Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Rock City Criterium Races Are Back!!

May 2nd and 3rd. River Market and Soma.

Last year's Rock City Races  coincided with the Southwest tandem rally to make pack downtown Little Rock and the surrounding roads with all sorts of two-wheeled excitement! The two-seaters are not back this year, but Rock City Racing is on for this weekend!

Racing takes place in the River Market District Saturday afternoon, beginning at 1:00 PM. On Sunday, the action moves to SoMa, kicking off at 9:00 AM with the last race rolling at 1:00 PM

Dugan's Pub and other stops along the course were packed with race fans (well, maybe some beer fans) on Saturday. Sunday morning was more of a coffee crowd, but the neighborhood turned out in force to cheer the racers on.
Crit races bring a great vibe to downtown, with fascinated tourists joining locals fans in encouraging the fast packs and the break-aways. Bring your cow bells!!!

 Brought to our community by the fine folks of:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Along The Trail-More NLR Detour Improvements, The Usual Crowds, And Some Observations

The City of North Little Rock responded quickly and very well to feedback on the Broadway Bridge area trail detour.

Before the recent changes, riders exiting Riverfront Park and turning left (west) were tempted to ride behind the orange barrels in the eastbound lanes. The barrels were meant to keep eastbound cyclists and drivers out of the construction area.
 As seen looking west from the Riverfront Park gate, the traffic barriers seemed to provide a protected path, but were intended to keep traffic out of the prohibited construction area.
Cyclists who chose that option, like this large family group on rental bikes, found themselves dumped head-on into two lanes of 40-MPH traffic. The speed limit has been reduced to 30, but it is seldom heeded.
Eastbound riders were either funneled into the construction zone or forced into the single traffic lane.

After: Much Better!

Riders following the detour on to Riverfront Drive now are given clear direction.

Signs clearly indicate that both pedestrians and cyclists should cross to the westbound lane or to the sidewalk.

Eastbound riders now have a marked bike lane, and the correct placement of the barriers should help keep cyclists from entering the construction zone.
The "after" photos are compliments of Chris Wilbourn, NLR Planning/Traffic Engineer (Director). 

I had sent Chris some photos and feedback last week and when I called to follow up, he was already on the site making changes. Thanks also go out to Danny Dillon, NLR Chief of Staff Danny Bradley, and Alderman Charlie Hight. All of them, along with Massman Construction and the AHTD, have worked to help keep the River Trail open and safe for cyclists and pedestrians during the bridge construction. 
I have also been working with Jeremy Lewno of Bobby's Bike Hike, as many of the "confused" riders were on rentals. Jeremy and his crew have scouted the area and are making it a point to inform their customers about the detour. Jeremy is also the Little Rock Bike-Ped coordinator, so he is busy with the many issues on the south side of the river. 
The improvements are the result of a city being responsive to feedback from the community and responsible in maintaining the viability of the River Trail. The trail is a big draw for the entire area and an important part of the character of our city. 

 The Usual Crowds and Complaints

Spring has been kind of punk in central Arkansas this year, continually being thumped back by a stubborn winter, but the few really nice days have seen big crowds on the Big Dam Bridge and the Two Rivers Bridge and Park. Most of us know the drill by now. On the nice days, folks who seldom venture out join the trail regulars and make up a discombobulated, multi-directional moving (or not)  cluster that can try the patience of all of the players.

With some close observation, you can usually start to identify sub-sets within the crowd:

Regular Trail Users: These may be riders, runners, or walkers. Some are people you know by sight if you spend much time on the Arkansas River Trail. The frequent riders will usually ride solo or in a small group, riding single file in crowded areas, calling out politely to let others know they are passing. When you see them involved in a group ride, there's usually good order and "the rules" number 2, 3, and 43  are in effect. They save their speed work for the open road or empty trail sections, which are easily found.
Runners and walkers stay to the right side of the trail or bridge and know to glance over their shoulder before making a sudden stop or change in direction. If ear buds are in use, music is low enough to hear a greeting or warning. They keep an eye on their children and a short leash on their dogs. These practices are a matter of both good manners and self-preservation, along with a dose of respect for other trail users.

RTUs-Doing it like they've been there before.

Weekend warriors: The riders in this set may actually ride frequently and have enough miles on their legs to believe that they are pretty fast. Unfortunately, many also believe that their average speed, Strava KOMs, and very sexy aerobars are more important than the safety and good manners mentioned above. "On your left" is shouted as an imperative and what should be a polite alert comes to simply piss people off. Ear buds, the bane of multi-use trails, are often present. Attire may range from gym shorts to full kit. The full kit guys in this subset don't usually really ride the team represented or they would have enough experience to have graduated from this group.
Runners in this set are often in pairs or small groups. All will likely have ear buds in and can somehow manage to take the entire width of the trail so that they can run abreast while not talking to one another (See "ear buds"). Passing riders often have to shout loudly in order to get their attention. In extreme cases, a shoulder tap may be used. Walkers in this group may follow the same patterns, or they may easily drift into the next classification.

The Blissfully Oblivious: Unfortunately, many very nice people fall into this category. They love getting out on the trail from time to time, often with family or friends. They have absolutely no clue that anybody else is doing anything with any purpose or direction. They'll stop in mid-trail and mid-stride to chat or look at deer/dog/bird/flower/sky/river without a thought. They'll walk 4 or 5 wide with kids, dogs, or strollers blocking the width of the trail. They don't think anything of leaving their kids' bikes laying on the trail and they may find the foot of a bridge a great place to congregate. In many cases, both their children and their dogs should be on shorter leashes. These are the people who actually create the most potential for conflict and danger on the trail, but they would never guess it. They can try the patience of most folks and may enrage type-A personalities. Some of these people come across as inconsiderate a-holes but, for the most part, they are just oblivious.

The RTUs are often grouped in with the WWs by the BOs, as the differences are subtle to the untrained eye. There are inconsiderate a-holes within each group, but the vast majority of people on the trail are polite, considerate, and follow the simple protocols of the trail.They are happy to be outside doing something that they enjoy, and they don't mind sharing.

 For me, "typing" people along the trail is a form of entertainment, and if you ride the trail much, you'll encounter everything from swimsuit models to Chick-Fil-A cows.  People come and go, but over time you start recognizing "the regulars", then you exchange a nod or a greeting and start forming a bit of a bond. The trail is the only place I see some of the folks that I consider to be friends. I've known them for years and may not have their phone number or even know their last name, but we share something important.
Go out and ride with your friends. And look out for the BOs. They don't know any better, so just say, "bless their hearts" and know that most of them will be back home on the couch once it gets really hot, and you'll be back among the RTUs.

Monday, April 13, 2015

River Trail East Spur- Southeast Trail

Note- After I posted this article, Rob Stephens advised that the designated  name of this section will be the "Southeast Trail". 04-14-15

There has been much discussion  within central Arkansas bike advocacy circles about the detours to the River Trail caused by the Broadway Bridge project and the lack of progress toward "closing the loop" along Cantrell Road, along with some problems caused by inconsiderate patrons of the Big Dam Bridge.
While this has been going on and over the previous few months, Rob Stephens of the Arkansas River Trail Task Force has been quietly going about the business of getting a substantial new section of the Arkansas River Trail System formalized.

This map defines the route and shows sign locations for the new River Trail East spur. 
The route for the most part will use streets and roads that are included within the Little Rock bike plan, and formalizes a long-used ride route east of the City that many of us refer to as "the Airport Loop".The route passes by or near the Clinton Presidential Library Park, Heifer Project International, the Clinton National Airport, the Little Rock Port Authority, Dassault Falcon, and Welspun on the way to the David D. Terry Park. The scenery along the flat ride varies from parkland to industrial to lowlands marsh. Traffic is generally light, especially on weekends, and the road quality ranges from excellent broad avenues near the airport to rail-crossed and pot-holed in the industrial park. One-way mileage to Terry Park is about 13 miles. Look for the signs to go up soon.
The Clinton National Airport has recently installed bike racks for travellers, employees, and visitors, and boasts the fastest free Wi-Fi Internet of any airport in the country. There is an easily accessible Starbucks near the terminal entrance to satisfy the need for a jolt of caffeine or a bite to eat.
The various institutions and businesses along the route were generally supportive of the project, with some seeing it as an opportunity for associates to commute by bike or to enjoy the fitness opportunities offered by having a nearby designated bike route.
The Arkansas River Trail Task Force operates under the auspices of Metroplan, the regional transportation authority.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Updates: BDB Policy, Detours North and South of The River

On the BDB...
In statements to media, Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde seems to have softened his positions on nighttime closure and the banning of dogs from the BDB to say that such actions are "under consideration". I think we can all appreciate his frustration with irresponsible pet owners and those who would use the BDB as an after-dark party spot, leaving behind litter and damage. I have confidence that Judge Hyde will act fairly and appropriately.

North Little  Rock elected officials and staff continue to evaluate and tweak the River Trail detour required by construction of the new Broadway Bridge. I met alderman Charlie Hight, chief of staff Danny Bradley, traffic director Chris Wilbourn, and Danny Dillon recently at the site to observe traffic and take an on-the-ground look at the current situation along Riverfront Road. The City had already responded to input from the cycling community by adding signage cautioning drivers of the presence of pedestrians and cyclists, and by reducing the speed limit to 30 MPH.

Dillon, Wilbourn, Hight, and Bradley.

Vehicles travelling east approaching the construction zone.

Striping was added to provide a bit of a buffer between the traffic lane and cyclists traveling east on Riverfront.

A radar speed indication sign has been placed west of Smarthouse Way to alert motorists, and there was discussion of making the intersection of Riverfront and Karrot/ Smarhouse Way a 4-way stop in an effort to slow traffic. My understanding is that the AHTD (this is a state highway) has approved that measure should it be deemed necessary. 
The situation here will be dynamic as construction progresses, so be alert for changes to this route. There is no doubt that both trail users and drivers will be inconvenienced, so we'll all need to be patient. 


Most of the pipeline construction along Cantrell Road near Episcopal Collegiate School is complete, though I did notice equipment still on site last week.The sidewalks on both sides of Cantrell have been improved slightly. 

River Trail signage on Markham from downtown now directs westbound cyclists to cross to the north side of LaHarpe at State Street. After crossing LaHarpe, the trail continues west on North Street. 
Approaching LaHarpe/ Cantrell Road on North Street. My cycling model is the lovely Mrs. JBar, Diane.

It appears that Mayor Mark Stodola has given up on the idea of a grand River Bluffs trail section running along the Arkansas River behind Dillard's Corporate headquarters. Dillard's has apparently consistently refused  to allow the project, and there is little or no interest in or support for it among members of the Little Rock Board of Directors. Stodola is said to be trying to gather support for the idea of designating the sidewalk along the north side on Cantrell as the route of the River Trail. 

 The sidewalk near the Packet House has been widened to allow riders to bypass utility poles that had been centered on the walk,.
Multiple driveways, approach lanes, traffic islands, and rough, off-camber curb crossings make for sketchy riding. 

Though improved, passage along the north side of Cantrell makes for poor riding. The planned connections at either end of the section will certainly approve the approaches, and will eventually allow riders to make their way west from downtown without using Markham Street or crossing LaHarpe and Cantrell. 

The long-term "detour" on the sidewalk in front of ECS is much improved, and I believe that, given the choice, most riders will choose it over the north side of the road.

Without unlikely cooperation from either Dillard's or the ECS interests, the choices are few for routing the River Trail through this densely developed area. Changes of heart or changes in leadership may ultimately allow for a more visionary plan, but it appears we'll be riding sidewalks for the foreseeable future.

The construction of the new Broadway Bridge is going to challenge all types of transportation along both sides of the Arkansas River for the next couple of years. The closing of the present bridge, currently planned for June 2016, will likely create more mayhem than we can imagine. It will be interesting to see if the end result is an improvement or a detriment to our trails system. I'm optimistic that progress will continue with Broadway becoming another viable river crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. Questions remain as to what their options will be when they land on the south side of the Arkansas. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Genuine Bad News-Pulaski County To Close Big Dam Bridge At Night, Ban Dogs

As usual, responsible people will lose the use of a public resource due to the inconsiderate or malicious actions of others. Sad, but understandable.
There are some nuggets of good news.
This information from Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde was forwarded by BACA president Mason Ellis to BACA board members:

Sorry I am out of town this week and cannot attend your meeting.
The Maumelle trail project is still looking for funding. 

We have applied for a grant that will allow us to install a 14’ lane on Pinnacle Valley Rd extending west from County Farm Rd. I’m optimistic about this one.  

We expect announcement very soon about the trail extending from Clinton Bridge to Terry Lock and Damn Park on Frazier Pike.  

We expect to begin closing the BDB because of vandalism and criminal activity occurring during the night. The closure time will be the same as Burns Park and we will have the BDB open early in the morning for our early risers. 

We also anticipate banning dogs on the BDB very soon. The cost of sending a crew out at least 3 times a week to clean up dog poop is not going to continue. It’s a disappointment to do that but the continued disrespect of some dog owners leaves me no choice.

More later.
Judge Hyde

The preliminary engineering continues on all three sections of the Southwest Trail. 
I hope to see you at your next meeting.

We will need to discuss this as a board! I don’t believe anyone wants to see the BDB closing at any time! Also, as big of an annoyance people walking their dogs and not picking up after them is, we need to work towards keeping the bridge open to all users.

We can discuss tonight at the meeting but I wanted to give everyone a heads up.  

Mason Ellis
I've always thought that the fact that the River Trail and the Bridges were open to all 24-hours per day, 365 days per year to be part of the unique charm of the River Trail system. Unfortunately, a different kind of bridge user has been emerging as folks realized that this unique venue is isolated and not subject to the immediate presence of law enforcement. It has been noticed that as darkness approaches, the crowds change from the usual families, exercise enthusiasts and nature lovers. The apparent result has been an increase in vandalism, litter, and illegal activity. Most of us will be unaffected by the nighttime closure, but it still pisses me off that, as usual, good people may lose privileges due to the actions of assholes.

There is good news in the above.
 I have an article on the works of the East Spur trail extension to Frazier Pike, which is largely the result of some very good work by Arkansas River Trail Task Force chairman Rob Stephens. We've been trying to get together to ride the route, but bad weather has popped up at every turn.
I am very pleased to hear that some positive action, if preliminary, is being taken on the Southwest Trail. Judge Hyde and the Quorum Court are also intent on building true bike paths along Pinnacle Valley Road. Ironically, Justice of The Peace Doug Reed, who represents district 1, opposed applying for a grant and providing funding for the project. Since many of his constituents have been vocal about the need to get cyclists off of "their" road, it would have been rational to assume that he would be supportive.

On the Not-So-Genuine News Of April 1

I want to thank Rob Stephens for his River Trail Task Force "Press Release" regarding trail closure.
He may have stumble on to a viable business model with the Uber Water Taxi. When the Broadway Bride closes in the summer of 2016 for replacement, desperate commuters would likely line the banks of the river seeking transport.
My article on the River Bluffs Trail Section is unlikely  to come to being. It would require some political risk on the part of mayor Mark Stodola, cooperation from the LR Board of Directors, and some community spirit on the part of Dillard's. Stodola seems to have abandoned the grand idea in favor of a far-from-ambitious plan of permanently routing the River Trail down the sidewalk and across the driveways along the north side of Cantrell.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Arkansas River Trail-Good News On "Closing The Gap"

April 1, 2015

Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola made a major announcement today regarding the Arkansas River Trail "Cantrell gap". After years of pressure from BACA, along with other cycling and pedestrian interests, Stodola said, "I'm tired of hearing about it. We have a fantastic plan from Jacobs Engineers, we have widespread support from the community, and now we have a commitment from the Walton Family Foundation for matching funds that will allow us to complete the River Bluffs Trail Section."
He pointed to the Walton Family Foundation's pledge of $15-million which supplemented federal TIGER grants and local funding to complete the 36 mile, $38-million Razorback Greenway in Northwest Arkansas.
 From the Greenway website:
Trails for bike riding and walking ranked second out of 18 different amenities that new homebuyers look for in a community, according to a 2002 survey of new homebuyers sponsored by the National Association of Home Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders.

 A Foundation spokesman said that central Arkansas had been important to the growth of Walmart in its nascent years and that the Walton family was glad to be able to give back to the community. It's also good for business: "Trail systems are proven to spur economic development and bring more people to communities That's good for Walmart."
Dillard's representatives did not wish to comment.

The official name for this spectacular addition to the Arkansas River Trail System has yet to be decided.

It is thought likely that the trail, cantilevered dramatically over the Arkansas River behind the Dillard's corporate headquarters, will be named for the Walton Family. 
Local cyclist and former state representative Sam Ledbetter, who helped allocate $1,000,000.00 in state funds for the trail completion several years ago, was heard to say, "It's about time. The City of Little Rock has been sitting on the funding almost long enough to term-limit Jason Rapert." 
It is hoped that construction will be completed in time to coincide with the dedication of the new Broadway Bridge and the re-opening of the River Trail sections affected by that project.
Stodola said that he was going to act on his oft-voiced strategy of using eminent domain to force the acquisition of the needed property and easements." We have projects underway for the east and west termini, and now we're going to close the gap. It's not just about bikes and walkers. It's about building a better city." 
When asked what prompted him to act now after years of foot-dragging, Stodola cited available funding, his many unfulfilled promises to the cycling community, enhanced tourism and economic development opportunities, strong support from city directors Erma Hendrix and Lance Hines, and the fact that "I won't have Judy Lansky riding my ass", as determining factors in the decision. Hendrix reportedly said that she had recently read the story of Major Taylor and had come away inspired to create more safe cycling opportunities for the people of district 1, "especially for the children".

Fairy tales can come true.

Task Force Announces Arkansas River Trail Closing

Contact: Robert Stephens

Arkansas River Trail System Task Force


Closure of the Arkansas River Trail

Little Rock, April 1, 2015: The Arkansas River Trail System Task Force announced today that the popular trail system in Central Arkansas is closed until further notice. The Task Force regrets this decision and understands it will cause considerable inconvenience to residents and visitors to Central Arkansas.

The circumstances that have lead to this decision are numerous

Because of the multiple construction projects that are occurring along the trail, local governments are overwhelmed with the amount of trail detours. Public works and parks departments must install signage for these detours and restripe trail sections that are affected by these construction projects. Their costs have been considerable and they’re crying ‘uncle’ to all the detours”, Task Force spokesman Rob Stephens noted. “The cost to install these signs must be borne by local governments and are not budgeted in the contractor’s bids. North Little Rock Parks department has even tried to reduce costs by mounting detour signs with Velcro. Contractors have installed Bicycle Abatement Devices in their construction zones to dissuade renegade cyclists. Trail users are now in a twilight zone situation.” Stephens encourages trail users to take advantage of the newly established Uber water taxi service on the Arkansas River to access the downtown areas.
Another factor in the decision to close the Arkansas River Trail is the exponential growth in the Canada Geese population. The geese have commenced their spring mating rituals and have started attacking trail users. One person was chased off the trail by a gang of angry geese and was rescued by the North Little Rock’s Parks’ ranger Ian Hope. The geese also create piles of excrement on the trail forcing cyclists to walk their bikes due to the slick trail conditions. When reached for comment, North Little Rock’s professional geese dog, ‘Shep’, could only put his head between his paws in frustration. Shep has been coordinating his geese chasing efforts with Little Rock Parks’ geese dog Jill, “We chase them back and forth across the river”, explained Shep, “they just won’t leave.”
The Arkansas River Trail System Task Force mission is to develop, maintain and promote the Arkansas River Trail and adjoining trails in Central Arkansas. The task force is made up of representatives from the municipalities, counties and agencies that are encompassed by the Arkansas River Trail.