to call a wrecker or have someone else drive the car home for him. I felt bad about his misfortune. That is, until I found that he had engaged a "personal injury consultant" who sent him to a chiropractor, where he was found to have "soft tissue injuries" and claimed several thousand dollars for treatment and "pain and suffering" from my insurance carrier.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Along The Trail-Sweeping The Desktop

"Along The Trail" is a catch-all title for this semi-regular feature that attempts to touch on just about anything of interest that I run across during the course of rides along the Arkansas River Trail. Sometimes, a couple of items are enough to provide adequate content. At other times, photos and minor news items pile up until I decide that it is time to sweep the desktop. Here we go with one ofthose scateershots!

Work and commerce
I'm always intrigued by the equipment and people that keep the river traffic flowing and the systems working along the river. Little boys are always excited by big machines and that excitement dims only slightly with age. Having grown up in North Little Rock, that Arkansas River has always been a part of daily life, even if only in crossing one of the bridges daily for work and play. The site of my office for several years on East Markham is now the approach to the Clinton Library. My window there offered a close up view of the wildlife, rail lines, and barges that occupy the river and its banks. When my company moved to an industrial district away from the river, I missed it greatly. Then came the Arkansas River Trail, along with my addiction to riding bikes, and I once again found myself close on the banks of the Arkansas on a regular basis. There have been a few nice ride days in the last couple of weeks and I've tried to take advantage of them!

It is always interesting to see maintenance being perfomed on the dam gates. You rarely get to watch a large crane in operation from 90 feet up and only a few feet away.

Technicians from Koontz Electric have been replacing the LED lights on the BDB. They finished the first phase and will be back soon to complete the job.

Even commercial barge traffic can create an inspiring scene on a day like this one.


Aonther work barge has been moored at the North Little Rock Riverfront Park.
I was trying to get a shot of three boys checking out the crane, but their mothers quickly snatched two of them up into a pose. The third and smallest of the boys managed to make a quick exit after giving his brother a swift kick to the crotch.
It was a windy day and it looks like the small dog is about to blow off of his leash as the little girl hangs on for dear life. OK, it wasn't quite that windy.

Trails and hanging out 

North Little Rock reached an agreement with Fort Roots to allow them to move the fence back far enough to widen a remaining unfinished stretch of the Highlands Trail along the bluff. Part of the project was a new walk inside the fence for patients and employees of the facility. It looks like things are progressing. I expect that at some point the trail will be closed for a few days.
The Highlands Trail offers great views up and down the river. Access from River Road and Paul Duke Drive.

This couple found a great place to string up their hammock, soaking up some sunshine above Big Rock Quarry.

Big Rock Quarry, looking toward the hammock site from the Emerald Park gazebo. I didn't want to get the happy hammockers busted for hanging close to the edge and ruin their spot for them, but was assured it was a one time thing.

From the BDB, even a cell phone snapshot of the sunset is worthwhile.